Chatting with Raymond J. Lee about SOFT POWER, GROUNDHOG DAY and Feinstein’s/54 Below Show with Sharone Sayegh on July 26

Jon Hoche, Raymond J. Lee, Jaygee Macapugay, Daniel May, Kendyl Ito. Photo by Lia Chang
Raymond J. Lee
Raymond J. Lee

Raymond J. Lee is currently featured in the Bay Area premiere of Soft Power, the play featuring a musical by David Henry Hwang (play and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music and additional lyrics), at San Francisco’s Curran (445 Geary Street) through July 8, 2018. Click here for tickets.

A Center Theatre Group co-commission with The Public Theater, Soft Power had its world premiere at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.

After the run, he’ll be sharing the stage with Sharone Sayegh in the Feinstein’s/54 Below’s Summer 2018 concert series: Duo Shows at 54! on July 26. Click here for tickets.

In Soft Power, Mr. Lee plays Randy Ray (a renegade cowboy hoodlum), Yao To (Senior Information Correspondent at CCTV), a roller-skating waiter, General Ensemble Dancer Man, a passed out druggie on a Street Fighter Arcade Machine, and the evil gun-toting Veep.

Jon Hoche; Daniel May (facing away); Kendyl Ito; Kristen Faith Oei; Maria-Christina Oliveras (obscured); Raymond J. Lee; Jaygee Macapugay and Geena Quintos. Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz
Jon Hoche; Daniel May (facing away); Kendyl Ito; Kristen Faith Oei; Maria-Christina Oliveras (obscured); Raymond J. Lee; Jaygee Macapugay and Geena Quintos. Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz

Directed by Leigh Silverman (Violet) and choreographed by Sam Pinkleton (Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812), Soft Power rewinds our recent political history and plays it back, a century later, through the Chinese lens of a future, beloved East-meets-West musical. In the musical, a Chinese executive (Conrad Ricamora) who is visiting America finds himself falling in love with a good-hearted U.S. leader (Alyse Alan Louis) as the power balance between their two countries shifts following the 2016 election.

Conrad Ricamora, Austin Ku, Francis Jue, Geena Quintos, Billy Bustamante and Raymond J. Lee. Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz
Conrad Ricamora, Austin Ku, Francis Jue, Geena Quintos, Billy Bustamante and Raymond J. Lee. Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz

The cast of Soft Power features Billy Bustamante (Miss Saigon), Kara Guy, Jon Hoche (War Horse tour), Kendyl Ito (Matilda tour), Francis Jue (M. Butterfly), Austin Ku (Chinglish tour), Raymond J. Lee (Groundhog Day), Alyse Alan Louis (Amélie), Jaygee Macapugay (School of Rock), Daniel May (Thoroughly Modern Millie tour), Paul HeeSang Miller (Miss Saigon), Kristen Faith Oei (M. Butterfly), Maria-Christina Oliveras (Amélie), Geena Quintos (Miss Saigon), Conrad Ricamora (The King and I, “How to Get Away with Murder”), Trevor Salter (Here Lies Love) and Emily Stillings (The King and I).

Raymond J. Lee, Jaygee Macapugay, Austin Ku, Kendyl Ito and Jon Hoche. Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz
Raymond J. Lee, Jaygee Macapugay, Austin Ku, Kendyl Ito and Jon Hoche. Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz

Raymond J. Lee has appeared on Broadway as“Eddie” in Mamma Mia! (Broadway Debut), as “John” in Anything Goes; “Chan Elvis”/ “Raymond” in Honeymoon in Vegas; and “Ralph” in Groundhog Day. His television credits include “Billions,” “Smash,” “Red Oaks,” and “The Jim Gaffigan Show.” Below is my interview with him.

Lia: It’s Pride month – please share the details of the love of your life and the light of your life.
Ray: I am a proud married man to an awesome husband, Robbie Kearns. We are dads to a beautiful 4-year-old daughter, Ella Jean. My husband and I met through a dating website and have been married for six years. I think when I first knew I was gay, I didn’t think I’d be able to have a family like I do today and I’m so grateful everyday to live my life honestly. I grew up in a fundamental Christian household so homosexuality was a big no-no, but as I grew older and realized who I was and who I was attracted to, I made the decision to live my life happily and openly.

Raymond J. Lee, Mickey Mouse, Ella Jean and Robbie Kearns.
Raymond J. Lee, Mickey Mouse, Ella Jean and Robbie Kearns.

Lia: When did you first become attached to the Soft Power?
Ray: I got involved in spring 2017 with my first reading for Soft Power. At that point Act 1 had been written and two songs in Act 2 had been completed.

Lia: What has the process been like of developing a new work – a play that becomes a musical?
Ray: I think developing a new work is so exciting. It’s probably one of my favorite parts of this crazy business. I think there’s something so exciting, terrifying, and rewarding about developing a show, and this show has been so groundbreaking in terms of format. I’ve learned so much during this process.

Lia: Have your worked with either David or Jeanine before and if so, in what context?
Ray: David and I worked together on a reading of a Bruce Lee musical back in the day. I worked with Jeanine in the workshop of Shrek the Musical.

Lia: What has it been like for you to work with this cast?
Ray: This cast has been absolutely amazing. Everyone in this company is a triple threat. Seriously. And to top it all of they are all wonderful and amazing collaborators. We completely trust each other on that stage.

Seated: Jeanine Tesori, Francis Jue, Kendyl Ito, Daniel May. Standing: Trevor Salter, Sam Pinkleton, Emily Stillings, Billy Bustamante, Kristen Faith Oei, Jon Hoche, Leigh Silverman, Austin Ku, Paul HeeSang Miller, Jaygee Macapugay, Geena Quintos, Conrad Ricamora, Alyse Alan Louis, Raymond J. Lee, Maria-Christina Oliveras, David Henry Hwang. Photo by Lia Chang
Seated: Jeanine Tesori, Francis Jue, Kendyl Ito, Daniel May. Standing: Trevor Salter, Sam Pinkleton, Emily Stillings, Billy Bustamante, Kristen Faith Oei, Jon Hoche, Leigh Silverman, Austin Ku, Paul HeeSang Miller, Jaygee Macapugay, Geena Quintos, Conrad Ricamora, Alyse Alan Louis, Raymond J. Lee, Maria-Christina Oliveras, David Henry Hwang. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: Do you have a favorite character?
Ray: The Veep has to be my favorite because he gets to sing this awesome song in Act 2 about gun control in the United States. I channel my best Disney villain inner man-Ursula in that moment.

Jon Hoche, Raymond J. Lee, Jaygee Macapugay, Daniel May, Kendyl Ito. Photo by Lia Chang
Jon Hoche, Raymond J. Lee, Jaygee Macapugay, Daniel May, Kendyl Ito. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: Do you have a favorite moment or scene in the show?
Ray: I love our finale number. We get to go on stage in our regular street-style costumes and sing together and convey our message to the audience one final time as a cohesive team. It is a powerful way to end the show, together on that stage singing one of Jeanine Tesori & David Henry Hwang’s beautiful songs entitled “Democracy.”

The cast. Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz
The cast. Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz

Lia: You brought me such joy as Ralph in Groundhog Day. What was the casting process like and how did you develop him?
Ray: I loved the casting process for Groundhog Day because they truly color consciously cast the roles. The entire creative team tried to find the right people for the roles, despite skin color or size or age. It was truly refreshing. I remember seeing Vishal Vaidya at the callback and thinking “Oh of course we’re probably going in for the same part” but lo and behold we both went in for different roles and both got cast.

Vishal Vaidya, Rheaume Crenshaw, Andrew Call and Ray Lee backstage at GROUNDHOG DAY at the August Wilson Theatre in New York on April 5, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang
Vishal Vaidya, Rheaume Crenshaw, Andrew Call and Ray Lee backstage at GROUNDHOG DAY at the August Wilson Theatre in New York on April 5, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang

Ralph was a lot of fun to develop. He gets to be this drunkard at a bar, so I just channeled my inner college Ray at a Saturday night frat party, put a Punxsutawney accent on him, and there he was. Andrew Call was also the best partner-in-crime for that bar scene and we truly made comedy magic together on that stage. We had an amazing time together.

Andrew Call as Gus, Raymond J. Lee as Ralph and Andy Karl as Phil in GROUNDHOG DAY.
Andrew Call as Gus, Raymond J. Lee as Ralph and Andy Karl as Phil in GROUNDHOG DAY.

Lia: You’ve been appearing on TV lately. What is on your wish list?
Ray: I just appeared in an episode of “Billions” and an episode of “Succession”. I’ll also be in the upcoming Noah Baumbach film which will be released on Netflix later this year. I’m hoping to gain more TV credits in my career and my next dream is to be a series regular on a television show.

Lia: You performed with Sharone Sayegh in Mamma Mia!  on Broadway and will be sharing the stage with her in the Feinstein’s/54 Below’s Summer 2018 concert series: Duo Shows at 54! on July 26. How did you choose the theme?
Ray: I am so excited for our upcoming show. It’s called “Project Broadway: The Unconventional Materials Challenge” and we perform on Thursday, July 26 at 930pm. Be prepared for some pop songs, musical theater songs (that we could definitely play if given the chance), and a few mashups here and there. It’s going to be an amazing evening! My cabaret partner Sharone Sayegh is currently in The Band’s Visit and her voice is just phenomenal. Get ready y’all!

Lia: How have audiences been responding to Soft Power?
Ray: Oh they definitely have been responding! Each audience has been very different and been responding to different parts of the show in different ways, which I find fascinating. It also means that our audiences have been really engaged with our show. And I’ve heard from multiple people that our show inspires a lot of conversation post-show, which I think is great.

