Arts and Culture

‘Bittersweet situation’: Theater Mu’s artistic director stepping down

A woman sits in front of a fireplace.
Theater Mu artistic director Lily Tung Crystal in her home in Minneapolis. The theater announced Wednesday she will be leaving after this season to take the role of artistic director at East West Players in Los Angeles.
Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Theater Mu announced upcoming leadership changes Wednesday. Current artistic director Lily Tung Crystal will be stepping down at the end of the season to take the artistic lead at East West Players in Los Angeles.  

“It’s a very bittersweet situation, because I love Mu so much,” Tung Crystal told MPR News. 

The Twin Cities theater, known for its focus on Asian and Asian American storytelling, hired Tung Crystal in 2019 — months before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person performances.

2020 also saw a surge in Anti-Asian discrimination across the nation.  

“There’s no place that I would rather be than at Theater Mu during that time,” said Tung Crystal.  

Drawing from skills from her former career as a TV News producer, Tung Crystal was able to create virtual events and hold space for Asian Americans across the nation.  

“To take care of our communities, it’s something that I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to do” Tung Crystal.  

People on stage perform
Audrey Mojica in "Blended 和 (Harmony)," directed by Lily Tung Crystal and running at the History Theatre in St. Paul.
Courtesy of Rich Ryan

Aside from her leadership of Theater Mu during and out of the pandemic, Tung Crystal has directed several productions at various Twin Cities venues, including the world premiere of “Blended 和 (Harmony),” currently running at the History Theatre in Saint Paul.  

“Lily has taken Theater Mu to the next level in talent nurturing, production quality, and relevant storytelling,” said Theater Mu board chair Ruthie Johnson in a press release.  

“We will miss her, but we are also excited to continue to support her.” 

“The hardest part of this decision is leaving this community,” Tung Crystal said of leaving Theater Mu, remembering the warm welcome she received in 2019.

Part of the reason for accepting the new position is to be closer to her family in California. “As I get older, I realize how important that is, to be closer to my family who I hold so dear.”

Tung Crystal will be the artistic director of East West Players, which was founded in 1965. Like Theater Mu, it has a national presence as a premier company for Asian and Asian American stories.  

“I’m excited about the opportunity to connect Mu with East West Players, and together effect change and tell more Asian American stories across the country,” Tung Crystal said.  

“The more we collaborate and partner and support each other, the more long-lasting change we can effect across the country.”

Tung Crystal will program the next season for Theater Mu before her departure. An interim replacement will be named before the search for the company’s fourth artistic director begins.  

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