Tag Archives: East West Players

The Legacy of Patsy Mink

By Alison Minami

Currently I am writing a play based on the life of Patsy Mink (1927-2002), the first woman of color ever to be elected to Congress, for East West Players’ Theatre for Youth Program. The opportunity to write this piece has been so humbling, in no small part, because of the extraordinary life of Patsy Mink, a Japanese American, Hawaii born and raised native, and feminist trailblazer—a life of which I might never have bothered to learn about had I not been asked to write this piece.

Patsy Mink is known most for co-authoring the Title IX legislation (later renamed Title IX: Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act). This landmark law says that any federally funded educational institution must offer equal opportunity and access in any activity or program for all students regardless of gender, race, religion, or any other classification. This law is widely credited for building women’s collegiate athletic programs across the nation. It is because of this law that athletic scholarships for women exist, and that women’s sports programs are funded seriously at all. While Title IX is often most associated with women’s athletics, it has had far reaching impact in all areas of education including, for example, in mitigating sexual harassment on college campuses, creating gender equity in traditionally male dominated areas of study and their related professions, and accommodating students with disabilities.

The drive to draft such legislation was undoubtedly rooted in the many instances of gender discrimination that Mink faced as a woman in the 1940s, 50s, and throughout her career. As a college student at the University of Nebraska, she was denied housing in the dormitories because she was a woman of color, instead, told to go live in the International House, though she was from Hawaii, then a U.S. Territory. She also had her heart set on being a doctor from a very young age, but she was rejected from 12 medical schools. This rejection prompted her to switch gears and attend law school at the University of Chicago where she was one of only two Asian Americans and one of only two women in her class. Upon graduating law school, Mink could not find a job as a lawyer, despite having passed the Hawaii State Bar. The good ole boys’ network (read: old white men and plantation owners to boot) ran the show, and they weren’t about to let a woman, let alone a woman of color, into the club.

In reading about Mink, it is clear that Title IX was just one demonstration of Mink’s enduring core value to fight for equality and against social injustice. Mink entered politics in part because of all the barriers of entry she faced in her other professional endeavors. She yearned to make an impact and to work toward just causes. In Hawaii, she started the Oahu Young Democrats, and when Hawaii officially became a State in 1959, she ran for the House of Representatives. Her friend and political ally, Daniel Inouye, was running for Senate, but when Governor Jack Burns called to request that Inouye stand down and allow his political predecessors to have the Senate seat, Inouye became Mink’s opponent in the House race. Mink lost this race, but she went on to run many, many campaigns.

Notably and aforementioned, in 1964, with the help of her husband John Mink as her campaign manager, Mink became the first woman of color and the first Asian American woman to be elected to Congress. During her first stint in Congress, Mink fought tirelessly for educational equality and for the rights of women and children. Recognized for her anti-war stance regarding Vietnam, despite opposition from her own party, the Oregon Democrats recruited Mink to run for President, making her the first Asian American woman to ever run for the highest office in the land. Years later, during her second stint in Congress in the 90s, Mink would be one of the only members of Congress to vote against the Patriot Act. When she left her house seat the first time for a run for the Senate, she lost and returned to Hawaii. However, this loss did not stop her from political and civic engagement; she went on to run for city council, Mayor of Honolulu and Governor of Hawaii. She won the first and lost the last two races. What I found to be incredible about Mink is her tireless fight and her unwavering conscience. Mink was not under the spell of lobbyists, corporate donors, or party leaders. She was unafraid to speak her mind, loudly and vigorously, even when it meant offending her colleagues or going against unspoken party rules. She withstood any knock down in her life, and then stood up and looked for another door, because the fights she took on were never about her political career, but rather about her advocacy for the poor, the working class, and the disenfranchised.

At a time when so many of us are disillusioned with electoral politics, and the virtually fake democracy in which we live, the life and times of Patsy Mink reminds us (or me) to stop complaining, to not turn into a ball of apathy and cynicism, but rather to believe as Vaclav Havel once wrote “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” This, I believe, is the spirit in which Mink lived her life. Her sense of justice and equality and the dignity of all human life is what guided her, and it is what made her a force to be reckoned with.

