Star Jet Li and
Singer Lea Salonga are
honorees by East West Players.
catches up with Amy Hill, John Cho, Tim Dang, and others.
here for more event coverage
Angeles April 22, 2002
star Jet Li, Tony award-winning stage actress and singer Lea Salonga,
The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, and longtime theater volunteer
Irma Escamila, were among the honorees at East West Players star-studded
36th anniversary Visionary Awards dinner.
Players, the oldest Asian American theater in the United States
drew more than 800 guests to the awards dinner and silent auction
at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles.
Li, fresh from the set of his latest film production, Cradle
2 the Grave was presented a EWP Visionary award by famed director
thanked the audience for his award in his native Mandarin language
which was translated into English by Roberta
Chin of Pinetree Productions.
Hurley, President of The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation accepted
the Visionary Award with his family at his side. Rae Creevey award
honoree, Irma Escamilla gave a moving speech of gratitude for her
honor. She has worked as an EWP volunteer in numerous jobs from
stage management to production and set design since 1979
Suzanne Kai, Paul Lee, and world champion martial arts fighter Cung
Le attended the event to photograph and interview the honored
auction with proceeds benefiting the theater, offered treasures
from autographed movie memorabilia to trips to Asia. Kai was the
winning bidder of a Rush Hour 2 script personally autographed
by Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, and director Brett Ratner.
Amy Hill and Alec
Mapa emceed the evening which included performances from Lea
Salonga, Michael K. Lee and a musical comedy number performed
by Gedde Watanabe with Diana Toshiko, Yumi Iwama and Kerry Carnaham
in Geisha costumes.
luminaries were on hand as presenters and commentators including
John Woo and Terence
Chang of Lion Rock Productions, Fritz
Friedman of Columbia Tristar at Sony Pictures Entertainment,
executive Scott Sassa, actors John
Cho, and Michael Paul Chan.
Lu and Lauren Tom introduced EWP's Theater for Youth with performances
by Alice Lo, Kurt Kuniyoshi and Casey
Kono. Lauren Tom is currently filming a TV pilot featuring an
Asian American family for ABC. Member of EWP's Council of Governors,
George Takei made a special appearance to congratulate the organizers
of the anniversary event.
producer Paul Lee chatted with honored guests and organizers throughout
Artistic Director, East West Players
I think this is a very important event because with the Asian Pacific
community growing [by] leaps and bounds in California, it's about
time that we recognize the achievements that Asian Pacifics have
made to the contributions of America. Especially our artists. Art,
many times leads the way in terms of the way that people perceive
who or what Asian Americans are.
Is the state of things today for Asian American artists much different
than ten years ago?
It's a lot better than it was ten years ago but there's still
alot more work to do. Of course you can see all this support in
terms of everyone who wants to help improve the visibility and raise
the visibility of Asian Pacific Americans, that I think in the next
ten years it will be even better.
Players is a leader in producing Asian Pacific works that give voice
to the Asian Pacific communities. It's a pan Asian organization
trying to represent the Vietnamese experience, the Cambodian experience,
Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, Filipino, Korean so what we try to
do is shed light on those particular experiences to the greater
What can Asian Americans do to support Asian Americans in the arts?
Go see their shows, go see Jet Li movies. So what happens is
this will let the studios know that Jet Li can get a $36 million
dollar opening week gross. That's good, that means that Asians are
box office. So that way you will see more Asians. In terms of TV,
if you have more Asian images on TV with a popular show, again people
will say, "Oh, Asians are box office successful." Same thing with
plays. In terms of the more Asian plays in the theaters, the better
it is for all of us.
(translation by Roberta Chin, Pine Tree Productions)
When I came to America for the first time in 1974 I already
saw that there were alot of Asian Americans friends who had been
trying to make a melding between the Eastern and Western cultures.
Actually, at that time I was thinking why aren't you guys out there
making money instead of doing these things that nobody knows? [audience
when I grew up I began to understand that without those people clearing
the paths for us there would be no opportunity for Asian actors
to be where we are today. [audience applause]
bottom of my heart, I want to share this award with the countless
people who have worked so hard that maybe nobody knows who are clearing
the path for us in melding the Eastern and Western cultures.
I hope from
the bottom of my heart that I will continue to work harder than
I am now to hopefully spread my culture so that we can promote world
peace. [audience cheers and applause]
co emcee of EWP Visionary Awards
How significant is this event for Asian Americans?
I think this is the big event for the Asian American community.
It brings out the celebrity star power which is really most people
immediately can tangibly feel proud of, even though there are a
lot of things that we are proud of Asian Americans doing. It brings
everyone together to celebrate being Asian Americans.
