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Reaching 50 Years, East West Players Soldiers On

Pictured above: Tim Dang, producing artistic director of East West Players. (Photo courtesy of M. Palma Photography)


Tucked inside the Union Center for the Arts in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo District sits the David Henry Hwang Theater, home to East West Players, the country’s first Asian American theatre organization that is celebrating a milestone 50th year.

A lot of history has been made at East West Players, as the framed posters lining the wall by the theater’s interior staircase illustrate. There’s one of Hwang’s 1988 Tony Award-winning M. Butterfly, revived in 2004; a 2000 production of My Tired Broke Ass Pontificating Slapstick Funk starring John Cho; and actor George Takei in a 2005 production of Equus.

Those who grew up with East West Players know that the posters only tell part of the story.

Decades before the theater would be named after him, Hwang spent much of his childhood hanging around rehearsals, since his father did the company’s accounting and his pianist mother provided musical accompaniment. Takei’s portrayal of a tortured psychiatrist in Equus partly inspired his decision to come out publicly as gay. And Cho’s onstage love interest in My Tired Broke Ass Pontificating Slapstick Funk, an “anti-romantic” comedy by Korean American playwright Euijoon Kim, was played by none other than Cho’s future wife, actress Kerri Higuchi.

The esteemed company has always been more than just a showcase for art and emerging talent—it’s created 50 years of community.

Cul-Stage-AM15-EWP1East West players’ very first production, Rashomon. 

Nearly 15 years ago, “you really couldn’t be an Asian American actor without having something to do with East West Players,” remembers Stefanie Wong Lau, the company’s former marketing director who went on to co-found Artists at Play, an independent Asian American theatre company. “I can’t count how many times [Asian Americans] would contact us and say, ‘I just moved here, and I was told I need to come by and meet people.’”

Consider that more than 75 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islanders in acting unions in Los Angeles had worked at East West Players, according to a 2006 interview Tim Dang, the company’s current producing artistic director, gave the Los Angeles Times.

Indeed, its alumni consists of a notable roster of Asian Americans, including many Korean Americans, such as Daniel Dae Kim, James Kyson, Ki Hong Lee, Jacqueline Kim and C.S. Lee, who recently returned to the stage to perform Animals Out of Paper, Pulitzer Prize-finalist Rajiv Joseph’s play about a world-renowned origami artist.

Today, East West Players has the distinction of being the longest-running professional theater of color in the U.S. Back in 1965, a group of nine Asian American artists, frustrated with the lack of non-stereotypical roles for Asian Americans in Hollywood and influenced by the American Civil Rights movement, formed the troupe, holding rehearsals in the Bethany Presbyterian Church in L.A.’s Silver Lake district. There were few Asian American playwrights at the time, so the company staged European and Japanese works (its very first production was Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Rashomon, the source material for the award-winning 1950 Akira Kurosawa film).

Cul-Stage-AM15-EWP2John Cho, center, in Ikebana.

It wasn’t until the 1970s—the company had moved into a 99-seat black box theater in Hollywood by then—that developing original works by Asian American playwrights became a tangible goal. Korean American founding member Soon-Tek Oh penned the first original productions, including Martyrs Can’t Go Home, a play about the Korean War.

In 1998, East West Players moved into the 240-seat mid-sized equity house where it is based today. It boasts an average 10,000 audience visits per year and annually produces a full season of original Asian American works, as well as re-stagings of plays and musicals. Its 50th anniversary season, currently underway, included the world premiere of intercultural comedy Washer/Dryer and The Who’s Tommy, a classic rock musical based on The Who’s 1969 double album rock opera which opens May 7.

Many veterans of East West Players have gone on to form niche production companies, including Cold Tofu, a comedy improv and sketch group; here-and-now theatre company; Lodestone Theatre Ensemble, which spun out of Oh’s Society of Heritage Performers, a Korean American ensemble that staged provocative works dealing with themes of sex, drugs, violence and religion; and Artists at Play. Since 2011, the latter has specialized in bringing to Los Angeles Asian American plays that have already found success around the nation.