From left, cast members Alyse Alan Louis, Raymond J. Lee, Kendyl Ito, Jon Hoche, Maria-Christina Oliveras and Conrad Ricamora. Photos by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging
From left, cast members Alyse Alan Louis, Raymond J. Lee, Kendyl Ito, Jon Hoche, Maria-Christina Oliveras and Conrad Ricamora at the Ahmanson on the opening night of SOFT POWER on May 17, 2018. Photos by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

Lia: What do you hope people will take away from Soft Power?
Ray: I hope people will evaluate the state of our country and be more aware of their personal feelings on how our country is being run. Our show doesn’t insult America but rather points out what could be worked on and improved, by telling this story through a “Chinese lens.” I also want people to realize how many amazing and talented Asian performers there are out there! We just need more shows and roles written for us!

The Bay Area premiere of Soft Power, the play featuring a musical by David Henry Hwang (play and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music and additional lyrics), has performances at San Francisco’s Curran (445 Geary Street) through July 8, 2018. Click here for tickets.

raymondjlee.com 

Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits

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 is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. 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 Playbill.com.

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Up Close and Personal with Daniel K. Isaac – William Inge in Abingdon Theatre’s Production of THE GENTLEMAN CALLER by Philip Dawkins, May 5 – 26

Daniel K. Isaac. Photo by Lia Chang

Abingdon Theatre Company (Tony Speciale, Artistic Director; Denise Dickens, Producing Director) is presenting The Gentleman Caller, a new play by Philip Dawkins (Charm, Le Switch, The Homosexuals) as the first production of its 25th Anniversary main stage season.

Daniel K. Isaac and Juan Francisco Villa. Photo by Lia Chang
Daniel K. Isaac and Juan Francisco Villa. Photo by Lia Chang
Juan Francisco Villa and Daniel K. Isaac. Photo by Lia Chang
Juan Francisco Villa and Daniel K. Isaac. Photo by Lia Chang

Daniel K. Isaac (Showtime’s “Billions”) will play William Inge and Juan Francisco Villa (Oedipus El Rey) will play Tennessee Williams in the New York premiere production. Directed by Tony Speciale (Unnatural Acts, The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey), the limited engagement runs May 5 – 26 at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street, NYC) in Greenwich Village. The official opening night is May 10 at 7PM. Tickets are currently on sale at abingdontheatre.org or by calling Ovationtix at 212-352-3101. $25 Tix available for the first week of performances w/ Promo Code: “CALLER25”

Although now regarded as two of history’s finest American Playwrights, back in 1944, William Inge and Tennessee Williams hadn’t yet experienced anything close to success. The Gentleman Caller takes us back in time, before the Chicago premiere of The Glass Menagerie. Inge, a dissatisfied newspaper critic, invites Williams to his St. Louis apartment for an interview. This sexy, fraught rendezvous sparks a relationship, which radically alters the course of their lives and the American Theatre.

Daniel K. Isaac and Juan Francisco Villa. Photo by Lia Chang
Daniel K. Isaac and Juan Francisco Villa. Photo by Lia Chang

Daniel invited me to his rehearsal room at Shetler Studios to chat after a rehearsal.

Lia: How did you get cast in The Gentleman Caller?
Daniel: One of my best friends, Keelay Gipson, is a playwright. He was the playwright assistant to Philip Dawkins when he was doing Charm in the fall with MCC at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. I met Philip briefly then. And then when Tony Speciale and Abingdon Theatre Company were doing a reading of this play in December, Philip’s boyfriend recommended me to be a part of the reading after seeing me on “Billions”. And here we are today!

Chris Manelli, managing director, Victory Gardens, Brian Bosque, Philip Dawkins and Chay Yew, artistic director, Victory Gardens at at the 45th Annual Jeff Equity Awards ceremony, held at Drury Lane Oakbrook, Oakbrook Terrace, Il on November 4, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang
Chris Manelli, managing director, Victory Gardens, Brian Bosque, Philip Dawkins and Chay Yew, artistic director, Victory Gardens at the 45th Annual Jeff Equity Awards ceremony, held at Drury Lane Oakbrook, Oakbrook Terrace, Il on November 4, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: What was the thinking behind the non-traditional casting aspect of this play?
Daniel: Philip has always said while these are two historically white people, he has no interest in seeing two white actors portray these characters on the stage – that is not the society we are in or the storytelling that we should be doing in 2018, etc. He’s been committed to that. In Chicago, there is a Latinx actor playing Tennessee Williams and here in New York we have Juan, who is Columbian American, in that part. And I’m obviously Korean American. And, frankly, it’s a big deal. Until, one day, it won’t be. Which will be a wonderful day. Juan and have talked about it in the room. There is a lot of healing happening for us in that we never imagined that we would get to play these characters.

Daniel K. Isaac and Juan Francisco Villa. Photo by Lia Chang
Daniel K. Isaac and Juan Francisco Villa. Photo by Lia Chang

Before Hamilton, I could not fathom any actor of color getting to play our founding fathers, let alone anyone from American History that wasn’t white. And in school, I didn’t get to study Williams or Inge with the same fervor as my white classmates because I never thought there would be a place for me in their work.

(Courtesy photograph by Joan Marcus) Joseph Morales as Alexander Hamilton and Marcus Choi as George Washington in the national tour, which will play Salt Lake City April 11 through May 6.
(Courtesy photograph by Joan Marcus) Joseph Morales as Alexander Hamilton and Marcus Choi as George Washington in the national tour, which will play Salt Lake City April 11 through May 6.
Sanjit De Silva, Mia Katigbak, Henry Yuk and James Saito in a scene from NAATCO’s revival of Clifford Odets’  “Awake and Sing!” (Photo credit: William P. Steele) 
Sanjit De Silva, Mia Katigbak, Henry Yuk and James Saito in a scene from NAATCO’s revival of Clifford Odets’  “Awake and Sing!” (Photo credit: William P. Steele)

NAATCO, the National Asian American Theatre Company, has been a great healing presence for me because they are committed to revivals of shows with full Asian American casts. Their production of Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing was stunning and heart wrenchingly beautiful.

I never fathomed that I would get to play William Inge. Even when I did the reading, I viewed it as a gift – that I would love and appreciate this day of workshopping and presenting a staged reading for a small audience. And that would be that. But then I got that magical phone call that so rarely happens, “Hey, you remember that reading? We want to slate that show into our season. Are you available?” I workshop so many new plays. I love them and I want to do new plays for the rest of my life. But I am realistic that you don’t often get to do the final production, because it’s out of town or scheduling conflicts. In this instance, I got to do the reading and the production – it’s a gift. And to have the playwright in the room. He really knows and loves these people. The play started for him when he did a residency at William Inge’s house. It was birthed from William Inge’s home in Independence, Kansas.

Juan Francisco Villa and Daniel K. Isaac. Photo by Lia Chang
Daniel K. Isaac. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: How are you conducting your research to portray William Inge?
Daniel: I’d seen the Picnic revival at Roundabout Theatre Company several years ago. I’d maybe read Picnic and Bus Stop in college and that was it. So I had no real knowledge of him. In fact, Inge was a very private person in his personal life. There isn’t as much documentation on him. Our dialect coach, Ron Carlos, found me an Oscar winning speech clip of Inge when he won for Splendor in the Grass. It’s less than 30 seconds because Oscar speeches were much shorter back then. But it’s just enough of his voice. Philip recommended two biographies and one veiled autobiography, My Son Is a Splendid Driver, for me to read. I also set about reading all of his plays that were done on Broadway. He had four successive Broadway hits: Come Back Little Sheba, Picnic, Bus Stop and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. I read all four of them. After that, his Broadway success rate drastically declines and it really devastates him. He does some movies in Hollywood successfully, but only for a spell. I’m reading his short plays now and his other less successful plays, in addition to the biographies and autobiography. It’s an ongoing balance with research and learning all of my lines.

Daniel K. Isaac. Photo by Lia Chang
Daniel K. Isaac. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: How old is Inge in the play?
Daniel: Our play is set in 1944. Inge is 31 and Williams is 33 – but they both lie about their ages for various reasons.

The play is in two acts and takes place over two different evenings- one prior to Glass Menagerie’s premiere in Chicago and one after Glass Menagerie premieres. They both had met in real life – in St. Louis and in Chicago. But there has been some fictional liberties taken about what actually happened in those meetings. Inge was an arts critic at the time and he interviewed Williams. Philip likes to joke that the article that Inge wrote about Williams is so full of errors and falsehoods – that even though Tennessee was always one to mythologize his origin story and the origins of his name and such – to Philip the article is proof that they did very little interviewing and probably much more whatever. The other thing that Philip always brings up is that Williams was notorious for shading everyone he encountered. He had something to say about everyone, and not in a positive light – bitchy, catty, just shade. With Inge, he doesn’t. There is something telling in that. Williams also introduced Inge to his Lit Agent. There is this whole generous side of Tennessee Williams that no one knows about.

Philip brought up this story in rehearsal of when Inge committed suicide, his girlfriend at the time called Williams to ask, “What do I need to get rid of before the authorities come?” There was a deep level of intimacy and closeness even though at that point they weren’t seeing each other regularly. There was a frenemy or competitive edge between them. But there was a level of intimacy that no one knows about. What bravery for that time period. This is pre-“Will and Grace,” “Queer and Folk,” and legalized gay marriage. They were trailblazers in their art but neither Inge nor Williams could survive their time period, which is the tragedy of their actual lives. This plays captures a beginning between the two of them.

Lia: Are there other things that Philip Dawkins draws upon to help inform the two of you?
Daniel: One day during table work Philip said, Williams and Inge were trying to create safe, queer spaces at a time in which there were no safe, queer spaces. The world conspired against them during their time. The fact that they even attempted to make that space for themselves is beautiful and tragic and what makes this story worth telling.

