Establishing Asian Pacific Islanders In American Theatre

by Leslie Ishii

in National Conference

Post image for Establishing Asian Pacific Islanders In American Theatre

(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Conflict | Confluence} blog salon, curated by Jacqueline E. Lawton.) 

JACQUELINE LAWTON: First, please tell us a bit about yourself and your organization.

LESLIE ISHII:  I represent and am very committed to East West Players Asian American Theatre, the longest running theatre of color in the US.  I also work at Center Theatre Group as project faculty/artist and arts educator!  I am a director/actor/arts educator/writer.

JL: Next, please share the title and description of your breakout session, so that folks can find you.

LI:  Title:  Establishing Asian Pacific Islanders In American Theatre.  Our breakout session will kick off with a provocative short version of the play, Phaeda Wins Award, by Danny Mitarotondo.  A powerful panel of Asian American Artistic directors and ally leaders will follow to move our community from invisibility and issues of cultural misappropriation and misrepresentation to visibility establishing us in the American Theatre.  The breakout will highlight and unify API initiatives across our country and launch the new API and Allies Initiative!  Q&A/Discussion with our participants is included.

JL: Now, what inspired this breakout session?

LI:  This breakout session was inspired by the epidemic of theatre productions that have misappropriated cultures and misrepresented identities of the Asian diaspora.  This is a defining moment where we will claim our place in the American Theatre and speak our truth to build alliances toward greater diversity, inclusion and equity for all.

JL: Finally, what do you hope participants learn from this breakout session?

LI:  Participants will have the opportunity to learn about the API theatre community and the most important thing is they will, together with the API community, have the opportunity to begin to make relationships and learn how to become our ally.  Learning to become an ally to our communities will go a long ways to becoming an ally for diversity, inclusion and equity for all.


Leslie Ishii is proud to be a director and conservatory faculty member for the better part of her 21 year association with East West Players (EWP).  She brings her commitment to develop liberation and alliance building curriculums in combination with acting and voice work to EWP and Center Theatre Group, where she is also a project faculty member in the Educational/Community Partnerships Department.  She has performed on Broadway, in regional theatre, recurred on LOST and Beverly Hills 90210 and has appeared on Desperate Housewives, HawthoRNe, The New Generation FAME, to name a few, and can be seen in the upcoming pilot, Murder In The First.  Leslie directed EWP’s main stage critically acclaimed all-Asian American Crimes Of The Heart and their educational-tour shows, Taking Flight; The Story Of Katherine Cheung and Dawn’s Light: The Gordon Hirabayashi Story.  She will direct Takarazuka!!! in EWP’s 50th Anniversary season this fall and Julia Cho’s, 99 Histories for Artists At Play later this summer.  Leslie has been a FAIR Participant at Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) for two seasons.  She also co-organized and co-directed the 1st and 2nd Freedom and Focus International Fitzmaurice Voicework® Conferences in Barcelona, Spain, Vancouver, Canada, and is a co-organizer for the Bogotá, Colombia conference in 2014.  Leslie is also a co-facilitator for Theatre Communication Group’s Diversity/Inclusion Institute and has been a diversity/inclusion facilitator trainer for OSF.  She has been a keynote and featured presenter at voice and qualitative research conferences in Mexico City, Mexico, Barcelona, Spain, and Vienna, Austria. Training:  American Conservatory Theatre, MFA; U of Washington, BA, B of Music, w/dance minor; Fitzmaurice Voicework® Associate; SDC, AEA, SAG-AFTRA.


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Jacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena. jacquelinelawton.com