EDITH Taking Asian Americans Beyond Race/Ethnicity

by Marie-Reine Velez 
Artists at Play Founding Member, Producer

Lately there has been a lot of discussion about the (lack of) opportunities for Asian Americans in American theatre, especially with the recent atrocities in the whitewashed casts of The Nightingale at La Jolla Playhouse and Orphan of Zhao at Royal Shakespeare Company. I know I’m not alone in my frustration over the fact that we are still having this conversation in 2012, and that we still have to ask questions like, “Why not Asian? Why Asian?” in forums like the one recently hosted by East West Players.

I can wax poetic about my disappointment in the current state of theatre and the lack of representation happening on our stages and screens, but essentially, these questions and frustrations are part of the reason why Artists at Play was created and why we are producing theatre in Los Angeles– to present stories that better reflect our experience as Asian Americans today. I am extremely grateful to be a part of Artists at Play and the conscious artistic decisions we have made in producing Ching Chong Chinaman last year and Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them, which we just opened last weekend at GTC Burbank.

Within the first few pages of reading Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them, I knew that this should be the next production for Artists at Play. A. Rey has written two Filipino American characters who are expressive, charming and faulted at the same time. Additionally, I find the writing quite beautiful, the depth of these teen and pre-teen characters is evidenced by a well-crafted balance of youthful optimism, awkwardness and a yearning to grow up. I fully agree with Examiner.com’s review of Edith at the 2011 Festival: “Pamatmat’s Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them set the bar a whole lot higher.” What I responded to most about this play is that Edith is not just an identity play about race and/or ethnicity, but it delves into the intersections of identity including sexuality and how we are raised.

This play is more than being about Asian American identity, because we as Asian Americans represent so much more than just our racial/ethnic background or immigrant status. We lead lives where we experience love, an eagerness for acceptance and moments where we fully realize the importance of standing up for ourselves. If we experience more than race and ethnicity in our personal lives, then wouldn’t we want to see plays that address more than that one aspect of who we are? Don’t we deserve to be represented on stage by fully fleshed out characters, written by smart and thoughtful playwrights?

On NPR, A. Rey stated his dedication to inclusion in his plays: “His plays will always have diverse casts, he says, because ‘that is the way my world actually is.’” This is the kind of theatre I choose to create and support, and if you found yourself nodding, saying “yes,” or pumping your fist while reading this, then come see Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them, and together we’ll raise the bar. 

Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them is currently running at GTC Burbank (1111 W Olive Ave. Burbank, CA 91506) until November 10. Friday-Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. Tickets: bit.ly/AAPEdith

The producers/founding members of Artists at Play each wrote about the personal relationship they have with this play. Check out their personal stories:

Julia Cho: "Edith & Me, Growing Past Our Parents" 
Peter J. Kuo: “Spirit Day, Coming Out and Edith” 
Stefanie Lau: “My Daughter and Edith Growing Up Fast” 
Collective Statement: "AAP Founding Members on the Importance of Edith"

Photo credits: Rodney To and Amielynn Abellera in Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them by A. Rey Pamatmat. Photos by Michael C. Palma

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