Lia: How does that particular point speak to you and the artist that you are?
Daniel: I went through so much self-hatred and repression and internalized homophobia. I had to come out multiple times before I finally did come out and not fight it as a “sin” or resist or suppress or deny. It’s been an ongoing journey and I think I’ve come a long way in my own personal life. I’ve been able to heal by sharing my own personal story, especially my relationship with my mom and our religious background. But I don’t think I’ve ever been able to explore that on stage. I don’t often play gay characters and it’s a privilege to get to play a historically, albeit closeted, important one. His repression and self-loathing and fear and baggage and depths of depression—I am bringing something very personal to that. Mining my own experience, so to speak. And that is a gift to get to explore in the safe space of the theatre.

Daniel K. Isaac in “Billions”.
Daniel K. Isaac at the Showtime and elit Vodka hosted BILLIONS Season 2 premiere and party, held at Cipriani's in New York City on February 13, 2017. (Facebook)
Daniel K. Isaac at the Showtime and elit Vodka hosted BILLIONS Season 2 premiere and party, held at Cipriani’s in New York City on February 13, 2017. (Facebook)

Lia: Who is Ben Kim in “Billions”?
Daniel: Ben Kim is an analyst at Axe Capital. He starts out in the pilot as a promising and potentially cocky new hire who brags about an education at “Stanford-Wharton.” But he is immediately eclipsed and humbled by Damian Lewis’ brilliant Bobby Axelrod. Over the course of two seasons you see Ben Kim navigating the trials and tribulations of the finance world with increasing neuroses and awkwardness. When I auditioned back in December of 2015, Ben Kim was only in one scene of the pilot. And here we are, three seasons later. It’s been incredible.

Lia: What has your experience been like, working on this show, with this cast and this crew?
Daniel: I was realizing after we wrapped season three that I’d never done 36 of anything! Maybe performances of a play? Maybe. But to do 36 episodes of this show with this cast and crew is truly mind-blowing. I’m so grateful that I’ve gotten to explore a character for this long, while also getting closer to the people I am working with. And I got to quit waiting tables and bartending! It has changed my life. And I have a new family!

Maggie Siff, Daniel K. Isaac and Dan Soder in "Billions."
Maggie Siff, Daniel K. Isaac and Dan Soder in “Billions.”
Maggie Siff and Daniel K. Isaac at the Showtime and elit Vodka hosted BILLIONS Season 2 premiere and party, held at Cipriani's in New York City on February 13, 2017. - Photo: Brian Bedder/SHOWTIME
Maggie Siff and Daniel K. Isaac at the Showtime and elit Vodka hosted BILLIONS Season 2 premiere and party, held at Cipriani’s in New York City on February 13, 2017. – Photo: Brian Bedder/SHOWTIME

Lia: Have you gotten to know the writers?
Daniel: Yes, they’re amazing! They’ll sneak in stuff from my personal life and add it to Ben Kim to enhance the character. I talk about my mom a lot in my own work and they’ve used that for Ben Kim in really hilarious ways. In the first season you learn that Ben Kim’s parents were Korean immigrants who had a convenience store. In episode three of this season Ben Kim has a mini-breakdown about his mom with Wendy, the brilliant performance coach played by Maggie Siff. The baggage of being an immigrant’s child is a very familiar theme in my own life. It is a privilege to get to portray Ben Kim with the personal experience of being a Korean American child of immigrants myself, and with such mature writing behind it. The trap with a character like Ben Kim would have been for him to be one-dimensional or stereotypical. Instead, the writers are so great about fully fleshing out the ensemble. This season we are seeing so many different sides of all these supporting characters that you maybe thought were ancillary, but are actually integral towards what makes the world of “Billions” so rich and vibrant and authentic on both the government and the finance side. It’s been a real joy to work on.

Daniel K. Isaac and Dan Soder.
Daniel K. Isaac and Dan Soder.

Lia: Who are your favorite cast members to work with?
Daniel: Dan Soder, who plays Mafee, is a brilliant standup comedian and we both live in Astoria so we travel to and from set together. I‘ve gone to see his shows in the city and in Philly; and he has a brilliant Netflix special everyone should watch! We also both have single mothers and are only children so I think the bond is strong there. The whole Axe Capital gang gets to shoot together so we’ve gotten really close. I carry a flask around because of Kelly Aucoin (Dollar Bill). I love seeing David Costabile (Wags) and Chris Carfizzi’s (Rudy) baby pictures. Asia Kate Dillon and I had oysters the other week. Zina Wilde (Helena) just made a short film with Kelly and Stephen Kunken (Spyros). And we even cross-pollinated over to the #TeamChuck’s side and had a viewing party at Toby Leonard Moore’s (Connerty) place.

Dan Soder, Ilfenesh Hadera, Shaunette Renee Wilson, Daniel K. Isaac, Kelly AuCoin, Asia Kate Dillon and Malachi Weir (front) at the Showtime and elit Vodka hosted BILLIONS Season 2 premiere and party, held at Cipriani's in New York City on February 13, 2017. - Photo: Dave Kotinsky/SHOWTIME
Dan Soder, Ilfenesh Hadera, Shaunette Renee Wilson, Daniel K. Isaac, Kelly AuCoin, Asia Kate Dillon and Malachi Weir (front) at the Showtime and elit Vodka hosted BILLIONS Season 2 premiere and party, held at Cipriani’s in New York City on February 13, 2017. – Photo: Dave Kotinsky/SHOWTIME

Recently, I had the privilege of attending Condola Rashad’s (Sacker) Opening Night on Broadway in Saint Joan. She is a goddess! She’s so wonderful, so talented, so generous, and so humble and kind. I love seeing theatre. And I love seeing friends in theatre.

I guess it’s hard to pick a favorite! We’ve become a family!

“According To My Mother” update:
I’ve learned to take pain and turn it into art.

The director and writing partner of “According To My Mother,” Cathy Yan, did really well at Sundance with her debut feature film, Dead Pigs, and now she is set to direct the new Harlequin spinoff movie with Margot Robbie! It is so exciting, an Asian American female identifying Hollywood Blockbuster filmmaker. This is huge. We need to have more.
First Look Media has a production company called Topic and they are our biggest supporters. Now we are looking for the right network and the right people who want to present this story.

Other people have been trying to tell our stories for so long. It’s important that we get to tell our stories now, more than ever. Look how successful they have been in recent years, with Black Panther and Moonlight. I’m really excited for Crazy Rich Asians.

The Kevin Kwan connection
Daniel: I used to be a waiter at a steakhouse that Kevin liked to go to. I became friends with him by being his waiter. He offered me his first book to read and of course I devoured it. And then I was a reader for his second book! It was my first time getting to be a reader on a piece of fiction and I love fiction. I read mostly fiction. When he told me about the movie, I was so excited for him. I can’t wait to see it. Kevin has lots of projects in the pipeline. And he was on the 2018 TIME 100 List, and just got honored this past week.

Lia: What next for you?
Daniel: It’s been announced that “Billions” has been renewed for Season 4! Yay! I have some writing deadlines as a playwright so I’ll have a couple readings in June. One I have to finish is for Youngblood at Ensemble Studio Theatre. And I’m currently working on my second full length play, Sex Play. In June we’ll have a public reading of it. More details to come!

Lia: What does it take for you to switch your gears as a multi-hyphenate artist?
Daniel: I will say that I am so thankful for “Billions” because it has allowed me the financial independence to not have to wait tables. I was waiting tables and bartending even between Season 1 and 2, as Season 1 was airing. Finally around Season 2—I had this deal with this steakhouse that I would pick up shifts when I could – I went to try and pick up a shift during the holidays and I could no longer log into the restaurants online database. I realized they had taken me off of their list of servers and bartenders. I thought that was my sign from the universe that you are not going to do this anymore. It was around that time that I dove head first into writing more because I had the privilege of time and resources to get to explore that voice more fully. Now I am a part of Youngblood at EST and Page 73’s Interstate Writers Group, my first two writers groups giving me support and feedback and structure.

It’s not hard for me to switch hats. I believe being a multi-hyphenate artist helps you in whatever artistry you are currently focusing on, because all the other hats help inform it. Your level of empathy for all the other artists in the room is so much deeper. Especially with theater which is such a collaborative art form during rehearsals. For example, with The Gentleman Caller, Juan is a playwright, Tony, our director, is a playwright and the play itself is about two playwrights. We have such deep empathy with their fears of failure and dreams of success and their ambition and torment and and and. And this enhances our story telling in the room.

Lia: Why should people come see The Gentleman Caller?
Daniel: It’s a two-person show. I’ve never been more vulnerable and honest. I’m given the privilege and the vehicle to get to bring these two people to life on a New York stage in an Off-Broadway capacity with the support that isn’t always offered to Others, artists of color, artists that are queer, etc. Anyone who has ever felt like a minority or the underdog, I hope, will see themselves in this show. And isn’t this the type of theatre we want to support so we can see more of it happening? Inclusive, queer, empathetic, radical in love and pain. There are risks being taken by not hiring two white actors to play these roles, these two historically recognizable and still relevant artists. I want that risk to pay off. And it should. I hope the community comes to support it. More than ever. All of that only deepens the storytelling. I want it to be the norm, the standard.

The Gentleman Caller features a scenic design by Sara C. Walsh (Queen of the Night), costume design by Hunter Kaczorowski (The Dork Knight), lighting design by Zach Blane (Too Much, Too Much, Too Many), and sound design and original music by Christian Frederickson (Antigone, Trojan Women).