East West Players’ reputation as the premier Asian American theater in the country is built on a long legacy, and one of its challenges has been persuading the broader theater community to let go of the boundaries separating “ethnic” theater from “mainstream American” theater.

Though crossover productions exist, including Allegiance, a musical starring Takei about Japanese Americans in U.S. internment camps set to open on Broadway later this year, Dang feels there is still a long way to go before mainstream theater begins to truly reflect the experience of people of color—who, by 2042, are expected to outnumber non-Hispanic whites. Dang recently launched a diversity initiative called “The 51% Preparedness Plan,” which challenges mainstream theaters to diversify their personnel to include 51 percent women, youth or minorities over the next five years.

Cul-Stage-AM15-EWP3Daniel Dae Kim in Golden Child.

“I think TV and film are getting the message really quickly and starting to have a lot more people of color onscreen,” Dang says. “They’re realizing this is the way they need to do business now. But theater is behind the curve.”

Another challenge to the established theater group is the fact that young Asian American talent, plus their audiences, is increasingly flocking to the digital medium.

Over the last several years, many theaters whose mission was to promote Asian American artists and storytellers have either scaled back operations or shut down completely. Thus, for a company that created the Asian American theater scene five decades ago and continues to lead it, seeking new ways to stay relevant and attract new audience members is a priority.

For example, while the leads in Washer/Dryer were Indian American and Chinese American, the supporting roles included a Caucasian neighbor and a gay African American best friend. In its casting call for The Who’s Tommy, East West Players sought out Latinos, Middle Eastern Americans and Native Americans.

“We need to practice what we preach,” Dang says. “And that means we have to open up and be more inclusive. There will still be an emphasis on Asian Americans, but Asian Americans don’t live in a vacuum.

“I’m on the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation, so it was a big thing to be proud to be Asian because we were so invisible,” Dang adds. “But if you talk to the younger generation, the thinking is different. They are individuals of many intersections. And I’m happy to see that we’ve progressed in a way that Asian Americans are comfortable being part of the [greater American] community.”


All production stills courtesy of East West Players

This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).

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korean americans on the road to fame

25 Years of KoreAm Covers: Koreans on the Road to Fame

To mark the 25th anniversary of KoreAm Journal, we’re revisiting some memorable covers from the magazine’s archives.

Take a look at some of the creative talent, athletes, influential figures, social issues and tragic events that have appeared on our cover. The panoply of images, we hope, will serve as a historical flashback, a glimpse into the people that inspired us, the issues we explored and the events that called for deeper reflection over the last 25 years.

Here are some notable Koreans who have been featured on KoreAm before they skyrocketed to stardom.


Margaret Cho (Aug. 1994): “She’s thrilled and so are her fans who are anxiously awaiting the first Asian American sitcom to ever air,” KoreAm wrote about the then-25-year-old comedienne in this Aug. 1994 cover story shortly before the debut of All American Girl.


Ahn Trio (Jan. 1998): The sister music trio is deemed by KoreAm as, “one of chamber music’s most gifted and promising young ensembles.”


Sandra Oh (July 1998): Before the Korean Canadian actress become a household name as Dr. Cristina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy and landed a number of leading screen roles, she was on the cast of HBO’s comedy series Arli$$, which KoreAm wrote about in this July 1998 cover story.

Rick Yune (Dec. 1999)Rick Yune (Dec. 1999)

Amerie (Sept. 2002)Amerie (Sept. 2002)

Karen O. ( June 2003)Karen O. ( June 2003)

John Cho (July 2004)John Cho (July 2004)

Suchin Park (2006)Suchin Park (2006)

Yu Kwon (Feb. 2007)Yu Kwon (Feb. 2007)

Daniel Dae Kim (April 2010)Daniel Dae Kim (April 2010)

Psy (Dec. 2012)


Psy (Dec. 2012)

Stay tuned for the next chapter of “25 Years of KoreAm Covers.” We’ll be showing you various influential media and government figures who have graced our magazine’s covers.

