How Theater Community Mobilized to Stop Asian Hate

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Gordon Cox
·2 min read
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In response to the shooting in Atlanta and the rise in hate crimes it underscored, Asian American theater artists took action, organizing support and self-care programs for the Asian American community while using their platforms as performers to speak out.

Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:

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The two guests on this week’s episode of Variety’s Stagecraft podcast, Christine Toy Johnson and Leslie Ishii, were among the theater creators who appeared in “Stronger Together. And Stronger Than Ever” (pictured), the video statement released by the Consortium of Asian American Theatres and Artists (CAATA) and featuring Lea Salonga, David Henry Hwang, Ruthie Ann Miles and Telly Leung, among many others. “It was to say: ‘We’re strong. We have come together in solidarity, and we’re actually stronger because we’re together and we’ll be moving this way as we go forward,'” said Ishii, the board president of CAATA and the artistic director at Perseverance Theater in Juneau, Alaska.

Johnson, an actor-writer-director who was in the cast of the first national tour of “Come From Away” when the pandemic hit, noted that artist-activists had been working for years to fight for equity. “We have been screaming into the wind for a very long time, and unfortunately, tragically, it’s taken well-publicized violence and murders to have people hear us,” she said.

Johnson is a member of the steering committee of the Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC), the organization that releases a regular series of visibility reports. In the newest report, AAPAC found that that during the 2018-19 season, New York City theater spent 71 cents on actors from historically marginalized communities for every one dollar spent on white actors. Asian American actors were cast in 6.3% of all available roles during that season, and only accounted for 4.9% of the writers, composers, lyricists and producers in the season and 4.5% of the directors.

“Not only is it about jobs and numbers, but it’s about representation and the ramifications of underrepresentation,” Johnson said. “Which is a lot of what we’ve been talking about in a lot more dire ways recently.”

Also on the new episode of Stagecraft, Johnson and Ishii recalled what led each of them to make activism an integral component of their work as artists, and shared their hopes for how the theater industry will change as it gets back up and running after the pandemic.

To hear to the full conversation, listen at the link above, or download and subscribe to Stagecraft on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.

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