Snapshots: Jeanne Sakata and Aaron Takahashi Honored by East West Players

Actor and playwright Jeanne Sakata and actor Aaron Takahashi were honored at the East West Players (EWP) Night Market fall event on Saturday, September 14, 2019.

Below is a selection of Jeanne’s snapshots of the night and her acceptance speech for  receiving the 2019 East West Players Trailblazer Award for Outstanding Artistic Achievement & Raising the Visibility of the API Community.

Emily Kuroda, Jeanne Sakata and Gedde Watanabe. Photo by Steven Lam

“When I first encountered East West Players in the 1970’s, it was a magical and life-changing moment. I was an undergrad at UCLA, on my way to a career in Library and Information Science, when I saw a flyer for Wakako Yamauchi’s gorgeous play, AND THE SOUL SHALL DANCE. Intrigued, I went down to see it– and it unexpectedly changed my life. I had no idea there were plays about families like mine, Japanese American farming families. I had no idea there was such a thing Asian American theatre. And yet here was a play that shared the hope, humor, and heartbreak of the struggles of Issei like my immigrant grandparents Kyusaburo and Tomiye, and Nisei like my father and mother Tommy and Lily–struggles that, despite this country’s harsh and racist treatment of them, nevertheless did not diminish their dream to be recognized and accepted as true Americans.

Over the years, East West Players has given so many of us life-changing moments like that. It gave me my start as an actor in the 1980’s. And over 20 years later, it gave me another beginning. When I first discovered Gordon Hirabayashi’s amazing story of his defiance and legal challenge of a racist curfew and Executive Order 9066, it became an obsession and a personal quest, which turned into a play, and that play ended up having its world premiere with my dear friends Jessica Kubzansky and Ryun Yu here on this stage in 2007, which has since gone on to productions across the country.

Jason Ma, Honorees Aaron Takahashi and Jeanne Sakata, Snehal Desai, Dana Lee and Rodney To.
David Okuji, Cindy Okuji, Jeanne Sakata and Timothy Patterson

So thank you, East West Players. And thanks to all of you over the years for your friendship and support and love and encouragement. To Snehal Desai, to Tim Dang, to the memory of Nobu McCarthy and Mako. To Daniel Mayeda, Randy Tamura and all of you on the Board. To my husband Tim, my sister Cindy and brother-in-law Dave, and all my dear friends who are here tonight. We salute you, East West Players. We know that here on this stage, we are not limited, but limitless in our humanity. We know that those of you who keep this theatre going are also fighting the larger battle of representation onstage, onscreen, every day. We know that here, we have a family that will always ensure our Asian American stories are told with passion and fire and heart — and in so doing, say to the world, we are here.

Jeanne Sakata and Daniel Mayeda

And we are here to stay.”

Suzy Nakamura, June Angela, Jeanne Sakata, Dana Lee and Krysta Marie Yu

Jeanne Sakata’s nationally acclaimed solo play Hold These Truths (2013 Drama Desk Nomination, Outstanding Solo Performance; 2019 Theatre Bay Awards, Outstanding Production, Direction and Principal Performance), has had over twenty productions since its world premiere with East West Players in 2007. Earning rave reviews at such theaters as Barrington Stage Company, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, Arena Stage, Pasadena Playhouse, Guthrie Theater, ACT Seattle, Portland Center Stage, Perseverance Theatre, PlayMakers Repertory Company, and Epic Theatre Ensemble, the play will be presented in 2019-20 at Vancouver’s Cultch Theatre, San Diego Repertory, and Pennsylvania’s People’s Light. It is inspired by the true story of Japanese American civil rights giant Gordon Hirabayashi, to whom President Barack Obama posthumously awarded in 2012 a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Jake Choi, Jeanne Sakata and Rodney To

