An Informal Historical Timeline of Asian American Theatre

The first edition of the following timeline was collaboratively created by the attendees of the 2006 National Asian American Theatre Conference and Festival as a record of events as part of Asian American theatre (both in general and to them personally) and performance history. Additional dates added since then (Note: dates are not verified).

1903

Broadway production  of Onoto Watanna’s (Winnifred Eaton) A Japanese Nightingale, at Daly’s Theater in 1903. First Asian American author produced on Broadway.

1918

Sadakicu plays

1920’s

Asian American student playwrights begin writing at the University of Hawaii

1924-31

Winnifred Eaton [1875-1954], the first Asian American novelist and screenwriter, wrote hundreds of screenplays and treatments from 1924 to 1931″:

She is also known as Onoto Watanna. Her IMDB listing is under a married name, “Winifred Reeve. Note: her sister Edith Maud Eaton [1865-1914], writing as “Sui Sin Far,” is held to be “the first person of Chinese ancestry to write in defense of the Chinese in America, countered beliefs widely held at the time that the Chinese were unassimilable [sic], morally corrupt, and corrupting. Sui Sin Far demonstrated that the Chinese were human, like everyone else, but victimized by the laws of the land.” Another sister, Grace (1867-1957), was the first Chinese-American female attorney in Chicago; she went to her law practice every day until her death at age 89″:

1920’s-1930’s

Ling-Ai Li & Wai Chee Chun Yee begin writing and become pioneering Asian American women playwrights in Hawaii

1920’s-1930’s

The Filipino Manongs came to California (Stockton, etc.) — My dad immigrated to NYC (Nicky P)

1938-39

Willand Wilson begins collecting student plays at the University of Hawaii Manoa (including Asian American plays)

Early 20th Century

The Forbidden City thrives–Asian American Cabaret

1940’s-1950’s

Chop Suey Circuit

1942-46

Japanese American Internment

Going by when the first main camp, Manzanar, opened [March ’42] and the last one, Tule Lake, closed [March ’46].

1942

Dutch & Indonesians in concentration camps under Japanese occupation

1959

The Crimson Kimono” debuts starring James Shigeta — one of the first studio marketed films in which an Asian Pacific American gets the girl! ”

1959

Creation of the San Francisco Mime Troupe

1961

Flower Drum Songstarring Nancy Kwan was the first TV. performance of Asian American actors and positively influenced Asian identity. We saw ourselves in the media.

1961

Breakfast at Tiffany’sshows a buck tooth stereotype of Japanese man

1965

Immigration Act of 1965 – Relaxation of anti-Asian immigration laws, large wave of Chinese, Filipino and Korean immigration to the US as pent up demand lasts for at least two decades.

1960’s

Yoko Ono’s appearance on “The Tube” & in the media

Vietnam War

Tanzaman Socialist dance performances

1965

East West Players is founded – Mako is the founding Artistic Director

1966-67

Bruce Lee as Kato

Late 1960’s

Collaboration between East West Players and Inner City Cultural Center

1969

Demonstration at Los Angeles Music Center (re) Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen

Late 60’s Early 70’s

Great Asian American actors audition but no roles for Asians

1970’s

Most consistently multicultural ensemble in SF Bay area and the oldest” political theatre in the nation ”

Kumu Kahua Theatre Honolulu — as a response to the absence of local voices and material in Hawaiian theatre. Local” is an identity shaped by/for largely

1970’s

Asian American Studies begins

First courses in Asian American Theatre taught at UCLA

Second City establishes improv + sketch comedy as an art form

BITAW — Basic Integrated Theatre Arts Workshop was an educational program created in the Philippines and used in the Philippines and the United States to teach and empower

American Conservatory Theater develops Asian American actors

Indian Sheer Theatre meets Asian American solo performance

1970’s-1980’s

Anti-Asian Violence

1970

Country Dinner playhouse toured Teahouse of the August Moon

International Manila Voice Fest

1972

Ping Chong’s Lazarus at La Mama ETC

Production of Chicken Coop Chinamanby Frank Chin, 1st Asian American play produced in New York

Creation of Theatrical Ensember of Asians (which became Asian Exclusion Act, then Northwest Asian American Theatre ) in Seattle

Creation of Asian American Theatre Workshop (later Company) in San Francisco

Codawritten by Tri-Am, Alberto Isaac, produced by East West Players

Kearny Street Workshop founded — San Francisco

1973

Chinese Theatre Group Act La Mama Return of the Phoenix

mid 1970’s

Asian Americans protest Broadway parts being given to non-Asian Americans

1974

Nicky Paraiso was the first Asian-Filipino-American to be admitted to NYU’s graduate acting program. Harsh Nayya, a South Asian actor, was in the class a year ahead and Marion Yue was a Japanese American classmate.