Go to Next Chapter ->



[VIDEO] CAPE’s 2015 #IAM Campaign Features Korean American Role Models

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

To celebrate this year’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) has launched its 2015 #IAM Campaign to put a spotlight on Asian American talents and leaders in media, entertainment and food.

This is the second year CAPE is running its #IAM Campaign. Last year, the organization teamed up with Verizon for the first time ever and created a comedy web series and mini-documentary series featuring eighteen Asian American artists and personalties, including Steven Yeun, David Choi, Randall Park, Jessica Gomes, Lisa Ling, Brian Tee, Leonardo Nam and Bobby Lee.

Among the role models featured in this year’s campaign, there were several Korean American talents: Daniel Dae Kim, Ki Hong Lee, Arden Cho and Seoul Sausage Co. In the videos below, these four representatives share their success stories and the lessons they’ve learned in their journeys.

#IAM Ki Hong Lee

“The only way to change [Asian American perception] faster or to launch a new wave of how people see Asians is to create our own content, to create our own stories, and make opportunities for ourselves as actors and as entertainers,” says Ki Hong Lee. “I think the only way to change anything is to just take it and change it yourself.”

#IAM Arden Cho

“Don’t be afraid to fail because failure adds character and color and it’s those imperfections, flaws, and mistakes that you make along the way that add to a great story,” says Arden Cho.

#IAM Daniel Dae Kim

“In this career as an actor, regardless of your race, there are so many variables that are beyond your control,” says Daniel Dae Kim. “What you can control is your level of talent, your work ethic. Be excellent at what you do. That way, if you’re good and the opportunity train rolls by, you’ll be able to hop on.”

#IAM Seoul Sausage Co. 

“If you just start thinking ‘I am…,’ that’s the first step in figuring out what you want to be, what motivates you, what excites you, and who you’re going to become in the future. I think that’s very powerful,” says Ted Kim of Seoul Sausage.


You can watch the rest of the #IAM Campaign representatives (Constance Wu, Jason Chen and Cassey Ho) on the campaign’s official website.

Join the conversation and share your #IAm story via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  To learn more about CAPE, check out their website or YouTube channel.  


Featured image via CAPE

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‘Ktown Cowboys’ to Premiere at SXSW Film Festival

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Ktown Cowboys will be making its world premiere at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

Directed by Daniel “DPD” Park, the indie film follows a group of hard-partying friends who band together in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. Each of the characters struggle with their own unique issues as they transition into adulthood.

Based on a popular 2010 YouTube series of the same name, Ktown Cowboys features a Korean American cast that includes screenwriter and comedian Danny Cho, Bobby Choy, Peter Jae, Sunn Wee, Shane Yoon, Eric Roberts, Steve Bryne, Simon Rhee, Ken Jeong, Daniel Dae Kim and Kim Young-chul.

On a side note, another Korean American film that will be making its world premiere at SXSW this year is Twinsters, a documentary about identical twin sisters reuniting 25 years after they were separated at birth.

The 2015 SXSW Film Festival will run from March 13-21. You can view the festival’s lineup here.


Photo courtesy of SXSW

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Daniel Dae Kim Steps Behind the Mic in ‘Saints Row: Gat out of Hell’

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Daniel Dae Kim has recently been featured in a behind-the-scenes video that introduces the voice cast of the upcoming video game, Saints Row: Gat out of Hell.

The game is the latest addition to the popular Saints Row franchise and is a standalone expansion to the zany Saints Rows IV.  The open-world game follows Johnny Gat, voiced by Kim, as he travels to Hell to rescue his gang leader, who was kidnapped as part of Satan’s efforts to marry off his daughter. Needless to say, this game is expected to be as bizarre and over-the-top as its predecessor.

The behind-the-scenes video gives an inside look at the voice acting process and spotlights various voice actors, including Natalie Lander, Dee Bradley and Matt Mercer.

“People who play an instrument are able to create different sounds and different melodies from that instrument,” Kim says in his interview. “For those people who can use their voices in such a way to create characters, different animals, it’s a pretty unique skill.”

Check out the BTS video below:

Saints Row: Gat out of Hell will be available on the PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One and Xbox 360. It will release on Jan. 20 in North America.