Called a “local treasure” by the Los Angeles Times, Jeanne has enjoyed onscreen recurring/guest star roles on Disney Plus’ upcoming “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” Disney’s “Big Hero 6,” indie films Advantageous by Jennifer Phang and Find Me by Tom Huang, “Dr. Ken,” Bravo’s “True Fiction,” “NCIS Los Angeles,” “NUMB3RS,” Tyler Perry’s “Meet the Browns,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Presidio Med,” “ER,” “Threat Matrix,” “Line of Fire,” “American Family,” John Ridley’s “I Got You,” “Hiroshima,” and “Sex and Marriage,” a Justin Lin YOMYOMF YouTube webseries. Onstage, Jeanne has performed with the Vineyard Theatre, Public Theater, Lincoln Center Theater, Kennedy Center, Mark Taper Forum, South Coast Rep, La Jolla Playhouse, American Conservatory Theater, Berkeley Rep, Intiman Theatre, A Contemporary Theatre, Portland Center Stage, People’s Light, Syracuse Stage and the Arizona Theatre Company.

Emily Kuroda, Sada Thompson, Joy.

Special honors: LA Ovation Award for Outstanding Lead Actress, Chay Yew’s Red, East West Players; Lee Melville Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Los Angeles Theatre Community, Playwrights’ Arena; Outstanding Artist Award, Los Angeles’ Pacific American Friends of Theatre.

Aaron Takahashi. Photo by Steven Lam

Aaron Takahashi has appeared in nearly 100 commercials, with multiple spots for Toyota, Dunkin’ Donuts, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Snapple, State Farm, Esurance, and Ebates. He is a former instructor and core performing member of Cold Tofu, the nation’s longest-running Asian American improv and sketch comedy troupe. He also was a Main Company member at ACME Comedy Theatre in Hollywood for sketch and improv.

Along with his numerous appearances as a featured player on Conan O’Brien’s late-night shows, Aaron has amassed several co-starring, guest starring and recurring roles on popular shows for CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, Comedy Central, Netflix, TBS, and IFC, including a recurring role on the critically acclaimed USA Network series “Mr. Robot”. He has been featured as a supporting lead actor in comedy blockbusters such as “Yes Man” opposite Jim Carrey, “Welcome to the Jungle” opposite Jean-Claude Van Damme, and “The Wedding Ringer” opposite Kevin Hart.

Snehal Desai and Aaron Takahashi. Photo by Steven Lam

Aaron’s long-lasting relationship with East West Players includes an 8-year run in the Theatre for Youth touring program, starring opposite Gedde Watanabe in the main stage production of Ixnay, teaching his commercial acting workshop as part of the Actors’ Conservatory, countless volunteer hours, and emceeing numerous events for the theatre.

Esther Chae von Zielbauer and Jeanne Sakata
Jeanne Sakata and Alice Tuan
Jeanne Sakata, Miya Cech, Emerson Min, Jake Choi, Araceli Prasarttongosoth, Hudson Yang
Ron Thompson, Jeanne Sakata, Sada Thompson, Takayo Fisher, June Angela, Kiyomi Emi.
Brian M. Chae, Jeanne Sakata and Esther Chae von Zielbauer.
Jake Choi and Jeanne Sakata
Karen Huie and Jeanne Sakata
Jeanne Sakata, Albert E. Aubin, Takayo Fischer. Photo by Steven Lam
Amy Lew, Takayo Fischer, Jeanne Sakata, Randy Tamura. Photo by Steven Lam
Jeanne Sakata and Emily Kuroda
Marilyn Tokuda, Suzy Nakamura, Takayo Fischer and Jeanne Sakata
Jane Kawahara, Alan and Sheila Lamson, Harry Kawahara

EWP Night Market featured tasting stations hosted by local restaurants, followed by an evening of performances at East West Players’ David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center of the Arts at 120 Judge John Aiso Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Proceeds of EWP Night Market support EWP’s artistic and educational programs.

Cindy Okuji, June Angela, Ron Thompson, Timothy Patterson, Emily Kuroda, Sada Thompson, Joy, David Okuji.

For more information about East West Players, please visit

Jeanne Sakata and Kurt Kanazawa. Photo by Steven Lam

Click here for the Facebook album of photos from the performances.

Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers,  musicians and corporations. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Jade Magazine and

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