Empress Mei Li Lotus Blossom | July 10 (7:30 p.m.) & July 11 (9:00 p.m.)
Highlighter Girl | July 11 (12:30 p.m.) & July 18 (5:00 p.m.)
Her Hotel | July 11 (3:45 p.m.) & July 25 (9:30 p.m.)
Panel: Not a Lotus Blossom: Busting Asian American Stereotypes on Stage | July 10 (8:00 p.m.)
Panel: Hot off the Theater … New Asian American Short Films | July 13 (3:00 p.m.)
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During early spring, COVID-19 was already creating chaos for the staff trying to plan this year’s Women’s Theatre Festival. But as anti-Asian rhetoric and attacks followed President Trump labeling the disease a “Chinese virus,” WTF executive director Johannah Maynard Edwards grew worried about Asian American artists.
Since mid-March, the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council’s Stop AAPI Hate initiative has tracked more than 2,100 anti-Asian hate incidents across the U.S. One of the latest was captured in a viral video of San Francisco tech CEO Michael Lofthouse’s racist rant at an Asian American family on the Fourth of July.
Starting this weekend, the Women’s Theatre Festival is producing a mini-festival of Asian American theater and film on its Twitch channel, with performances and panels focusing on contemporary challenges facing the community.
Friday night’s performance of Broadway actor Christine Toy Johnson’s Empress Mei Li Lotus Blossom (which has an encore Saturday night) focuses on the barriers Asian American actors face getting work on the professional stage. It precedes a panel featuring activists from the Asian American Performers Action Coalition called “Not a Lotus Blossom: Busting Asian American Stereotypes on Stage.”
Saturday afternoon, playwright Amy Pan explores American culture’s conflicting expectations of Asian American girls as two teens careen between invisibility and alienation in Highlighter Girl.
Rebecca Lee Lerman’s mixed-media musical, Her Hotel, follows. In this mélange of music video and live performance, a comatose, mixed-race Chinese American woman dreams that her body has become a hotel, and that she must navigate the trauma in each room in order to heal.
Monday afternoon, filmmaker Jinna Kim hosts a screening and panel on new Asian American short films featuring her documentary short, Chinese Girl Wants Vote, on suffragist Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee.
“Asian Americans are more visible now than ever before, which is wonderful,” says festival conference manager Chelsea Russell, an Asian American actor from Kentucky. Still, Asian American actors routinely face “misguided opportunities” that are riddled with stereotypes and assumptions.
“They aren’t asking for us to bring our authentic selves to the roles,” says Russell, who originated one of the roles in Highlighter Girl. “They ask for an Asian American, but they don’t know what an Asian American is. It’s so important that not only the people sharing the stories are being authentic, but the people creating the stories are as well.”
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