It’s no secret that Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) stories and performers (and all other artists and crew members) are extremely under-represented on American stages.
In May, we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, but every day is a good day to uplift AAPI artists and stories like these 4 Chicago theaters.
Our Perspective: Asian American Plays is an Arts Initiatives Program of Asian Improv aRts Midwest, an organization that produces high quality arts programs and raises the profile of Asian American cultures through the arts.
OPAAP began in 2018 as a way to showcase local Chicago theater talent through play readings and a play development program, giving opportunities to AAPI playwrights, actors, and directors to present their work at some of the larger, established theater companies. In 2020, they added a playwright residency to their offerings. OPAAP represents a wide diaspora of the AAPI experience and aims to provide inspiration, space, and audiences for AAPI playwrights, directors, and actors in Chicago.
Nothing Without a Company creates site-specific immersive theater, with a particular focus on accessibility and supporting LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC artists. They were founded in 2005 by a group of friends from DePaul and Columbia College. Their first production took place in a Lakeview apartment and enjoyed a sold-out, extended run.
Co-Artistic Director Hannah Ii-Epstein, who is from Hawaii, has written plays in Hawaiian Pidgin English that were performed as immersive pieces on the north side of Chicago to critical acclaim. Nothing Without A Company produces full length plays, play festivals, and has recently started a podcast. They believe that non-traditional forms of presenting theater, like in reclaimed environments, allows for more audience engagement, participation, and accessibility, and they strive to develop works that represent our diverse Chicago community.
Not only a theater company, Silk Road Rising is also in the business of digital arts, education and advocacy. Their work is rooted in Pan-Asian, North African, and Muslim experiences, and their name references the historic Silk Road trade route. (Silk Road Rising defines “Pan-Asian” as the cultures that stretch from Japan to Turkey and from Kazakhstan to Indonesia, including their diaspora communities.) The company was founded by Malik Gillani and Jamil Khoury as a creative response to 9/11.
Silk Road Rising produces plays, staged readings, in-school playwriting residencies, and creates networking opportunities and showcases to promote theater artists from Middle Eastern and Asian backgrounds. They view their work as an intentional strategy to shift and expand their communities’ narratives, and to assist other organizations in their efforts to include Pan-Asian, North African, and Muslim stories.
Token Theatre creates new stories, reimagines classic works, and aims to change the narrative and shatter the false constructs about Asian Americans. David Rhee and Erik Kaiko founded the organization in 2017 to support Asian American artists and challenge the notion of culturally specific theater. They do that by creating opportunities for Asian artists on-stage and off-stage, particularly in telling stories about the Asian American experience.
Token Theatre develops new work and also produces classic works told through an Asian American lens. They encourage artists to push Asian American theatre beyond easily identifiable markers using traditional and non-traditional Eastern and Western forms of storytelling. And one of their main goals is to expand Asian American theater into a major force in the national landscape.
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