Daniel K. Isaac. Photo by Lia Chang
Daniel K. Isaac. Photo by Lia Chang

Daniel K. Isaac (William Inge) is an actor and writer based in New York City. You can currently see him on the small screen as ‘Ben Kim’ in Showtime’s “Billions.” Select NYC: Sagittarius Ponderosa (NAATCO), Underland (59E59), La Divina Caricatura (La MaMa, Under the Radar & St. Ann’s Warehouse), Anna Nicole the Opera (BAM). Select Regional: The Ballad of Little Jo (Two River Theater), Miss Electricity (La Jolla Playhouse). Film/TV: MONEY MONSTER (dir. Jodie Foster), “The Jim Gaffigan Show” (TV LAND), “Search Party” (TBS), “Crashing” (HBO), “The Following” (FOX), “Person of Interest” (CBS), “Believe” (NBC, pilot), TOO BIG TO FAIL (HBO), and “According To My Mother” (NYTVF Best Drama & Best Actor, Inaugural Sundance New Voices Lab, www.AccordingToMyMother.com). Daniel is a member of Page 73’s 2018 Interstate 73 Writers Group, Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Youngblood, and a Lambda Literary Playwriting Fellow. Training: UCSD, BADA. www.DanielKIsaac.com

Daniel K. Isaac Talks “Billions” and “According to My Mother” 

Daniel K. Isaac and Juan Francisco Villa Star in Abingdon Theatre Co.’s New York Premiere of Philip Dawkins’ THE GENTLEMAN CALLER at Cherry Lane, May 5 -26 

Jon Norman Schneider, Jiehae Park, Keelay Gipson, Julian Leong, Diana Oh, David Shih and Teal Wicks in Daniel K. Isaac’s OR OR OR &&& at The Actors Fund Arts Center 

David Henry Hwang Presents 2017 Kesselring Prize to Lauren Yee at National Arts Club 

Click here  for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits

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 is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. 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 Playbill.com.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2018 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

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Lily Mariye Talks about Women at the Helm, Her DGA Nomination and Receiving the 2018 East West Players Visionary Award

Lily Mariye
Lily Mariye
Lily Mariye

Congrats to Lily Mariye who will be receiving the 2018 East West Players Visionary Award at the East West Players (EWP) Annual Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction at the Hilton Universal City on Monday, April 30th.

East West Players (EWP), the nation’s longest-running professional theater of color and the largest producing organization of Asian Pacific American artistic work is celebrating THE COMPANY WE KEEP, its 52nd Anniversary season with the Annual Visionary Awards Gala Benefit.

Suzy Nakamura, Jon Jon Briones and Wendy Chang/Dwight Stuart Youth Fund will also be honored. Recognizing the achievements of individuals who have raised the visibility of the Asian Pacific American (APA) community through their craft, proceeds from the gala fundraiser  will benefit East West Players’ educational and artistic programs.

Lily Mariye, an award winning actor and director, is a 2018 Outstanding Directorial Achievement nominee for the 70th Annual DGA Awards for her episode of Amazon’s “Just Add Magic.” She is a television and film director, best known for CBS’ “Criminal Minds” and “NCIS: Los Angeles,” NBC’s “Chicago PD,” Freeform’s “The Fosters,” and CMT’s “Nashville.” Model Minority (modelminoritymovie.com) is Mariye’s feature writing and directorial debut and has won 11 Film Festival Awards around the world, including Best Film, Best Director, Best New Actress and Best Cinematography. As an actor, Mariye is best known for her role as nurse Lily Jarvik on the award-winning TV series “ER” for 15 seasons, for which she won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble in a Drama Series four times.

Lily Mariye and her husband, Concord recording artist, saxophonist Boney James, at the DGA Awards Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 3, 2018.
Lily Mariye and her husband, Concord recording artist, saxophonist Boney James, at the DGA Awards Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 3, 2018.

I caught up with Lily via email to talk about Women at the Helm, Her DGA Nomination and Receiving the 2018 East West Players Visionary Award.

Lia: This Spring you received your first Directors Guild of America award nomination in the Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children’s Programs category this year. Where were you when you heard about the nomination and what was your reaction?
Lily: I was editing my episode of “NCIS: Los Angeles” the day the nominations were announced and hadn’t looked at my phone since lunchtime. I wasn’t watching for the nomination announcements because, well, frankly, I didn’t think I had a chance! I packed up my stuff and as I got in the elevator to go home, I pulled out my phone. It had blown up with texts and emails and I thought, “What the Heck?” I opened my emails and the first one I saw was from my directing mentor and friend, Lesli Linka Glatter. The subject line was BRAVO!!!!!!!!! and all it said was, “So so so so so thrilled for you…..HUGE CONGRATULATIONS Lily !!!!” with a million emojis. I still had no idea what was happening, so I opened a few more and saw that I had been nominated for a DGA Award! By the time I got down to the first floor, I was almost hyperventilating. I signed out of the building, then had to sit down in the lobby to get my bearings. I was shocked, honored and thrilled! And I still am…

Lia: What shows have you directed since “Nashville”?
Lily: I feel fortunate that I got to direct three episodes of “Nashville” before it ended. “Nashville” was the first episode of television I directed and the cast and crew will always hold a special place in my heart. Since then I’ve directed “The Fosters,” “Just Add Magic,” “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Chicago P.D.” and “Criminal Minds.”

On the set of “Nashville” (from left): Mark Collie, who plays Frankie Gray and is a country hitmaker in real life; Taylor Hamra, writer and co-executive producer; Charles Esten, who plays Deacon Claybourne; and director Lily Mariye. (Photo courtesy Lily Mariye)
On the set of “Nashville” (from left): Mark Collie, who plays Frankie Gray and is a country hitmaker in real life; Taylor Hamra, writer and co-executive producer; Charles Esten, who plays Deacon Claybourne; and director Lily Mariye. (Photo courtesy Lily Mariye)

Lia: Have you felt a change within the industry with more women at the helm?
Lily: The shift I feel is that women seem more empowered to speak up. I’m encouraged and inspired by the female gaze in film and television, especially in genres that have always been male dominated, such as action. What I find most encouraging about watching women direct action is that the end product is just as powerful as when men direct. Women are strong and tough, and for the women who get to positions of power, they’ve had to be even stronger and tougher.

Lia: What is your favorite set that you have worked on lately?
Lily: I can’t pick! They’ve all been fun and fulfilling for different reasons: I loved working with Daniel Henney on “Criminal Minds.” He’s a really talented actor and a sweetheart to work with. I worked hard to make him look like an Action Star, which he IS! I got to work with L.L. Cool J on “NCIS: Los Angeles.” He is one of the most supportive men I’ve ever met: kind, smart and willing. And I got to blow up a house! “Chicago P.D.” was a fun set and I got to work with my old “ER” friend, Eriq La Salle, who is the director/producer on the show.

Daniel Henney, Christopher Barbour, Lily Mariye and Kelly Frye on the set of "Criminal Minds."
Daniel Henney, Christopher Barbour, Lily Mariye and Kelly Frye on the set of “Criminal Minds.”

Lia: You are receiving the Visionary Award from East West Players. Have you worked with them as an artist? If so, what were the shows and the years that they were produced?
Lily: When I started doing professional theatre, I did a lot of staged readings at the Mark Taper Forum and East West Players in the 80’s. In 1993, I played the Witch in Tim Dang’s production of Into The Woods. I directed God of Carnage as a benefit for the theatre last year. It starred Parminder Nagra (“ER”), Sherri Saum (“The Fosters”), Marc Anthony Samuel (“General Hospital,” MODEL MINORITY) and Rizwan Manji (“The Magicians,” THE WOLF OF WALL STREET).

Lia: What does receiving the East West Players Visionary Award mean to you?
Lily: It’s incredible, not only to be honored by your peers, but by the Asian American community! I had very few Asian American female actors as role models growing up. And I saw no Asian American female directors to try to emulate. The importance of our mere existence hasn’t eluded me, and in this moment, I couldn’t be prouder to be an Asian American female actor and director.

Lia: What’s next for you?
Lily: Next season, so far, I’ll be directing “Chicago P.D.,” “Criminal Minds,”” MacGyver” and two more episodes of “NCIS: Los Angeles.” I’m hoping as more shows get picked up, I’ll get to direct a few more! I’m also attached to direct a feature, LOST AND FOUND, by Oscar Nominee, Iris Yamashita. LOST AND FOUND is a wonderful script about children who remember past lives. It’s a thrilling yet touching story, and I’m honored to be working with her and producer Jimmy Tsai.

Seated: Jeanine Tesori, Francis Jue, Kendyl Ito, Daniel May. Standing: Trevor Salter, Sam Pinkleton, Emily Stillings, Billy Bustamante, Kristen Faith Oei, Jon Hoche, Leigh Silverman, Austin Ku, Paul HeeSang Miller, Jaygee Macapugay, Geena Quintos, Conrad Ricamora, Alyse Alan Louis, Raymond J. Lee, Maria-Christina Oliveras, David Henry Hwang. Photo by Lia Chang
SOFT POWER cast and creative team – seated: Jeanine Tesori, Francis Jue, Kendyl Ito, Daniel May; standing: Trevor Salter, Sam Pinkleton, Emily Stillings, Billy Bustamante, Kristen Faith Oei, Jon Hoche, Leigh Silverman, Austin Ku, Paul HeeSang Miller, Jaygee Macapugay, Geena Quintos, Conrad Ricamora, Alyse Alan Louis, Raymond J. Lee, Maria-Christina Oliveras, David Henry Hwang. Photo by Lia Chang

Also joining the evening’s festivities are Reggie Lee, Deedee Magno Hall, Cliffton Hall, Justin W. Yu, and company members from David Henry Hwang’s Soft Power (produced by Center Theatre Group in association with East West Players) and East West Players’ upcoming production of Nathan Ramos’ As We Babble On.