I realize that you can just go on and google Patsy Mink, but to understand the essence of who she was, I insist that you watch her 1984 DNC Speech. (https://www.c-span.org/video/?c5007067/user-clip-rep-mink-dnc-1984). It reminds me of how hard so many people have fought for the world I live in today, which is certainly not without its faults and atrocities, but is yet and still, a far more just society in many respects than just fifty years ago.

As well, you can read Patsy Mink’s biography Fierce and Fearless (https://nyupress.org/9781479831920/fierce-and-fearless/), by Judy Tzu-Chun Wu and co-authored by Gwendolyn Mink, Patsy Mink’s very own daughter, or watch this wonderful documentary on PBS entitled Ahead of the Majority by Kimberlee Bassford. https://www.pbshawaii.org/patsy-mink-ahead-of-the-majority-2/

As an educator, a woman, a woman of color, an Asian American woman, I am so heartened that East West Players is supporting the telling of Patsy Mink’s life story. Every student in America should know about her legacy.

The FPI Files: “The Great Jheri Curl Debate” Comes to Life at East West Players

By Alison Minami

When Inda Craig-Galván was a young child growing up on the Southside of Chicago in the early eighties, her mother, a trained beautician, started losing clientele with the rise of at-home hair kits. In need of steadier income, she took a job at a beauty care products store owned by a Korean immigrant. The owner, unable to pronounce her name, renamed her Julie, which had always felt wrong to Craig-Galván. But as she got older, she realized that in many ways the two had had a mutually beneficial arrangement—for example, her mother was able to bring her daughter to work and the owner was able to pay her in cash. This unlikely pairing of two people at the margins is the inspiration for Craig-Galván’s new play “The Great Jheri Curl Debate,” which is having its World Premiere at the East West Players of Los Angeles.

Ryun Yu as Mr. Kim and Julanne Chidi Hill as Veralynn. Photo by Steven Lam.

In the play, Veralynn takes a job at Mr. Kim’s beauty supply store. The scenario and setting may be seeded from real life, but the story that unfolds is fully Craig-Galvan’s imaginative exploration of two people of color who are both trying to survive while negotiating shared space. Craig-Galván wanted to write an intersectional play bringing two communities uncommonly represented together that wasn’t about war or marriage, but rather about “dealing with each other, finding common ground, misunderstanding each other, and overstepping each other.” As a Black woman and an Asian immigrant with a heavy accent, Veralynn and Mr. Kim must come face-to-face with the racial stereotypes and cultural barriers between them. In so doing, they take the difficult but brave steps to bridge their divide and acknowledge their humanity.

A hallmark of Craig-Galván’s playwriting is an element of magical realism, and this play does not disappoint. While Veralynn works at the store, the beauty poster advertisements come to life, haunting and prodding her as she tries to build connection with Mr. Kim.

Inda Craig-Galván

 In her own words, Craig-Galván is “obsessed with using storytelling in a super theatrical way,” in “exploring someone’s inner mind—their thoughts and their skewed vision of life.” The posters are a window for both Veralynn and Mr. Kim as we discover how much they’ve sacrificed in the way of their own artistry just to live in America. Thematic to the play is the question, as Craig-Galván posits, “How do we continue to find and make art where we are made to feel unwelcome?” It’s a fitting question for anyone trying to make meaning out of their creative lives whilst struggling with the economic pressures of American capitalism. 

 Bringing together all the elements of this play took considerable creative collaboration. Under the dramaturgy of Playwright Alice Tuan, the play was developed in the East West Players’ new play development Playwrights Group. Director Scarlett Kim, also the Associate Artistic Director at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, brought her background in theater and video and technology to the project, as well her own Korean immigrant perspective, which was integral to the fleshing out of Mr. Kim. Because of the extended developmental support, the play had the great fortune of actor input by lead actors Julanne Chidi Hill and Ryun Yu.

