Since the first national gathering in 2006, Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists (CAATA) has rallied Asian American theater artists and professionals to dive headfirst into the deep, challenging conversations that surround what it means to be engaged in American theater as a person of color.
As CAATA looks ahead to the 5th National Asian American Theater Festival and Conference (ConFest) in October at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, CAATA Board President Randy Reyes shares a reflection on attending the first conference.
I so clearly remember attending The Next Big Bang conference in 2006 hosted by East West Players in Los Angeles, and feeling like I just entered an alternate universe. It was a revelation to have over 200 Asian American theater practitioners and academics all in one place. I felt excited, overwhelmed, inspired, and generally emotional throughout the conference. I had never been part of anything like this and I didn’t quite know what I was supposed to be doing and how I was suppose to be feeling. I had the simultaneous experience of feeling like I was among my people and at the same time feeling like an impostor that didn’t earn the right to be there. I knew everyone and didn’t know anyone. I completely understood and was surprisingly clueless. I was extremely comfortable and painfully awkward. It was like being at a junior high dance all over again. All I knew was that a movement was happening and I needed so desperately to be part of it.
Only a year before this conference in 2005, I moved from NYC to Minneapolis to take a job at the Guthrie as the Theater in Education Director and to stop throwing my money into things that I didn’t own. Soon after the big move I met Rick Shiomi who was the founding Artistic Director of Mu Performing Arts (known as Theater Mu back then), an Asian American theater in the Midwest. Who knew?! Living in NYC for ten years I had only played an Asian character in a professional production once. Being a Juilliard grad, I was hired primarily by regional predominately white theater institutions to act in Shakespeare plays. Basically my whole theater experience, until working at Mu, was through the lens of white America. Everything I knew about theater had nothing to do with the Asian American experience.
So imagine my shock when I landed in The Next Big Bang Asian American Conference! Working with Mu started an immense artistic and personal shift and attending the conference gave me a critical push. I was no longer just an Asian actor in a white production, or an actor at the only Asian American theater company in Minnesota. I was now part of a movement dedicated to giving a voice to our invisible community by telling untold stories through the theater arts. I was now one of many Asian Americans that have a deep passion to change the world and create a SEISMIC SHIFT.
Since that conference I continued my Asian American education and I am now finishing my third season as the Artistic Director of Mu Performing Arts and in my second year as the Board President of the Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists (CAATA). What a difference ten years makes! I am humbled to work with such an amazing CAATA board as we plan the 5th National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival. We are also planning beyond the ConFest to make sure that CAATA is serving our community by building bridges, creating opportunities, and highlighting the amazing work of Asian American theaters and artists.
This is a critical time for the Asian American theater movement with issues of yellow face and cultural dis-appropriation happening all over the nation (and the world) and the feeling of invisibility hitting a threshold. This conference will be a place to celebrate who we are, inspire change, build solidarity and create action steps towards a seismic shift in the American theater!
Randy Reyes is a board member of the Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists (CAATA), which hosts the biennial National Asian American Theater Festival and Conference (ConFest). Scheduled for October 1-8, ConFest is a week of performances, panel discussions, plenary and breakout sessions, new play readings, parties, networking and more.
Please join us in supporting this year’s gathering at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, titled “Seismic Shifts: Leading Change in the American Theater,” by contributing to our crowd-funding campaign: https://igg.me/at/CAATAOSF
Through the generosity of Drs. Judy Shih and Joel Axelrod, major donors to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, every dollar raised through our campaign will be matched to double our impact in providing assistance to artists attending ConFest.