Art is both a reflection of culture and a way to inspire culture to evolve. The Academy of Visual and Performing Arts at Culver City High School has chosen a play and brought in a professional company to collaborate on a landmark play that does both.
“Yellow Face” blurs the lines between fact and fiction in the same way that stereotypes blur the truth in matters of race, personal identity and cultural authenticity. The play asks provocative questions about racial identity and, on another level, examines the social biases, both casual and institutionalized, that target Asian Americans and, indeed, any outsider to mainstream American culture.
“David Henry Hwang’s Tony-award winning Yellow Face is a comedic satire that features the complex emotions that are involved when talking about race in America,” said teaching artist and guest director Stephanie Lee. “But what Hwang does so brilliantly is marry this complex issue with comedy so that the audience can sit in a theater and laugh together. To quote Hwang during his 2014 interview with Propeller TV, ‘Laughter opens your mind and allows you to think about new things.’”
“During a time when our country seems deeply divided on a myriad of social issues, comedy and theatre can be a conduit for community,” added Lee. “As anti-Asian sentiment has spiked during the pandemic, featuring Hwang’s work will show young artists, who may come from the same background as Hwang, that their voices and stories are important and should be reflected in mainstream media.”
“It’s incredibly important to uplift and support AAPI voices, stories and artists,” said AVPA’s Creative Director of Theatre Lee Margaret Hanson, “particularly when AAPI communities all around North America have seen a huge surge in hate crimes, assault, and discrimination.”
Downtown LA theatre company East West Players, a home for deeply authentic Asian-American stories and creativity, is partnering with CCHS. East West Players is the largest and longest running Asian-American theater.
“This is East West Players’ first time partnering with Culver City High School, and we are excited that our first partnership together is on a piece that is relevant and important for this time,” said Jade Cagalawan, Arts Education and Professional Enrichment Programs Manager for East West Players. “We will be providing educational materials for both students and teachers in order to help guide and deepen the discussion of the themes dealt with in this play. Yellow Face is a play of many layers, all with the central idea of ‘saving face’ in regards to the issues of race and identity, whether it’s on our stage or at a federal level.”
Everyone at CCHS is invited to audition or to assist/support this production in some capacity. It is open to all students at Culver City High School. “We have such an amazing opportunity with this production to partner with East West Players, and for the students to work with Stephanie Lee, as the director. It’s something I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on,” said Hanson.
“We want everyone to be a part of telling this story, whether it’s auditioning as an actor or helping with production, you do not need to be an AVPA student to be involved,” said Lee. “This is a time when young people from different backgrounds need to share their voices and bring their stories to the forefront.”
It’s also a time for community, more so than ever, added Lee, who encouraged everyone to read Yellow Face and other works by Hwang, a seminal playwright in American theatre and film. “Diversify your artistic palate by exposing yourself to artists you aren’t normally exposed to so that you have an understanding of the ever-growing world.”
“We are so grateful to be back in person to create together on stage again. Our entire theatre department and larger theatre communities across the country have desperately missed experiencing the magic of live performances,” said Hanson. “I can’t think of a better way to welcome audiences back than for them to witness this immensely comedic and heartbreakingly relevant play on our Frost stage this fall.”
The play will run the first weekend in November, and include community conversations after each performance.