Scarlett Kim

For Kim, the play was an ideal project where her many skills and sensibilities could converge. She describes the play as depicting “how two characters move beyond prescriptions of what society tells them”, and one that refuses to fall into a right-or-wrong, black-or-white binary or be told through a white male gaze. One of Kim’s driving values as an artist and director is what she describes as unclassifiable spaces, a “central framework for life and art.” In many ways, she says this play is “the story of unclassifiability in both content and form.” The integration of multimedia to carry out the fantastical elements of the play is magical and isn’t additive but rather illuminating to the characters’ inner lives.  

Both Kim and Craig-Galván rave about this female-powered creative collaboration, with Kim calling it a “dreamy, joyful, generous” process and Craig-Galvan amazed at the visual interpretations of her own, as she quips, “ridiculous stage directions.” The show promises to be a truly theatrical event.

Click Here for More Info on “The Great Jheri Curl Debate,” playing at East West Players through October 9th.

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at [email protected] & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

Want to hear from more women artists? Make a Tax-Deductible Donation to LAFPI!

Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LAFPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.

The FPI Files: East West Players and Fountain Theatre Team Up for Jiehae Park’s “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo”

by Carolina Xique

It’s an exciting time to be an artist. In the last few years, the arts industry has been experiencing a high production value in diverse storytelling aimed toward better representation of people of color, and more specifically, Asian and Asian American representation. With groundbreaking films such as Crazy Rich Asians, Netflix’s Always be My Maybe, The Farewell, as well as the successful theatrical production of Cambodian Rock Band, people everywhere are becoming more exposed to the nuances of the Asian/Asian-American experience.

With a cast that is almost entirely made up of Koreans and Korean Americans, Jiehae Park’s Hannah and the Dread Gazebo takes a family on a funny, heartbreaking adventure to reconnect with their roots in South and North Korea, and also into the forbidden Demilitarized Zone that divides them. Hannah premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2017, and is now set to open at the Fountain Theatre in association with East West Players, directed by Jiehae’s longtime collaborator, Jennifer Chang. So we thought we’d grab the chance to talk with them about their own adventure with this play.

LAFPI: First, let us say that we’re thrilled to hear about this new piece and that it’s making its way into Los Angeles!

Jiehae, as playwright, can you talk about how the idea for this play came to you? And Jennifer, as the director, what drew you to take on this piece?

Jiehae Park: I didn’t know I was writing a play! I was primarily a performer at the time.  There were quite a few big questions I was trying to figure out—and I think the unusual shape of the play reflects that. I would sit down and write down stories that came to me in that moment, not realizing it was all going to add up to something bigger.

Jennifer Chang: I am a huge fan of Jiehae’s and have been following her career with personal interest for some time as we share an alma mater: we both went through the MFA Acting program at UCSD and have both diversified our careers.  She is a significant talent and I am so thrilled to have this opportunity to collaborate with her on Hannah and the Dread Gazebo. The musicality of the language and the inherent theatricality that emerges from her ability to weave a multiplicity of thought and theme are all very exciting and honestly a dream to be able to dive into.  Also, I love being able to support the telling of Asian American stories in their universality and three-dimensionality.

Playwright Jiehae Park

LAFPI: What kind of research did you do when writing Hannah, Jiehae?

Jiehae: I didn’t research much initially, but I did do quite a bit before finishing the play (that’s been a recurring pattern in my writing process these last few years). The research didn’t directly go into the play, but provided a richer historical and cultural context that helped me complete it.

LAFPI: A follow-up to that, in terms of your other plays and writing process, was anything different for Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?

Jiehae: Broadly, I seem to have two general types of plays—super-quick, freight-train-speed linear ones; or messier, slower-baking plays where the structure is far less predictable. Hannah is definitely in the latter category.

Director Jennifer Chang

LAFPI: Jennifer, what in your directing process is helping you with Hannah?

