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Asian America theater group marks 16 years of 'taking risks' in New York

By Caroline Berg in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2013-06-28 11:57

Asian America theater group marks 16 years of 'taking risks' in New York

Victor Maog, artistic director of 2g (Second Generation), spoke to the audience Monday night at Joe's Pub about the importance of supporting the Asian American theater community. Provided to China Daily

As theatergoers ate dinner and sipped drinks at Joe's Pub Monday night, one thing had to be made clear for them.

"Just fair warning everybody," said Victor Maog, artistic director for the New York-based Second Generation (2g) theater company. "There's going to be a lot of Asians on the stage."

To celebrate 16 years of supporting the Asian American theater community, 38 artists came together for a variety of original works 2g named Sixteen Going On Seventeen.

"Each of these writers tonight is answering a personal dare," Maog told the audience. "Each of them said, 'Yes,' to their commission on the spot, and then they ran out and bought a very small yacht with their money."

The evening showcased sneak peeks of five of the company's upcoming plays and musicals-in-progress, including A Smooth Transition by Mrinalini Kamath; Not Far From China by Anna Moench; Galois the Musical by Sung Rno and Aaron Jones; Daddy Taught Me How to Woo by Lolan Buhain Sevilla; and songs by Adam Gwon, who is working on his first Asian-American musical.

As the company's newly appointed artistic director, Maog wrote in the evening's program that he has asked 2g's artists to begin to question their place in society and the very definition of being an Asian in America.

"This night is about Asian representation," Maog wrote. "More, it's about how we can be leaders in artistic innovation and diversity and inclusion."

2g is a non-profit and artistic home for emerging talent to help develop new plays from a new generation of Asian-American dramatists, provide early-career opportunities for young actors and reach out to newer and more diverse audiences. The company provides support both onstage - through developmental programs and performances - and offstage by cultivating an artist community.

The first feature on the program, "A Smooth Transition," was born out of 2g's short play festival, Instant Vaudeville, which asked playwrights to create around the idea of the bamboo ceiling - the processes and systems that prevent Asian Americans from rising in the corporate world.

In the play, a young Asian American woman is up for a promotion, but first she has to agree to have a white male Android shadow her for a period of time to help ensure a smooth transition as a superior.

"We don't want your youthful looks and ethnic background to get in the way of your growing with us," the script reads. "Think of Scott [the Android] as your persona, your mask. It's like wearing a mask that gets people to obey and respect you."

In the play, "Not Far From China," the main female character battles with her Chinese-American identity and responding to people who ask her where she's from and others who compliment her on her English.

"[Maog] was really challenging me to do something bold and take some risks, and do something kind of dangerous," playwright Anna Moench said about her commissioned work. "So, I wrote about my family because that's like the most dangerous I could get."

Moench and the audience laughed. The playwright clarified that many of the story's details were fictionalized to prevent the audience from drawing certain conclusions about her personal life.

"The thing that I felt I really held true to was the various ways that Asian Americans experience that kind of nebulous identity that we share," Moench told the audience. "I'm just really thrilled to be working with 2g on this at a time when it seems like what it is to be an American changes everyday."

The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, The Dramatists Guild Fund and Johnson & Johnson supported Sixteen Going On Seventeen, and theatergoers were provided with donation envelopes.

In 16 years, 2g has developed more than 400 artists and brought their original work to nearly 200,000 theatergoers in New York, at venues including Carnegie Hall, the New York State Theatre, Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Public Theater.

"We want to do a whole lot more and we need your help in that," Maog told the audience.

"You can bet on some people, and I think these [artists] are people you need to bet on."

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