East West Players’ 52nd Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction will be held on Monday, April 30, 2018 at the Hilton Universal City, 555 Universal Hollywood Drive, Universal City, CA 91608. VIP Reception for Premium Table Circle sponsors, silent auction, and no-host cocktails starts at 5:30pm. The dinner and awards show begins at 7pm.

Individual tickets are $200- $1,500. Full table sponsorship packages are also available. For more information please contact East West Players at (213) 625-7000 or galaguests@eastwestplayers.org.

For more information about East West Players, please visit www.eastwestplayers.org.

Lily Mariye Talks Directing “Nashville,” the Disney-ABC Creative Talent Development Program and What’s Next 

Click here  for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits

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 is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. 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 Playbill.com.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2018 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

Jon Jon Briones, Suzy Nakamura, Lily Mariye and Wendy Chang/Dwight Stuart Youth Fund Among Honorees at East West Players’ 52nd Visionary Awards on April 30

Jon Jon Briones. Photo by Lia Chang

East West Players (EWP), the nation’s longest-running professional theater of color and the largest producing organization of Asian Pacific American artistic work, celebrates THE COMPANY WE KEEP, its 52nd Anniversary season with the Annual Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction. Recognizing the achievements of individuals who have raised the visibility of the Asian Pacific American (APA) community through their craft, the gala fundraiser takes place on Monday, April 30, 2018 at the Hilton Universal City. Proceeds benefit East West Players’ educational and artistic programs.

In addition to previously announced honorees Lily Mariye and Wendy Chang/Dwight Stuart Youth Fund, EWP will also honor Suzy Nakamura and Jon Jon Briones.

Jon Jon Briones. Photo by Lia Chang
Jon Jon Briones. Photo by Lia Chang

Jon Jon Briones, actor, was born and raised in Quezon City, Philippines. At 9 years old he was sent to live at Santo Domingo convent as a boy soprano in the “Tiples of Santo Domingo” choir. This was to be his first formal training. In 1989, he joined the original London cast of Miss Saigon. Recently, he played the Engineer in the London 2014 revival (Olivier Award nominee, What’s One Stage Award winner) and its Broadway transfer (Drama Desk Award nominee, Theater Award winner). He has appeared in several other productions of Miss Saigon, among numerous additional stage credits. He has had the privilege of working with East West players in La Cage Aux Folles (Ovation Award nominee) and A Little Night Music. He was proudly involved in the pre-Broadway development of Allegiance at The Old Globe. Last month, Briones received raves for his chilling and brilliant portrayal as Modesto Cunanan on the television drama American Crime Story: Assassination of Gianni Versace.

THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE: AMERICAN CRIME STORY "Creator/Destroyer" Episode 8 (Airs Wednesday, March 14, 10:00 p.m. e/p) -- Pictured: (l-r) Jon Jon Briones as Modesto Cunanan, Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan. CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX
THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE: AMERICAN CRIME STORY “Creator/Destroyer” Episode 8 (Airs Wednesday, March 14, 10:00 p.m. e/p) — Pictured: (l-r) Jon Jon Briones as Modesto Cunanan, Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan. CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX
Suzy Nakamura
Suzy Nakamura

Suzy Nakamura, actor. Born and raised in Chicago, Suzy began her career in the touring company of The Second City, and then opened the first two revues at The Second City Detroit. After moving to Los Angeles, she began guest starring on television, landing recurring roles on “The West Wing” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Series regular roles include the ABC comedy “Dr. Ken,” opposite Ken Jeong, and NBC’s “Go On,” opposite Matthew Perry. Recent guest starring credits include “Station 19,” “Elementary,” and “Veep,” and recurring roles on “Blackish,” “The Goldbergs,” and “Modern Family.” Her film credits include Hollywood hits, but she is most proud of smaller independents like Afternoon Delight, Strawberry FieldsTreasure Island, and Timecode.

Lily Mariye
Lily Mariye

Lily Mariye, actor and director, is a 2018 Outstanding Directorial Achievement nominee for the 70th Annual DGA Awards for her episode of Amazon’s “Just Add Magic.” She is a television and film director, best known for CBS’ “Criminal Minds” and “NCIS: Los Angeles,” NBC’s “Chicago PD,” Freeform’s “The Fosters,” and CMT’s “Nashville.” Model Minority (modelminoritymovie.com) is Mariye’s feature writing and directorial debut and has won 11 Film Festival Awards around the world, including Best Film, Best Director, Best New Actress and Best Cinematography. As an actor, Mariye is best known for her role as nurse Lily Jarvik on the award-winning TV series “ER” for 15 seasons, for which she won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble in a Drama Series four times.

Dwight Stuart Youth Fund. Originally established as an independent foundation in 2001, the Dwight Stuart Youth Fund (DSYF) was endowed by Dwight L. Stuart, Sr. (1924-1998) to benefit and serve the needs of children and youth in Los Angeles County. Since 2010, DSYF has been a grantmaking arm of the San Francisco-based Stuart Foundation. The Foundation is a programmatic funder of public and private institutions and organizations, whose goal is the improvement of life outcomes for young people in the K-12 education systems in California and Washington State. Mr. Stuart was raised in the Pacific Northwest and lived for many years in Los Angeles. He was president of the Carnation Company from 1973-1983 and was the grandson of its founder, E.A. Stuart. A life-long supporter of youth mentoring and sports programs, he was also a board member of the Stuart Foundation.

“I could not be more proud to announce our four outstanding honorees this year,” says Producing Artistic Director Snehal Desai. “Suzy, Jon Jon, Lily, and Wendy all have a strong and deep connection with East West Players as artists who have performed on our stage, as students in our classes, and as fierce supporters and advocates of our organization. We can’t wait to honor these individuals, who have such a close relationship to us and are affecting great change through their work.”

Also joining the evening’s festivities are Reggie Lee, Deedee Magno Hall, Cliffton Hall, Justin W. Yu, and company members from David Henry Hwang’s Soft Power (produced by Center Theatre Group in association with East West Players) and East West Players’ upcoming production of Nathan Ramos’ As We Babble On.

EWP will honor previously announced honoree Tzi Ma at a future Visionary Awards gala.

Current major sponsors (as of April 9, 2018) of the gala include: TITANIUM: ABC/Disney and Dwight Stuart Youth Fund. PLATINUM: CBS Television Network and NBC Universal. GOLD: Aratani Foundation. BRONZE: Los Angeles LGBT Center, Carmen J. Smith, Randall & Mari Tamura, Lynn Waggoner, and Wells Fargo. COPPER CIRCLE: Asian Pacific American Friends of the Theatre; Snehal Desai, Pia Palomo & Jerry A. Gonzales II; Peter Shimamoto; Nielsen; Union Bank; and Jeff Yang. Additional information will be released shortly.

Gala Committee Members include: Co-Chair Daniel Mayeda, Co-Chair Peter Shimamoto, Albert E. Aubin, Jason M. Blackwell, Kin W. Cheng, Snehal Desai, Nora DeVeau-Rosen, Ken Katsumoto, Jay Kim, David & Carrie Lee, Reggie Lee, Carolina San Juan, Judy Sasaki, Sally Pai Unruh, and Jeff Yang.

East West Players’ 52nd Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction will be held on Monday, April 30, 2018 at the Hilton Universal City, 555 Universal Hollywood Drive, Universal City, CA 91608. VIP Reception for Premium Table Circle sponsors, silent auction, and no-host cocktails starts at 5:30pm. The dinner and awards show begins at 7pm.

Individual tickets are $200- $1,500. Full table sponsorship packages are also available. For more information please contact East West Players at (213) 625-7000 or galaguests@eastwestplayers.org.

For more information about East West Players, please visit www.eastwestplayers.org.

East West Players Honors Tzi Ma, Lily Mariye and Dwight Stuart Youth Fund At 52nd Anniversary Visionary Awards on April 30

Lily Mariye and Tzi Ma

East West Players (EWP), the nation’s longest-running professional theater of color and the largest producing organization of Asian Pacific American artistic work, celebrates THE COMPANY WE KEEP, its 52nd Anniversary season with the Annual Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction. Recognizing the achievements of individuals who have raised the visibility of the Asian Pacific American (APA) community through their craft, the gala fundraiser takes place on Monday, April 30, 2018 at the Hilton Universal City. Proceeds benefit East West Players’ educational and artistic programs.

The three honorees are:

Tzi Ma
Tzi Ma

Tzi Ma, actor and director. Having started his acting career in theatre in New York City in 1973, Ma has an impressive number of theatre credits and has worked with some of America’s most gifted playwrights. He has had numerous works written specifically for him, such as The Dance and the Railroad by David Henry Hwang, for which Ma won a CINE Golden Eagle Award, a Dramalogue Award for Best Director, and a Dramalogue Award for Best Choreographer (at EWP); and In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe by Eric Overmyer. Ma also collaborated with Mr. Hwang on FOB, Flower Drum Song (Garland Award nomination for Best Actor and Los Angeles City Council Citation), Yellow Face, and the film Golden Gate. His most recent films include Arrival, Sky Scraper, Mediation Park (Best Actor nomination from the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television), and Pali Road (Jury Award on outstanding contribution to diversity in film).