1976

Pacific Overtureson Broadway

1977

Pan Asian Rep founded by Tisa Chang

Wakako Yamauchi’s And the Soul Shall Dance at East West Players

1978

Nobuko Miyamoto founds Great Leap – Asian American performing arts organization in Los Angeles ”

1979

New World Theatre founded — Asian American female artistic director — Asian American theatre presented, produced, developed since its founding

David Henry Hwang writes F.O.B.at Stanford

Pacific Asian Actors Ensemble in San Diego founded by Thom Sesma, Gingerlily Lowe, David Tamayo, Kent Brisby, Ed You, & Janine Lowe

1980’s

East West Players’ productions hit me in my theatrical heart, and I knew someday I wanted to be involved with East West. I got my opportunity in 1991.

AIDS epidemic devastates the theatre world

Paper Angelsat Chinese Cultural Center in San Francisco

Reading Fanon & Rustom Barucha

Participating in Street Theater in India — watching Badal Sircar’s extraordinary production Procession

Seattle Group Theatre — multicultural playwrights, festivals, national gatherings

1980

Song for a Nisei Fishermanat Asian American Theatre Company (and Stanford Asian American Theatre Project)

1981

Cold Tofu founded by four women: Marilyn Tokuda, Denice Kumagai, Judy Momii, & Irma Escamilla

1981-82

Japan America Theater opens its doors

1982

Yellow Feverat Asian American Theater Company and Pan Asian Rep

1983

Chicago’s first Asian American theatre formed: Mina Sama-No

Co-founded by Marc Rita

1983-84

Yellow Feverby Rick Shiomi in Vancouver Canada

1984

Who Killed Vincent Chin?

Karate Kidwith Pat Morita – 1st Asian American born Oscar nominee

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom(as a bad thing)

1986

1st Production of David Henry Hwang’s F.O.B. in our Capitol City Sacramento

Creation of Cahoots Theatre Projects in Toronto

The end of Asian Writers Basement Workshops led by Fay Chiong in NYC

Late 1980’s

Velina Hasu Houston’s Teaat San Diego’s old Globe Theatre

Mid 1980’s

Films like Sixteen Candles& Gung Hoportrayed Asian stereotypes and sparked a movement for Asian Americans to fight these stereotypes.

1988

 

David Henry Hwang wins Tony for M Butterfly

1989

Joy Luck Clubwritten by Amy Tan

Ma-Yi Theatre Company founded in NYC

Chinese Story Theatre (later renamed Asian Story Theatre) founded by Kent Brisby & Gingerlily Lowe

Highways Performance Space founded by Tim Miller & Linda Frye Burnham in Santa Monica, California

Dan Kwong premieres first solo performance, Secrets of The Samurai Centerfielder

Tianamen Square student protests

1990’s

Exit the Dragonin Berkeley

Development and rise of Asian American stand-up comedy (Margaret Cho)

Production of Yankee Dog You Dieat Washington Project F/T Arts

1990

Petition in protest to Colleen Dewhurst & Actor’s Equity regarding non-Asian American casting of Miss Saigon

Miss Saigon Opens, starring Jonathan Pryce & Lea Salonga

The first Gulf War

David Mura’s reading of After We Lost Our Way

Bindlestiff studio in San Francisco founded

1990-1992

Tokyo BoundAmy Hill’s solo show

1990’s-2005

Chay Yew teaches the Asian Theatre playwriting workshops at the Mark Taper Forum

Early 1990’s

David Henry Hwang Writer’s Institute

1991

Treasure in the House Asian Pacific American performance series born at Highways
note: founded by Dan Kwong

1992

Theater Mu founded

Rich Shiomi writes and Theater Mu produces the first play about Korean Adoption

LA Riots and the subsequent founding of Society of Heritage Performance

NWAAT’s 20th Anniversary

Asian American Renaissance — conference & organization forming in Minneapolis, MN 55407

The Public Theater forms an Asian American Playwrights Lab headed by Chiori Miyagawa with members Sung Rno, Lesli Jo Morizono, Diana Son, Eugenie Chan, Dawn Akemi Saito and Cary Wong.