Is this event even more important now in light of the demise of
some of the Asian American magazine and online ventures failing?
Yes, it continuously is important because of that. We have to keep
our spirit looking forward and moving forward and moving bigger
and higher and better, always.
What can Asian Americans be doing to support Asian cinema, Asian
theater, Asian actors?
Well, going to it is good. I'm doing a show in San Francisco
at the Asian American Theater Company. Asian Americans are not big
theater goers right now yet. Sometimes they may go to the [Mark]
Taper Forum, or maybe they may go to the Opera, but what's weird
is if you go to Asia people go to see stuff.
people line up to see things [in Asia], but for some reason [in
the U.S.] they feel like they're not getting the best product if
they go to Asian American theater or Asian American film.
been sort of brainwashed with the idea that stuff that is possibly
ethnically oriented, or not mainstream might not be good, but it
There is disparity in terms of perception?
Yes, I think probably Asian American stuff probably does better
in Asia than it does here! I've been flown to Singapore to do my
show and people are just like, "Wow! Amy Hill, All American Girl!"
I think sometimes...people that are not Asian are more impressed
with me than Asians. Because [Asians] feel, well, I'm just family.
It's kind of a weird thing.
ourselves too much, we don't support each other enough.
What about Jet Li, people say that he has made a lot of advances
for Asians in film, but others might say he is perpetuating the
Asian stereotypes in martial arts. What is your opinion?
I feel that when you are doing something really well, and people
are applauding that, you just got to keep doing it. Do not worry
about stereotypes and all that type of stuff.
thing that we do to tear ourselves down again. You just gotta get
out there and support them. In terms of communication and talking,
the more that Jet feels he [is] embraced by our community, the more
he could take on some of the ideas that we have in maybe expanding
the possibilities for his work. That maybe it won't always just
be that, maybe it might be a little different, or maybe he will
bring in Asian Americans into his show, who knows?
embracing is much better than turning away. I am always "the glass
is half full," an actor has to be. I always feel that it will get
better and it does. I am surprised sometimes that it doesn't go
as fast as it could be.
I am frustrated
by the fact that people still look at us so differently. I mean,
even we look at us differently. Like I do my show, people bring
me into the Asian American studies department, but I'm just a play,
why doesn't the theater department bring me in? I can hold myself
against any theater artist that you bring in, but the Asian American
studies department also feels like, "I don't know if we can get
you into the theater department." I say No! If we pigeonhole ourselves,
too, we are perpetuating that same problem.
I am an
Asian American artist and I feel just as good as every other theater
artist. The show that I am doing is Tokyo Bound, which I
have been doing since 1990. At least once a year somebody calls
to ask if I will do the show again. Its about my experiences in
Tokyo when I was in my early 20's. It's fun.
seeing people like you, who just go, "this is what I am going to
do." It crosses all the boundaries, the younger people, they don't
see barriers, they see possibilities and that's really important.
Words of advice for people wishing to get into the entertainment
Oh my god! The world is out there for you, just go and grab it!
What do you think is the significance of tonight's East West Players
Annual Visionary Awards event? Is it important in the fabric of
I do think it's important. As Asian American artists, we don't get
a whole lot of support in the mainstream world. We are doing our
own projects written and performed by Asian Americans. I think it's
appropriate to take time out to say, guys, good job. Thanks for
doing it. It's important. It's vital to our community and let's
not forget that.
Do you feel there is a lack of support within the Asian American
community toward Asian American artists?
It's a habit to forget about artists. [In] world history artists
don't get treated particularly well, because the fruits of our labor
don't necessary show up in numbers, or the bankroll and that sort
of thing. It's OK.
have to be reminded. Remember it's out here. Remember that you appreciate
it. Remember that you enjoy it. Remember that it enriches your life.
And please come and support it when you remember. I think it's just
a reminder for people, that's all.
You have an acting career, and also have a band. Are you still
involved in that?
Absolutely. We are going to be recording an album this summer,
2002 called Left of Zed and I am excited about doing it and I'm
excited about unleashing the music onto the general public.
How do you balance your acting and your music?
It's a trick, there's so many hours in the day, but boo hoo [chuckles],
because they are both things that I really love to do so
I am not complaining
at all. It's just a blessing to have two careers that I just so
Any words of advice for anyone interesting in pursuing an acting
I would say that if you really want to do it, don't let anything
stop you. So many people are successful purely because of their
will, their ferocious will. And also remember your love for it.
even five to ten years into the business, other things maybe money,
whatever it is starts to cloud your judgement. Just always keep
sight of what it is that made you want to do this is the first place.
Cho's Official Band site at www.leftofzed.com
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