Lily Mariye
Lily Mariye

Lily Mariye, actor and director, is a 2018 Outstanding Directorial Achievement nominee for the 70th Annual DGA Awards for her episode of Amazon’s “Just Add Magic.” She is a television and film director, best known for CBS’ “Criminal Minds” and “NCIS: Los Angeles,” NBC’s “Chicago PD,” Freeform’s “The Fosters,” and CMT’s “Nashville.” Model Minority (modelminoritymovie.com) is Mariye’s feature writing and directorial debut and has won 11 Film Festival Awards around the world, including Best Film, Best Director, Best New Actress and Best Cinematography. As an actor, Mariye is best known for her role as nurse Lily Jarvik on the award-winning TV series “ER” for 15 seasons, for which she won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble in a Drama Series four times.

Dwight Stuart Youth Fund. Originally established as an independent foundation in 2001, the Dwight Stuart Youth Fund (DSYF) was endowed by Dwight L. Stuart, Sr. (1924-1998) to benefit and serve the needs of children and youth in Los Angeles County. Since 2010, DSYF has been a grantmaking arm of the San Francisco-based Stuart Foundation. The Foundation is a programmatic funder of public and private institutions and organizations, whose goal is the improvement of life outcomes for young people in the K-12 education systems in California and Washington State. Mr. Stuart was raised in the Pacific Northwest and lived for many years in Los Angeles. He was president of the Carnation Company from 1973-1983 and was the grandson of its founder, E.A. Stuart. A life-long supporter of youth mentoring and sports programs, he was also a board member of the Stuart Foundation.

“East West Players is thrilled to recognize the incredible work of Tzi, Lily, and the Dwight Stuart Youth Fund,” says EWP Producing Artistic Director Snehal Desai. “The accomplishments of Tzi and Lily as actors and directors have been pivotal in raising the visibility of Asian Americans on stage-including the EWP stage-as well as in television and film. They are both fearless and outspoken advocates for Asian Americans in Hollywood. The Dwight Stuart Youth Fund isa groundbreaking supporter of underserved children and youth, whose work has left an indelible mark in our community and whose support has enabled EWP’s Theater For Youth program to empower our youth through storytelling. We are honored to be recognizing them and their efforts. ?”

Current major sponsors (as of February 12, 2018) of the gala include: TITANIUM: Dwight Stuart Youth Fund. GOLD: Aratani Foundation. BRONZE: Randall & Mari Tamura, Lynn Waggoner. COPPER CIRCLE: Snehal Desai, Pia Palomo & Jerry A. Gonzales II; Asian Pacific American Friends of the Theatre. More honorees and additional information will be released shortly.

Gala Committee Members include: Co-Chair Daniel Mayeda, Co-Chair Peter Shimamoto, Ed Lew, Jay Kim, Judy Sasaki, David Lee and Carrie, Ken Katsumoto, Al Aubin, Sally Pai Unruh, Reggie Lee, Jason M. Blackwell, Jeff Yang, Kin Cheng, Nora DeVeau-Rosen, Snehal Desai, and Carolina San Juan.

East West Players’ 52nd Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction will be held on Monday, April 30, 2018 at the Hilton Universal City, 555 Universal Hollywood Drive, Universal City, CA 91608. VIP Reception for Premium Table Circle sponsors, silent auction, and no-host cocktails starts at 5:30pm. The dinner and awards show begins at 7pm.

Individual tickets are $200- $1,500. Full table sponsorship packages are also available. For more information please contact East West Players at (213) 625-7000 or galaguests@eastwestplayers.org. For more information about East West Players, please visit www.eastwestplayers.org.

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Phylicia Rashad, Lillias White, Jason Dirden, Glynn Turman and Dan Moses Schrier Receive NAACP Theatre Award Nods for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”;   “Father Comes Homes from the War Parts 1, 2 and 3,” “Fly,” and “Barbecue” Each Receive 8

Cast member Keith David, director Phylicia Rashad and cast members Glynn Turman, Lillias White, Jason Dirden and Damon Gupton from August Wilson’’s “”Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” at Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum at the Los Angeles Music Center. Photo by Luke Fontana
Cast member Keith David, director Phylicia Rashad and cast members Glynn Turman, Lillias White, Jason Dirden and Damon Gupton from August Wilson’’s “”Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” at Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum at the Los Angeles Music Center. Photo by Luke Fontana
Cast member Keith David, director Phylicia Rashad and cast members Glynn Turman, Lillias White, Jason Dirden and Damon Gupton from August Wilson’’s “”Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” at Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum at the Los Angeles Music Center. Photo by Luke Fontana

Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum’s production of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, has been nominated for 5 NAACP Theatre Awards in the categories of Best Director for Phylicia Rashad, Best Lead Female for Lillias White, Best Lead Actor for Jason Dirden and Glynn Turman, and Best Sound – Larger Theatre for Dan Moses Schrier. The play is set in 1927 Chicago at a white-owned studio with the legendary singer – inspired by real-life Mother of the Blues-Gertrude “Ma” Rainey.

Glynn Turman and Jason Dirden Photo by Craig Schwartz
Glynn Turman and Jason Dirden Photo by Craig Schwartz

Jason Dirden Discusses ‘Greenleaf’ and the Family Business

The 27th Annual NAACP Theatre Awards are presented by the NAACP Beverly Hills/Hollywood Branch’s Theatre Viewing Committee. To honor such outstanding examples of black excellence in theatre, an extravagant dinner show will be held on Monday, February 26, 2018, 6:00 p.m. at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, California.

Pulitzer prize winner Suzan Lori Parks’ “Father Comes Homes from the War Parts 1, 2 and 3,” “Fly,” and “Barbecue” have all received 8 nods in The Equity Theatre (larger theatre) nominations.

Sterling K. Brown and Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris in “Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)” at Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. Written by Suzan-Lori Parks and directed by Jo Bonney, the West Coast premiere of “Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)”. Photo by Craig Schwartz
L-R: Julian Rozzell Jr., Roger Robinson, Sterling K. Brown and Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris in “Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)” at Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. Written by Suzan-Lori Parks and directed by Jo Bonney, the West Coast premiere of “Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)”. Photo by Craig Schwartz

Pulitzer prize winner Suzan Lori Parks’ “Father Comes Homes from the War Parts 1, 2 and 3” has been nominated for Best Playwright, Best Lead Male for Sterling K. Brown, Best Supporting Female for Patrena Murray and Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris, and Best Supporting Male for Roger Robinson and Larry Powell, Best Costumes  for ESosa and Best Music Director for Steven Bargonetti. Parks has written an intense drama that details the life of a slave as he joins the battlefield during the Civil War – an unexpected twist, he is a confederate soldier.

"Fly". Photo by Jim Cox
“Fly”. Photo by Jim Cox

“Fly” has been nominated Best Choreography for Hope Clarke, Best Director for Ricardo Khan, Best Ensemble Cast, Best Producer for The Pasadena Playhouse and Crossroads Theatre Company, Best Sound for John Gromada, Best Costumes for Toni-Lesli James, Best Lighting for Rui Rita and Jake DeGroot, and Best Playwright for writers Ricardo Khan and Trey Ellis, the latter of which wrote a piece recently nominated for an Emmy. It follows the story of 4 Tuskegee airmen on their quest to integrate the United States Air Force.

Cherise Boothe, Yvette Cason, Omar J. Dorsey, Kimberly Hébert Gregory and Heather Alicia Simms. Photo by Jeff Lorch Photography.
Cherise Boothe, Yvette Cason, Omar J. Dorsey, Kimberly Hébert Gregory and Heather Alicia Simms. Photo by Jeff Lorch Photography.

Robert O’Hara’s “Barbecue” a humorous analysis of typical American family dynamics with an unexpected twist, has been nominated in the categories of Best Playwright, Best Director for Tony Award nominee Coleman Domingo,  Best Costumes for Kara Harmon, Best Ensemble Cast, Best Lighting for Lap Chi Chu, Best Producer for Geffen Playhouse, Best Set Design for Sibyl Wickersheimer, and Best Sound for Lindsay Jones.

[See Full List of Nominations Below]

27th Annual NAACP Theatre Awards Nominations
Best Choreography – Larger Theatre
Fly – Hope Clarke
Merrily We Roll Along – Eamon Foley
Memphis – Edgar Godineaux

Best Choreography – 99 Seat Theatre
When Jazz Had the Blues – Cassie Crump
The Boy From Oz – Janet Roston
Ferguson – Peachanda DuBose

Best Costumes – Larger Theatre
Barbecue – Kara Harmon
Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1, 2 and 3 – ESosa
Fly – Toni-Leslie James

Best Costumes – 99 Seat Theatre
The Prequel to Othello, The Cause, My Soul – Mylette Nora
No Place to be Somebody – Naila Aladdin Sanders
When Jazz Had the Blues – Michael Mullen

Best Director – Larger Theatre
Fly – Ricardo Khan
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Phylicia Rashad
Barbecue – Colman Domingo

Best Director – 99 Seat Theatre
The Mask We Wear – William Scales
No Place to be Somebody – Ben Guillory
Bars and Measures – Weyni Mengesha

Best Director of a Musical – Larger Theatre
Recorded In Hollywood – Denise Dowse
Merrily We Roll Along – Michael Arden
Memphis – Edgar Godineaux

Best Director of a Musical – 99 Seat Theatre
Much Ado About Nothing – Gloria Gifford
The Boy From Oz – Michael A. Shepperd
Down on your Knees and Up to the Moon – Gloria Gifford

Best Ensemble Cast – Larger Theatre
The Last Tiger in Haiti
Barbecue
Fly

Best Ensemble Cast – 99 Seat Theatre
A Nice Family Gathering
It’s Just Sex
When Jazz Had the Blues

Best Lead Female – Larger Theatre
Memphis – Krystle Simmons
The Fantasticks – Ashley Park
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Lillias White

Best Lead Female – 99 Seat Theatre
The Mountaintop – Danielle Truitt
Broken Fences – Donna Simone Johnson
The Mask We Wear – Sade’ Moore