It is shut down a year later after Artistic Director JoAnne Atkalitis is replaced by George C. Wolfe.

1993

Joy Luck Clubthe film

Red Earth & Pouring Rainwon the Booker (Indo-American novel).

Unbroken Threadpublished — edited by Roberta Uno and Velina Hasu Houston — the first anthology of plays by Asian American women playwrights.

Canadian premiere of David Henry Hwang’sThe Dance and the Railroad

Club O’Noodle– Vietnamese American Theatre Company started

Mid 1990’s

2nd Spoken Word Summit APIA Chicago

Youth Speaks in NYC at the teachers & writer’s collaborative

1994

Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra established — introducing Asian American theatre to the whitest county in California (Nevada County)

All American Girlwith Margaret Cho

Asian Boys— Nicky Paraiso’s first full-length performance piece

Dan Kwong’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Asian Men – but Didn’t Give Enough of a Shit to Askat Japanese American National Museum Los Angeles

Cleveland Raining by Sung Rno

Berkeley Rep’s Woman Warrior

Roger Tang develops Asian American Theatre Review website which suddenly links API artists nationally through the world wide web.

1995

Stir-Friday Night! Discovered a fun yet powerful method to show a truthful perspective on the Asian American experience– that method was sketch comedy.

Asian American Repertory Theatre founded in San Diego: Andy Lowe, Vince Sobbrano, Jenn Wong, Donna Maglalang, Jyl Kaneshiro

Peeling the BananaWriting and performing workshop at Asian American Writers Workshop – NYC
note: founded by Gary San Angel

Lapu (UCLA’s Asian American Theatre group) founded

Ann Bogart’s Still Co. – Suzuki Summer Program

1996

Asian Arts Institute – First nonprofit community arts center targeted to Asian American forms.

RAW – Real Asian Woman Talk (performance art/dance) at the Walker Art Center. Shared stage with Denise Uyehara & Canyon Sam

1996-1999

Produce APIA Arts Initiative @ Pomona College hosting readings of John Song/ Judy Soo Hoo, & Michael Premsirat’s plays.

Late 1990’s

New World Theater’s Third World American Theatre Conference

Introducing & directing South Asian play at regional theatre

San Francisco Chroniclearticle on interracial dating: Asian women and Caucasian Men

Spoken word turned theatre

Journey to the Westat Berkeley Rep

1997

Asian American Women Playwrights archive founded at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. It becomes a national repository of plays, interviews, photos, etc.

Josephine Lee’s publication of Performing Asian America

API 101at Asian American Theater Company

Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center founded

Ching Valdes Aran-Obie — best performance, Flipzoids@ Ma-Yi Theatre

Scholarly work by Josephine Lee’s Performing Asian America

Asian American Theatre Listserv aa-drama established

Import of Hong Kong Box Office stars like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun Fat.

1997-98

Making TracksNY Musical Workshop

1998

First the Forrestworked with Dipankar Mukherjee in one-woman show

1998

Dan Kwong & Gary San Angel introduced an all Asian American performance workshop in Philadelphia

Pork Filled Players (later Pork Filled Productions) is formed in Seattle.

East West Players moves into new 240-seat Equity theater in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo

Something to Say performance group at Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia

East is EastPremieres in NYC

World Premiere of Dogeatersat La Jolla Playhouse

Hapa Performance Weekend @ Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica

East West Players produces first Thai-American play Big Hunk O’ Burnin’ Loveby Prince Gomolvilas

In Vancouver, the Asian Canadian population constituted 40% of the general population, but we were not represented at all on stage in Vancouver. Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (VACT) was born to right this injustice.

Resurrection of Stanford Asian American Theater Project (a group started by David Henry Hwang). Sean Lim of AATC involved as student.

