From FOB to Fab: Asian American Theater Project shapes the stage

Established by the now prominent playwright David Henry Hwang (class of 1979) and Nancy Takahashi Hatamiya (class of 1981), the Asian American Theater Project opens a creative space for students to respond to cultural quandaries and contribute to the campus theater circuit.  Hwang wrote and directed FOB in 1979, a play which eventually garnered world-wide success.  FOB contemplates the identity crisis experienced by “fresh off the boat” Asians who desire to assimilate American culture, yet still retain many of their own traditions.  Hwang weaves a complex tapestry of ancestry, immigration, discrimination, and social mobility that has remained meaningful to Asian Americans of all generations.

Over the years, AATP has engaged socio-cultural themes in an effort to “increase representation of Asians/Asian Americans in theater arts, address stereotypes and misrepresentations through nuanced portrayals of Asian/Asian American cultures through the performing arts, cultivate the interests and talents of Asian/Asian American artists through acting, directing, producing, stage management, technical design, and writing in a safe and open community, celebrate the works of Asian/Asian American playwrights, and explore other theater works through an Asian/Asian American lens.”

Stanford Chinese Dance in red ribbon dance

Student arts organizations under the umbrella of the Asian American Activities Center proliferated during the 1990s and 2000s.  In 1992, the Japanese animation club, Stanford Newtype Anime, was formed.   A martial arts group known as Stanford Wushu began training students in 1997.  Three Stanford undergraduates and Chinese dance enthusiasts, Kerry Lee (class of 2007), Cheri Li (class of 2008), and Yung-Yee Chen (class of 2008), founded Stanford Chinese Dance in 2006 to serve as an outlet for students to learn and perform the art of Chinese dance.  The following year, SCD invited renowned Chinese dance instructor Hai Yan Jackson from Sichuan, China to elevate the group’s technical prowess.  SCD practices and performs a variety of classical and contemporary Chinese dance forms, including sleeve, ribbon, handkerchief, Dai and Mongolian.  In 2007, students created Oceanic Tongues, an Asian American writers’ workshop.  This workshop meets on a weekly basis to nurture a community of writers from all backgrounds and experience levels who are interested in issues pertaining to Asian American identity.

Bios: David Henry Hwang – Alumnus (class of 1979) who co-founded the Asian American Theater Project in 1978.  Hwang continued his studies in Drama at Yale University, and rose to prominence as a professional playwright, screenwriter, and librettist.  Hwang’s M. Butterfly won a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Play.  His signature works probe the complexities of Asian American identity.

Nancy Takahashi Hatamiya – Alumna (class of 1981) and co-founder AATP in 1978 who appeared in the original production of FOB.  Hatamiya served on the Board of Directors of the California Council for the Humanities and acted as an advisor to President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

Featured image: poster for Asian American Theater Project’s 2010 revival of FOB, a play by alumnus David Hwang which premiered at the Okada dorm in 1979