Best Lead Male – Larger Theatre
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Glynn Turman
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Jason Dirden
Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1,2 and 3 – Sterling K. Brown

Best Lead Male – 99 Seat Theatre
No Place to be Somebody – Sammie Wayne IV
No Place to be Somebody – Leith Burke
The Mask We Wear – Wallace Demarria

Best Lighting – Larger Theatre
Icebergs – Daniel Ionazzi
Fly – Rui Rita and Jake DeGroot
Barbecue – Lap Chi Chu

Best Lighting – 99 Seat Theatre
My Manana Comes – Jennifer Edwards
When Jazz Had the Blues – Leigh Allen
No Place to be Somebody – Michael D. Ricks

Best Music Director – Larger Theatre
Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1, 2 and 3 – Steven Bargonetti
Merrily We Roll Along – Matt Gould & Adam Wachter
Memphis – Darryl Archibald

Best Music Director – 99 Seat Theatre
Ferguson – Dean O’Leary
When Jazz Had the Blues – Rahn Coleman
Billy Holiday – Front and Center – Casey McCoy

Best One Person Show – 99 Seat Theatre
Women on the Verge – Faith Collins
Journey This – Cheray O’Neal
Billy Holiday – Front and Center – Sybil Harris

Best Playwright – Larger Theatre
Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1, 2 and 3 – Suzan-Lori Parks
Barbecue – Robert O’Hara
Fly – Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan

Best Playwright – 99 Seat Theatre
Journey This – Cheray O’Neal
The Prequel to Othello, The Cause, My Soul – Ted Lange
The Mask We Wear – Wallace Demarria

Best Producer – Larger Theatre
Fly – The Pasadena Playhouse and Crossroads Theatre Company
Icebergs – Geffen Playhouse
Barbecue – Geffen Playhouse

Best Producer – 99 Seat Theatre
No Place to be Somebody – Ben Guillory & Robey Theatre Company
The Mask We Wear – Wallace Demarria and William Scales
When Jazz Had the Blues – Leigh Fortier & Tiffany Thomas

Best Set Design – Larger Theatre
Icebergs – Anthony T. Fanning
The Last Tiger in Haiti – Takeshi Kata
Barbecue – Sibyl Wickersheimer

Best Set Design – 99 Seat Theatre
The Prequel to Othello, The Cause, My Soul – Peter Hickok
No Place to be Somebody – Thomas Meleck
When Jazz Had the Blues – Se Hyun Oh

Best Sound – Larger Theatre
Fly – John Gromada
Barbecue – Lindsay Jones
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Dan Moses Schrier

Best Sound – 99 Seat Theatre
When Jazz Had the Blues – Christopher Moscatiello
The Boy From Oz – Eric Snodgrass
The Prequel to Othello, The Cause, My Soul – Will Mahood

Best Supporting Female – Larger Theatre
Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1, 2 and 3 – Patrena Murray
Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1,2 and 3 – Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris
Disgraced – Karen Pittman

Best Supporting Female – 99 Seat Theatre
A Lady in Waiting – Malika Blessing
Blessing A Lady in Waiting – Pia D. Days
No Place to be Somebody – Kacie Rogers

Best Supporting Male – Larger Theatre
Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1, 2 and 3 – Roger Robinson
Icebergs – Keith Powell
Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1, 2 and 3 – Larry Powell

Best Supporting Male – 99 Seat Theatre
The Mask We Wear – Jerrel O’Neal
No Place To Be Somebody – Hawthorne James
Ferguson – Alfred Rutherford

The NAACP Theatre Viewing Committee considers all candidates who submit their productions from January 2016 through December 15, 2016, for possible nomination. All productions must run for at least six (6) full performances in Southern California (San Diego to Bakersfield included). Previews, invited dress rehearsals, and other similar showings do not count towards eligibility. Eligibility for this year’s edition was limited to theatre productions opening in January 2016 through December 2016. Productions who meet all eligibility requirements before the deadline are considered eligible for a 2017 NAACP Theatre Award.

For more information on the NAACP Theatre Awards, please visit www.naacptheatreawards.comor email: lisa@premierconceptspr.com

About the NAACP Theatre Awards
The NAACP Theatre Awards is presented by the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP Branch in partnership with the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles City Council President/District 10 Councilman, Herb Wesson Jr. The event is co-chaired by Councilman Herb Wesson, Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP Branch President Ron Hasson, and the Executive and Creative Producer, Tia Boyd. The mission of the Theatre Awards is to entertain, educate, inspire the community and create diversity in the arts and entertainment industry. The prestigious star-studded gala aims to honor the highest achieving persons in the field of dramatic arts. The branch also celebrates a four-day theatre festival, which provides a platform for thespians to express their craft and share their contributions with an audience of their peers, the community and other individuals who celebrate live theatre in Los Angeles.

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Steve James, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and More Attend “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” Screening at Metrograph Cinema; Among 15 Documentary Features to Advance in 2017 OSCAR® RACE

Co-producer Fenell Doremus, Producer Mark Mitten, Jill Sung, Vera Sung, Chanterelle Sung, Heather Sung, Producer Julie Goldman, Director Steve James. Photo by Lia Chang

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced that 15 films in the Documentary Feature category will advance in the voting process for the 90th Academy Awards®, including Abacus: Small Enough to Jail. One hundred seventy films were originally submitted in the category.

Jill Sung, Vera Sung, Chanterelle Sung, Heather Sung and Director Steve James. Photo by Lia Chang
Jill Sung, Vera Sung, Chanterelle Sung, Heather Sung and Director Steve James. Photo by Lia Chang

On Wednesday night, the screening of Abacus: Small Enough To Jail at Metrograph Cinema in New York was followed by a panel discussion moderated by award-winning documentary filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, and featured director Steve James, producer Mark Mitten, and members of the Sung familiy including Vera Sung, Jill Sung and Chanterelle Sung.

From acclaimed director Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters), Abacus: Small Enough to Jail tells the saga of the Chinese immigrant Sung family, owners of Abacus Federal Savings of Chinatown, New York. Accused of mortgage fraud by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., Abacus becomes the only bank prosecuted after the 2008 financial crisis. The indictment and subsequent trial forces the Sung family to defend themselves – and their bank’s legacy in the Chinatown community – over the course of a five-year legal battle.

Award-winning filmmakers Roger Ross Williams and Steve James. Photo by Lia Chang
Award-winning filmmakers Roger Ross Williams and Steve James. Photo by Lia Chang

The Academy’s Documentary Branch determined the shortlist in a preliminary round of voting. Documentary Branch members will now select the five nominees from among the 15 titles.

Nominations for the 90th Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 23, 2018.

The 90th Oscars® will be held on Sunday, March 4, 2018, at the Dolby Theatre® at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, and will be televised live on the ABC Television Network at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT. The Oscars also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

Jill Sung, Vera Sung, Chanterelle Sung and Heather Sung. Photo by Lia Chang
Jill Sung, Vera Sung, Chanterelle Sung and Heather Sung. Photo by Lia Chang
Co-producer Fenell Doremus, Producer Mark Mitten, Jill Sung, Vera Sung, Chanterelle Sung, Heather Sung, Producer Julie Goldman, Director Steve James. Photo by Lia Chang
Co-producer Fenell Doremus, Producer Mark Mitten, Jill Sung, Vera Sung, Chanterelle Sung, Heather Sung, Producer Julie Goldman, Director Steve James. Photo by Lia Chang

The film recently earned the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Political Documentary at the 2017 Critics’ Choice Awards, as well as a nomination for the Cinema Eye Honors’ Audience Choice Prize. The Sung family – including Chanterelle Sung, Hwei Lin Sung, Jill Sung, Thomas Sung and Vera Sung – was nominated for Cinema Eye Honor’s non-competitive honor, The Unforgettables, which honors the year’s most notable and significant nonfiction film subjects. This year’s winners will be announced at the 2018 Honors Awards Ceremony on Thursday, January 11, 2018 at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. The ceremony will be hosted, for the third consecutive year, by Abacus director Steve James.

Abacus is directed by Steve James and produced by Mark Mitten and Julie Goldman; edited by John Farbrother and David E. Simpson; music by Joshua Abrams; cinematography by Tom Bergmann; co-produced by Fenell Doremus and Nick Verbitsky and executive produced by Gordon Quinn, Christopher Clements, Betsy Steinberg, Justine Nagan, Raney Aronson and Sally Jo Fifer. Abacus is a Mitten Media, Motto Pictures and Kartemquin Films production for WGBH/FRONTLINE and Independent Television Service (ITVS) in association with Blue-Ice Film Fund.

Abacus is now available to stream and download on Amazon Video and iTunes.

Photo Flash: Steve James, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi And More Attend Abacus: Small Enough To Jail Screening At Metrograph

FRONTLINE to Premiere ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL on September 12; Photos from Asia Society Screening

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Vera Sung and Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits
Vera Sung and Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits

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 is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. 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 Playbill.com.

 

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ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL Named Best Political Documentary at Second Annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards Ceremony

Steve James’ compelling film, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail was named Best Political Documentary at the second annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards tonight at a gala event, hosted by Penn Jillette at BRIC in Brooklyn.

Jillette lead the celebrations for this year’s Most Compelling Living Subject of a Documentary honorees — The Cats of Istanbul (Kedi), Etty Ausch (One of Us), Al Gore (An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power), Laird Hamilton (Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton), Dolores Huerta (Dolores), Gigi Lazzarato (This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous), The Sung Family (Abacus: Small Enough to Jail).