1999

Conference at Seattle’s Northwest Asian American Theatre

Singapore Festival of the Arts hosts Los Angeles based playwright of Dutch, Indonesian, & Spanish Apache descent. If I Only Had a Heart Made Out of Levi’s written by Annette Jilts Jacobs

Mighty Mountain Warriors & Latina Theater Lab & Culture Clash collaborate and create a piece.

Lodestone Theatre Ensemble founded in Los Angeles

Manhattan Theatre Club and The New Group collaborate to produce UK play East is Eastin NYC with mostly South Asian cast

Jooks Songs Performance Group at Yale University

( founded by Dave Lin, original member of Peeling the Banana, NY)

Generasian — Next teen theater troupe starts its first season at the Asian Arts Initiative.

I Was Born with Two Tongues founded using the idea of “Asian American Identity” through powerful and proficiently worded spoken word poetry.

Sirenz — women’s multi-ethnic spoken word group founded in response to white supremicist hate crimes in Illinois

2000

A Jive Bombers Christmas 2nd Generationcontinues the tradition at the Japanese American National Museum

TeAda Productions — JACCC — Hawaii artists in Los Angeles

SIS Productions (Seattle) is formed

Roberta Uno’s reading of her anthologyUnbroken Thread

Disha Theatre — The first South Asian theatre company in New York City launches at Dialectica Art Gallery.

2001

Teada Productions presents Native Immigrantat JAT in Little Tokyo

1st APIA Spoken Word & Poetry Summit in Seattle

Karen Shimakawa’s National Abjection

Mango Tribe, a collective of 30 APIA women from Chicago, NYC, Minneapolis, LA — produces Sisters in the Smokein Chicago at the Vittum Theater in response to violence within APIA communities.

Mellow Yellow’s 1st show opens two weeks after the events of September 11, 2001

American Desireleased — 1st major Indo-American independent film nationally released

2002

Better Luck Tomorrowopens (grassroots community, globalization)

YAWP begins in Chicago!

1st TeAda workshop featuring Kristina Wong, Ova Saopeng, & Robert Karimi

Leadership shift and new direction at Asian American Theater Co. of San Francisco. Sean Lim starts as Artistic Director.

Great Leap’s Sacred Moon Songsat East West Players with Asian. Chicano

Flower Drum Songby David Henry Hwang opens — Asian American patronage extend the run

Sex in Seattle: Episode II— other women influence Vancouver Asian Canadian theatre productions

Sex in Seattle is the country’s longst running serial drama for stage.

YAWP Young Asians with Power workshop

Chop! Chop!Asian American Artists collective show

2003

2nd Asian American Spoken Word &Poetry Summit in Chicago

World Premiere of Precious Stonesby Jamil Khoury — Chicago

Mango Tribe produces Sisters in the Smokein New York at HERE Arts Center — sold-out run!

Bombay Dreamsproduced on Broadway with mostly South Asian cast by Andrew Lloyd Weber

Ushering in the new generation of Asian Canadian plays and artists (Little Dragon, China Doll, Banana Boys) consistent, continuous, constant

Beau Sia, Stacey Ann Chinn, & Suheir Hamad receive Tony Award for Def Poetry Jam

2003-04

Taiko Project (re)generation — 1st major taiko theatrical production tours in the US

2004

Harold & Kumaropens with two Asian American leads

Dogeaters— LA production

Theater Mu collaborates with Park Square Theater on the first all Asian American cast musical in MN with Pacific Overtures

Co-playwright in With love from RamallahFirst Arab-American production in the upper Midwest.

National Performance Network Conference in Los Angeles

Opening night of Remainsat Mo’olelo Performing Arts Co. San Diego

Pipe Dreams and Paper Trailsat Bindlestiff Studio in San Francisco

Mango Tribe performs 2nd production The Creation Mythology Project

Henry Street Settlement in NYC.

