.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Just Saw [Insert Movie Title Here]...

...or how my MFA in screenwriting ruined any chance of enjoying a movie like a normal person. If I apply what I've learned to existing films, would it have made a better film?

SPOILER WARNING: Please be advised, I plan to discuss plot points in detail so if you haven't seen the movie and don't want the surprise ruined, stop here.

My Photo
Location: California, United States

Friday, August 04, 2006

In Memorium: Mako

On July 21, Mako passed away. As one of the co-Founders of East West Players his name was well known within the Asian American artistic community. Outside the community, those unfamiliar with his name would say, "Oh yeah, that guy," when shown his photograph.

I did have the privilege to meet and work with him. I met Mako on our LA stop while touring with "And the Soul Shall Dance..." by Wakako Yamauchi. Later, I stage managed a reading of "Pay the Chinaman" written by Lawrence Yep where he played the title role.

But more than the privilege of meeting and working with Mako, I owe much of my career to his influence.

When I began writing short stories in high school, I was treated as if I had a learning disability. Despite being born and raised in America and fed a steady diet of Star Trek and the Flintstones, I was often told that I would need to learn to speak English before I could write.

While I was in college training as an actor, I faced the cold reality that unless the role was specifically written for an Asian American, I was not considered for the part. These roles included doctors and lawyers... professions where race didn't matter. The Asian American roles that were offered to me were so demeaning, I was ready to commit violence.

I began writing plays for my own artistic survival.

When I met agents and literary managers, their response to my plays were "We're not interested in Asian American plays." This was before I ever gave them a logline or synopsis. Many of my plays then didn't have anything to do with being Asian American.

When I applied for work as a stage manager in theaters, a typical response was, "We' re not doing an Oriental play this year." No matter what I did, I was always perceived as an Asian foreigner first. My acting teacher said I had to get involved with Asian American theaters because I wouldn't be able to work anywhere else because of my limitations.

Asian American theaters are a double edged sword. On the one hand, you get an opportunity to develop your craft free of the burden of justifying your choice in careers to anyone with a belly button. On the other, you face the perception that you're not good enough for mainstream work. As I began to read plays by Asian American writers, I discovered Mako's name was usually nearby. Either as the man who suggested to Wakako Yamauchi that she adapt her short story into a play, or as the director of the world premiere of FOB by David Henry Hwang.

If you think all of this is a matter of perception: that all you need is talent and that talent and hard work alone will win out every time, then you haven't seen America from a minority's perspective. When I did work in mainstream theater, I was always "the Chinese guy." "Find the Chinese guy, give it to the Chinese guy, the Chinese guy can do it." It wasn't until I worked at Tisa Chang's Pan Asian Rep that I became "Isaac" for the first time. In a company of Asians, being "the Chinese guy" was far from adequate to define the totality of what I had to offer where in a mainstream company, "the Chinese guy" was all you needed or cared to know.

Ultimately, I found my way to Los Angeles, where I took several playwriting workshops through East West Players. Encouraged to discover and create my own poetry for my characters and stories, the plays I wrote during this period would elevate my career to the next level. One play would be produced by Lodestone Theatre Ensemble. That, and another play from the workshop would be my writing samples which got me into the MFA Screenwriting program at UCLA.

I shudder to think how my career would have turned out without an Asian American theater company to call home. Mako's legacy gave me much of the support and encouragement I needed to forge an artistic path for myself that I couldn't find anywhere else. To call Mako the "Godfather of Asian American theater" and say that "If it wasn't for Mako there wouldn't have been Asian American theater," is not hyperbole. I'm proof of that.


Post a Comment

<< Home