North Star Journey

Voices across time: Theater Mu ignites intergenerational conversation

People stand on a stage with instruments
The cast of Theater Mu's and Jungle Theater's 2022 production of "Cambodian Rock Band." Founded in 1992, Theater Mu is a national hub for Asian American theater.
Courtesy of Rich Ryan

Twin Cities-based theater company Theater Mu is playing host to a national theater conference.  

The AAPI Generations Conference gathers theater makers to discuss, reminisce and envision the past, present and future of Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) theater in America. 

“[The conference] is an event we're doing to celebrate our 30th anniversary,” Lily Tung Crystal, Theater Mu’s current artistic director, told MPR News.   

While the focus will be on Asian American theater, all are invited and encouraged to attend.   

“There's going to be a weekend of plenaries and workshops and panels that bring together the elders in Asian American theatre, who really invented Asian American theater,” Tung Crystal said.  

One of those elders is Rick Shiomi, a playwright and theatermaker who co-founded Theater Mu. He will be present throughout the conference. 

A man in blue shirt poses on a stairway landing
Rick Shiomi poses for a photo at the Kling Public Media Center in St. Paul on Sept. 22
Ben Hovland | MPR News 2022

“These gatherings to me are always exciting because there's always this kind of generative dynamic that goes on,” Shiomi said.   

Founded in 1992, Theater Mu has been a national hub for Asian American theater and has been dedicated to platforming AAPI artists.  

While the conference serves as a reunion of sorts for some of the early change makers in AAPI American theater — with guests like Shiomi and Tony winner David Henry Hwang — it is also an opportunity for intergenerational conversation to take place about where Asian American theater is now.   

“For the younger artists, I feel like there's a whole separate set of challenges, you know, for people like David and myself,” Shiomi said.   

“There's always this evolving understanding of identity in the AAPI community. And there's always this evolving issue of racism and dealing with it ... here's a lot of opportunity for back and forth.”   

Tung Crystal has similar sentiments   

“I feel like a lot of the Equity Diversity and Inclusion fight that we're taking on right now at [Theater Mu], cannot only be informed by our experiences as leaders, but by the younger generation who's coming up,” she said.  

“Their insight and sensibilities surrounding those issues can be very different than ours.”  

Two people sit on boxes
Theater Mu's most recent production, "Again," premiered in March. Theater Mu is currently celebrating it's 30th anniversary.
Courtesy of Rich Ryan

Minnesota-based playwright Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay said that she hopes the conference can be an opportunity for younger artists to get involved in the community. She reflected upon the first theater conference she attended.   

“I felt really intimidated in that space, even though it was a space that was designed especially for Asian American Pacific Islanders, Native Hawaiian theatermakers,” Vongsay said.   

“It wasn't until I … had more years as a playwright, that I felt more comfortable.”   

When Theater Mu announced the Generations Conference, she leaped at the opportunity to help organize it.   

“I'm like, wow, I get to help plan this convening, this gathering of people who I've admired, whose work that I want the next generation, like the people after me, to witness and to experience and to engage with,” she said.   

For Shiomi, he hopes the conference will foster future conversations and developments in AAPI theater. After all, it was a theater conference that started the chain reaction that led to Theater Mu’s founding in the first place.   

“[At a conference] I met a woman by the name of Martha B. Johnson, who then invited me to come to the college she was working at, Augsburg College, to give some talk sessions about Asian American theatre [and] Asian Canadian theatre,” Shiomi said.   

“Had I not gone to that conference, I might never have come to the Twin Cities.”  

Theater Mu’s AAPI Generations conference takes place at Park Square Theatre May 19-21.   

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.
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