M Butterflyproduction by East West Players

Teaby Velina Hasu Houston in Chicago

The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chowat The Old Globe

2005

Premiere of F.O.P. Fresh off the Planeat AATC by Sean Lim

3rd APIA Spoken Word & Poetry Summit in Boston

A Korean couple on Lostthe television show

Haruki Murakami’s After the Quakepremieres at Chicago’s Steppenwoolf Theater

Lodestone Theatre Ensemble production of Aziatik Nation

YAWP Young Asians with Power benefit in Chicago Untranslatable

As Vishnu Dreamsat East West Players in collaboration with Cornerstone Theatre

Guantanamoat Culture Project

World premiere of Amazing Leap of Faith

Asian American Arts Initiative writing and performance workshop

Self (the remix)opens in Alaska

AATC and Bindlestiff Studio production of Sleeper(a chronicle of the return of the remarkable)

2005-06

Touring work of Youth Speaksthrough Living Project Rep.

2006

Making Tracksin San Jose — Asians can sing and have incredible talent!

Kristina Wong is awarded creative capital award in theatre to create new work on mental illness among Asian woman

TeAda Lab development & open rehearsal at Angels Gate Cultural Center

Scholarly work by Esther Kim Lee History of Asian American Theatres

Mango Tribe develops 3rd production Un/knowing Desire and Empireat New World Theater summer play lab

1st collaboration between CATS and a professional theatre group, the Word for Word Theatre Co. in SF, bringing Amy Tan’sImmortal Heartto Nevada

Grace Lee Project

Mango Tribe & Asian Arts Initiative collaborate on a residency exploring gentrification as an intensive workshop for artists across the country

Another Heavendepiction of Asian dilemma as indentured labor in Hawaii – produced by Kuma Kahua Theatre

Asian American Theatre Conference hosted by East West Players in Los Angeles

Mako passes away, July 21.

SIS Productions (Seattle) launches Insatiable, the Seattle Asian American Playwrights’ Festival

2006-07

I Landsolo performance by Keo Woolford & Roberta Uno

Launching of Canada’s 1st Asian-Canadian Drama Anthology (acknowledging/recognizing the body of work we love).

2007

First National Asian American Theatre Festival held in New York City.

2008

Second National Asian American Theatre Conference, Minneapolis, MN

2009

Second National Asian American Theatre Festival, held in New York City.

Azeotrope debuts in Seattle.

Silk Road Theatre debuts South Asian Playwrightswebsite

2010

Qui Ngyen’s Vampire Cowboys Theatre wins special Obie

Shunya Theatre founded in Houston (?)

2011

Third National Asian American Theatre Conference/Festival in Los Angeles, CA

Chay Yew named Artistic Director for Victory Garden Theatre, Chicago, IL

Artists at Play founded in Los Angeles, CA

National APIA Spoken Word Poetry Summit, 2011: Twin Cities!

2013

Here Lies Loveopens at the Public.

TEA opens in Colorado

2014

Fourth National Asian American Theatre Conference/Festival in Philadelphia, PA

PAPA (Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists) debuts in Philadelphia, PA (first full production in 2018)

The Kilroys list debuts (Carla Ching is one of the organizers)

2015

National New Play Exchange debuts

The McKnight Foundation has named Minnesota playwright, director, producer, theater artist, and musician Rick Shiomi as the 2015 McKnight Distinguished Artist, in recognition of artistic excellence spanning four decades.

Ruthie Ann Miles wins Tony for The King and I. 

Eric Ting named Artistic Director at California Shakespeare

Fresh off the Boatdebuts on ABC

Asian American Set Designer, Mimi Lien, a MacArthur Genius Award Fellow

2016

Vietgone, by Qui Nguyen, opens at Oregon Shakespeare Festival (with first all Asian American cast at OSF); win slew of awards

Fifth National Asian American Theatre Conference in Ashland, OR, with Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Beyond Orientalism co-hort launched by Theatre Communications Group

Tradewinds opens shop in Kansas City

Ma-Yi establishes residencies in Seattle and San Francisco

2017

Kim’s Convenience debuts on Canadian TV

Christopher Chen’s Caughtwins Obie

2018

Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Menopens on Broadway (first Asian American female playwright to do so)

The Sixth National Asian American Theater Conference /Festival in Chicago, IL, co-hosted with Victory Gardens Theatre, Silk Road Rising and the Theatre School at DePaul University.

Maarte Theatre Collective established in San Diego, CA; Midnight Rice established in Seattle, WA.