Thomas Sung, Hwei Lin Sung, Heather Sung, Chanterelle Sung, Vera Sung and Jill Sung. Photo by Lia Chang
Thomas Sung, Hwei Lin Sung, Heather Sung, Chanterelle Sung, Vera Sung and Jill Sung. Photo by Lia Chang

One of the past year’s most critically acclaimed documentaries during its robust international film festival run and a national theatrical release, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail tells the saga of the Sungs — a Chinese-American family who own and operate Abacus Federal Savings in New York’s Chinatown.

But in 2009, the Sung’s fired a loan officer after they discovered fraud. They reported the fraud to law enforcement, but soon found themselves and the bank under scrutiny. Two-and-a-half-years later, Abacus Federal Savings and two senior officers were accused of mortgage fraud by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, becoming the only U.S. bank prosecuted after the 2008 financial crash and the first bank indicted in New York since 1991.

With riveting detail, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail follows how the indictment and subsequent trial forces the Sung family to defend themselves — and their bank’s legacy in the Chinatown community — over the course of a five-year legal battle.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail examines the case against the bank, hearing from prosecutors, jurors, defense lawyers, and Mr. and Mrs. Sung and their four daughters — whom James filmed for more than a year as they fought to clear their names.

Credits
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is a Mitten Media, Motto Pictures and Kartemquin Films Production for WGBH/FRONTLINE and Independent Television Service (ITVS). It is co-presented with the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM). The director is Steve James. The producers are Mark Mitten and Julie Goldman. The co-producers are Fenell Doremus and Nick Verbitsky. The executive producers are Gordon Quinn, Christopher Clements, Betsy Steinberg and Justine Nagan. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath. The executive producer of ITVS is Sally Jo Fifer.

The second annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards honor the finest achievement in documentary features and nonfiction television. The awards were determined by Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA)  members with expertise in the documentary field. The Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards was produced by Bob Bain Productions.

Click here for a full list of the winners.

About BFCA/BTJA
The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) is the largest film critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 300 television, radio and online critics. The Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA) is a partner organization to the BFCA and includes TV, radio and Internet journalists who cover television on a regular basis. For more information, visit: www.CriticsChoice.com
FRONTLINE to Premiere ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL on September 12; Photos from Asia Society Screening

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits

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 is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. 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 Playbill.com.

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THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE Star Joel de La Fuente in Jeanne Sakata’s HOLD THESE TRUTHS at Sheen Center in December

Joel de la Fuente as Gordon Hirabayashi. Photo by Lia Chang
Joel de la Fuente as Gordon Hirabayashi. Photo by Lia Chang
Joel de la Fuente as Gordon Hirabayashi. Photo by Lia Chang

Hang A Tale Theater Company will present a special engagement of Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths, starring Drama Desk nominee Joel de la Fuente (Inspector Kido in “Man in the High Castle”, “Hemlock Grove”), and helmed by Lisa Rothe (Science Fair: An Opera with Experiments at HERE), at The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture (18 Bleecker Street at the corner of Elizabeth Street), December 6-20, 2017.

 Q & A with Joel de la Fuente, Star of The Man in the High Castle and Hemlock Grove 

Hold These Truths explores the life and legacy of civil rights pioneer Gordon Hirabayashi, a 2012 posthumous winner of the 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom. This is a little-known chapter of American history, when civil liberties were under attack, constitutional rights violated, and issues of race hotly debated by a divided country.

Inspired by the true story of University of Washington student Gordon Hirabayashi, Hold These Truths follows Gordon during the U.S. Government’s decision to forcibly remove and incarcerate people of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

Hirabayashi openly defied the relocation and internment and refused to report for evacuation to an internment camp, instead turning himself in to the FBI to assert his belief that these practices were racially discriminatory. Consequently, he was convicted by a U.S. Federal District Court in Seattle of defying the exclusion order and violating curfew. Hirabayashi appealed his conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against him in 1943. Following World War II and his imprisonment, Hirabayashi obtained a doctoral degree in sociology and became a professor. In 1987, his conviction was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Helmed by Lisa Rothe, Joel de la Fuente will reprise his role as Gordon Hirabayashi and 36 other characters in Hold These Truths, which had its New York premiere in October 2012 in a production by Epic Theatre Ensemble at the Theatre at the 14th Street Y. Sakata’s solo show tells the story of Gordon Hirabayshi as he fights to reconcile his country’s betrayal and to maintain his passionate belief in the U.S. Constitution. In Hold These Truths we witness Hirabayashi as he journeys toward a greater understanding of America’s triumphs – and a confrontation with its failures.

During WWII in Seattle, University of Washington student Gordon Hirabayashi fights the US government’s orders to forcibly remove and mass incarcerate all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast. As he struggles to reconcile his country’s betrayal with his passionate belief in the US Constitution, Gordon begins a 50-year journey toward a greater understanding of America’s triumphs – and a confrontation with its failures.

“When I first heard of Gordon Hirabayashi in the late 1990’s, I was enthralled – and shocked. Shocked that I had never heard of his story before” said playwright Jeanne Sakata. “I knew I had to try to bring his story to the American stage, not just as an act of healing for myself, my family, and my community, but also to inspire and give hope to any American citizen who has been denied equal treatment under the law promised by our Constitution because of factors such as race, gender, or sexual orientation.”

Performances: Wed 12/6, Thu 12/7, Fri 12/8, Tue 12/12, Wed 12/13, Thu 12/14, Fri 12/15, Mon 12/18, Tue 12/19, and Wed 12/20 at 7:30pm; Sun 12/3, Sat 12/9, and Sat 12/16 at 2pm & 7:30pm; Sun 12/10 and Sun 12/17 at 2pm. Tickets (20 seats at $29; 50 seats at $49; 10 seats at $59) are available for advance purchase at sheencenter.org/shows/holdthesetruths or by calling 212-925-2812. The performance will run approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.

HANG A TALE is a New York City based, non-profit theater company. Jesse Liebman, Kim Martin-Cotten and Michael Arden Larson have come together to create intimate, actor-driven productions for the Off-Broadway stage. Our mission is to reexamine, reimagine and reinvigorate stories for the theater. We seek tales of universality, old and new, that transcend the limitations of time. We search for stories that inspire us and start conversations about our lives and the world around us. We do not to limit ourselves to any particular playwright or style. We embrace our diverse, dynamic surroundings and remain open to co-creation and inclusiveness. Go to http://www.hangatale.org to learn more.

THE SHEEN CENTER FOR THOUGHT & CULTURE is a forum to showcase works highlighting the true, the good, and the beautiful. Located downtown on historic Bleecker Street, the Sheen Center is a vibrant new arts organization that focuses on theater, music, film, and talk. A project of the Archdiocese of New York, the state-of-the-art complex encompasses the 270-seat Loreto Theater, equipped with five-camera high-definition livestream capability and a multi-track recording studio; the 80-seat Black Box Theater; four rehearsal studios; and an art gallery. It was named after the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, best known for his popular, inspirational radio and TV ministry in the 1950s and 60s. Visit http://www.sheencenter.org for more information.

Click here  for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits

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 is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. 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 Playbill.com.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2017 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

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M. BUTTERFLY’s Broadway Revival: A Conversation with David Henry Hwang at China Institute on September 26

Tonight, China Institute is presenting M. Butterfly’s Broadway Revival: A Conversation with David Henry Hwang, moderated by NY1’s Frank DiLella at 40 Rector Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10006, from 6:30PM- 8:00PM. Tickets are $10 for Members and $20 for Non-members. Click here for more information.

This fall, visionary director Julie Taymor presents a Broadway revival of David Henry Hwang’s Tony Award-winning play M. Butterfly, starring Clive Owen. Inspired by the true scandal that captivated the world, this is a story about an illicit affair between a French diplomat and a Chinese opera diva whose secrets lie deep beneath the surface. At this conversation between Mr. Hwang and NY1’s Frank DiLella we will delve into the story behind M. Butterfly, explore its themes, and discuss the artistic approach behind this new production.

David Henry Hwang is a Tony Award® winner and three-time nominee, a three-time Obie Award® winner, and a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. In addition to M. Butterfly, his works include ChinglishYellow FaceGolden ChildKung FuThe Dance and the Railroad, and FOB, as well as the Broadway musicals Aida (co-author) and Disney’s Tarzan. He also updated the libretto for the 2002 revival of Flower Drum Song. America’s most-produced living opera librettist, Hwang premiered his new opera, Dream of the Red Chamber (co-authored with Bright Sheng), at San Francisco Opera last fall. Hwang has been honored with the 2011 PEN/Laura Pels Award for a Master American Dramatist, the 2012 Inge Award, the 2012 Steinberg Distinguished Playwright “Mimi” Award, a 2014 Doris Duke Artist Award, and the 2015 IPSA Distinguished Artist Award. He has also been a long-time board member of the Young Playwrights Inc. and the Lark Play Development Center. Hwang was recently the Residency One Playwrigt at New York’s Signature Theatre, and currently serves as Head of Playwriting at Columbia University School of the Arts. He is currently a writer/producer for the Gold Globe-winning TV series, The Affair, and was recently named Chair of the American Theatre Wing.

Frank DiLella is a theater reporter and producer for NY1 and host of the weekly program On Stage and the Time Warner Cable spin-off program On Stage Across America, where he has interviewed legendary artists including Bette Midler, August Wilson, Tom Stoppard, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. In addition to his work at NY1, DiLella is a contributing correspondent for Playbill and MANHATTAN Magazine and has given lectures on theater and journalism at Hofstra University and The American Theatre Wing. In the fall of 2009, DiLella and the On Stage team were honored by the New York Musical Theater Festival for their weekly coverage of NYC theater.

Register Online. For questions email Aaron Nicholson at: anicholson@chinainstitute.org or call 212-744-8181 ext. 138

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