Jennifer: Regarding research, the usual dramaturgical work of researching was involved: Korea, the DMZ, politics of North and South and Kim Jong Il. I wanted to lean into the magic-realism of the play, and early on knew that I wanted to consult with an illusionist, and also started doing some research into magic (I’m currently reading Spellbound by David Kwong). It’s been so great to have a cast that is almost entirely Korean and Korean American.  There are some points of commonality amongst Asian Americans, but being able to tap into specific details, nuances, and experiences that the cast has so generously shared with the company and has contributed to the making of the show has been invaluable.  It’s illuminating to discover the tiny nuances of how gestures and thinking sounds differ for Koreans in, and those from, Korea. I love new plays and really view myself as a locksmith in my approach to collaboration.  I want to know what the play wants to be, the playwright’s intentions, what’s resonating with the cast and how they approach the work, and how best to facilitate the conversation and “the ride” so to speak, with the audience.

Actors Monica Hong and Gavin Lee – Photo by Jenny Graham

LAFPI: Where does this piece fit in this new age of Asian/Asian American storytelling? How is it different?

Jiehae: I think it’s an exciting time for bold, uniquely Asian American storytelling that takes up its own space, written for audiences that include—though not exclusively—Asian Americans. Hannah is a play about the in-between-ness of a certain kind of Korean American immigrant identity, where the “homeland” can seem just as foreign as America. It’s written deliberately for a mixed audience—of Korean speakers and of non-Korean speakers—of all ethnicities. A lot of the work I’m excited about lately takes the old binaries and exposes them for what they always were—convenient fictions, with the far richer textures lying in between.

Jennifer:  I think the new age is a function of capitalism producers and production companies are recognizing that an underserved market exists and that if production companies and theaters want to keep making as much money as they have been while building and creating new audiences, the Asian and Asian American audience will have to feel represented in the storytelling.

LAFPI: Is there anything you’d like to share about the casting process?

Jennifer: Only to say that I was looking for actors who could really capture the essence of ‘Han’—which is defined as a certain melancholy that is specific to Korean culture and people. I don’t mean to say that people of other cultures can’t possess Han. A western analogy would be the sadness and longing found in Chekhov’s plays. At its core, the play is about a family and reflecting on what this family’s particular family story is and how inextricably linked it is to the culture upon whose bedrock the family’s roots lay. Everybody comes from some place and has a family story.

Actors Hahn Cho and Monica Hong – Photo by Jenny Graham

LAFPI: We’re looking forward to seeing both sides of the coin of this dynamic show: the funny and the tragic. Jennifer, how does this show find that balance and how do you design that into the show?

Jennifer:  It’s really about honoring the text and mining the emotional wells that exist because of the circumstances that the characters find themselves in. And hopefully the audience can recognize those moments and respond. Laughter and tears are universal and unconscious and bubble up because of a recognition. The company of actors and I are working on the text with an eye and ear on the specificity of the rhythm of the play and essentially choreographing to the music of that language.

LAFPI: East West Players is a theatre company known for its work lifting up Asian-American stories. How do you feel about bringing the LA premiere of Hannah in collaboration with EWP and the Fountain Theatre?

Jiehae: Honored. I had a reading of my very first play—which had been my college thesis—at EWP over a decade ago… In the time since, I figured out I wasn’t a playwright, went to grad school for something else, then re-figured out that I was.  And Stephen Sachs at the Fountain reached out about the play very soon after the OSF premiere—I’ve long admired the scripts he brings to LA area audiences. Additionally, Jen directed an early reading of the play at EWP years ago, and I acted in a show with Jully Lee [who is in the production’s cast]  that Howard Ho (Hannah‘s Sound Design/Composer) music directed when I was right out of school. I’m bummed to not have been able to be out there for rehearsals, but happy that it feels all in the family.

Jennifer: I think it’s really smart theatre-making to cross-pollinate and support the universality of human experiences and good work regardless of color.  A collaboration like this signals that this isn’t just work by people of color, but that it’s good work worth supporting, period.

LAFPI: And what do you want audiences to take with them when they leave the Fountain Theatre after seeing Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?

Jennifer: Garlic in their pockets.

“Hannah and the Dread Gazebo” opens August  17 at The Fountain Theatre, produced in association with East West Players. Visit www.FountainTheatre.com for reservations and more information.

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at [email protected] & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

Want to hear from more women artists? Make a Tax-Deductible Donation to LAFPI!

Donate now!

Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LAFPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.