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‘Ktown Cowboys’ Releases Teaser

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Musa Productions has dropped the teaser for their coming-of-age dramedy, Ktown Cowboys, which is slated to release in 2015.

Based on a web series of the same name, Ktown Cowboys follows a group of hard-partying friends, who all struggle with the transition into adulthood in their own unique but interconnected ways in Los Angeles’ Koreatown.

Directed by Daniel “DPD” Park and written by Danny Cho and Brian Chung, the indie film features five cast members from the original 2010 web series and has cameo appearances by the film’s executive producer Ken Jeong (Community), Daniel Dae Kim (Hawaii Five-0), Steven Byrne (Sullivan & Sons) and Simon Rhee (Best of the Best).

In addition to the teaser, the filmmakers also announced that they will launch a transmedia digital short series called Ktown Footnotes next Wednesday. According to the production team’s press release, the digital series will delve deeper into the film’s plot, introduce new characters and will consist of comedic stand-alone episodes that explore the Ktown lifestyle.

“Aside from the obvious production quality improvements, we’re able to go much deeper into the characters and the Ktown experience in the movie,” Park said. “Because Ktown Cowboys started online, we’ve always wanted to create a bridge between the Internet experience and traditional film. Danny and I created Footnotes to function as that bridge.”

To learn more about Ktown Cowboys, visit the film’s website and Facebook page. You can also watch the original web series here.

Daniel Dae Kim

Daniel Dae Kim to Produce Remake of Korean Drama ‘Good Doctor’ For CBS


Last fall, Daniel Dae Kim was in talks with CBS to remake the popular South Korean medical drama Good Doctor. Now, the talks are over and the American adaptation of Good Doctor has been green-lit for production.

The series follows the story of a brilliant pediatric surgeon with Aspergers who uses his talent for solving complex cases at a Boston teaching hospital.  The untitled adaptation is one of the many projects Daniel Dae Kim is developing under the first-look deal he signed with CBS TV Studios last year.

According to Deadline, the project is written by Adele Lim, who recently served as the co-showrunner on CW’s Star-Crossed and has worked on shows like Reign and One Tree Hill. Lim will be executive producing with Daniel Dae Kim while Kim’s production company 3AD will be producing with EnterMedia, a company known for adapting formats in the U.S. and South Korea.

Last May, Kim expressed his desire to introduce South Korean content to America and told Hollywood Reporter that “good content can transcend cultural barriers.” Now that Good Doctor is being produced, perhaps Kim’s other passion project, the film adaptation of the memoir Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World’s Most Repressive Country, will follow suit.

Below is the trailer to the original series:

daniel dae kim hori

Daniel Dae Kim Joins ‘Insurgent’ Cast

by Haein Jung

Variety reports Korean American actor Daniel Dae Kim has been tapped to join the star-studded cast of Insurgent, the anticipated sequel to Divergent, starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James and Miles Teller. The Hawaii Five-O and former Lost star is the latest actor to sign onto the sequel, which will also have the Oscar wattage of Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet and Octavia Spencer.

Kim will play the role of Jack Kang, who is described as a representative of the Candor faction, one of five factions in the future dystopian Chicago.

Insurgent, based on Veronica Roth’s triology, is set for release on March 20, 2015.

Though the character of Kang will not be part of the follow-up films, Allegiant- Part 1 and Allegiant-Part  2, Kim will still have plenty to do once filming wraps. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he revealed he inked a two-year development contract with CBS Television Studios to develop new projects under his own production banner 3AD. Under this contract, he hopes to adapt a memoir by Korean American activist Mike Kim, who chronicled his experiences helping North Korean refugees cross over to China in Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World’s Most Repressive Country.

Kim is also in talks with Korean broadcasters to bring more Korean television content to the U.S. He is reportedly in the final stages of negotiation with CBS for the adaptation of popular South Korean melodrama Good Doctor. “It’s all about the timing and confluence of different events,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “K-pop is bigger than ever, there is awareness in the U.S of an international market, there is interest in intellectual property, such as basing TV and film on books and foreign content.”