Photo depicting two Asian- and male-presenting individuals seated at a dinner table with arms crossed and two bowls on the table. An Asian- and female-presenting individual stands behind the table also with arms crossed.

24-Hour Asian American Play Festival Aims to Diversify Asian Stories in Theatre

by Amanda Ong

The oldest Asian American theatre group in the Pacific Northwest will put on a 24-hour play festival this Saturday, Nov. 13. Pork Filled ProductionsResilience! An AAPI 24-Hour Play Festival will showcase seven 10-minute plays, conceived, written, rehearsed, and performed all within 24 hours. Each play will be put on by a team of distinguished Asian American writers, directors, and actors. The online production will be livestreamed on Youtube

Pork Filled Productions was founded in Seattle in 1998 as an Asian American sketch comedy group dedicated to blending community activism with theatre. While their genres have expanded in years since to include science fiction, noir, fantasy, steampunk, and more, they have continued their mission to imagine fantastical universes informed by diverse perspectives. 

Resilience! was conceived by senior producer Kendall Uyeji in response to the surge of Asian hate crimes and the #StopAsianHate movement in the spring of 2021, particularly after the shooting of six massage parlor workers in Atlanta, Georgia.

Uyeji said he felt he wanted to do something to help raise the profile of the movement. “We want to write about the now,” he told the Emerald. “And the best way to write about the now is to literally have [playwrights] write the night of and then produce it the next day.”

The idea for the format of the festival came from another Seattle-based theatre tradition: 14/48 Projects, the concept of which is to write, create, and perform 14 plays within 48 hours. “So the basic idea of a 24-hour play festival is everybody gets together and the night before we all randomly pick the teams of writers, directors, and actors,” Uyeji said. Then the writers write a 10-minute piece through the night. The actors and directors get the scripts in the morning, begin rehearsals, and perform that night.

Black-and-white headshot of Kendall Uyeji.
Kendall Uyeji. (Photo: Bryce Publow)

Uyeji grew up in Rainier Beach and has been involved in the Seattle theatre community since graduating from Western Washington University with a degree in playwriting in 2016. 

The vast majority of the artists featured in Resilience! are also from Seattle. “I think it’s important for Seattle Asian American theatre artists to do a project of our own,” said executive producer Roger Tang, who has lived in Seattle for decades. “It’s important to be visible, that we can show we’re a vital force who can create. It’s also important to show how numerous we are and how talented we are.” 

Tang is deeply connected to the local Asian American theatre community as a cofounder of Pork Filled Productions, a former board member of the Northwest Asian American Theatre, and secretary for the Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists, representing the Pacific Northwest.

Tang points out that over the past eight years, according to Theatre Puget Sound records, only 5% of the roles on stage went to Asian Americans. “Ridiculous, since Asians make up 20% of the King County population. Talent is out there … theatres around town have to use it,” he said. 

Resilience! will feature artists such as Mimi Katano, the artistic director at Youth Theatre Northwest on Mercer Island, and Keiko Green, who has had her plays produced at theatres in Seattle and across the country. 

“I feel like it’s really time to try to create a community of Asian artists,” Uyeji said of the cast.

Photo depicting a scene from a play where a Black- and female-presenting individual wearing a Western 1800s attire aims a gun at another individual kneeling.
Pork Filled Productions’ show “The Tumbleweed Zephyr” by Maggie Lee in 2015. (Photo: Joe Iano Photography)

Throughout U.S. history, Asian American representation has been lacking and caricatured. Pork Filled Productions has sought to counter this since its inception. As a founder of the group, Tang has been linked with the “second wave of Asian American theatre,” along with people like the playwright David Henry Hwang. However, for many Asian Americans, the surge in hate crimes this past spring has brought a new reckoning of identity in the context of the pandemic and calls for solidarity from movements like Black Lives Matter. In the world of theatre, this means questioning what’s next.

“There’s a kind of a roadmap that African Americans have paved through their art, their theatre, their music,” Uyeji said. “I think the path for Asian Americans has to be different. A lot of people think Asians are so close to white. And that in itself is painful and traumatic. It’s not as apparent what other minorities face, but it’s a subtle and insidious sort of trauma.”

Uyeji and Tang hope Resilience! can be a part of the path to progress for Asian Americans in the arts. The two both expressed excitement for what the end result holds, especially as they, along with the audience, cannot expect what kind of plays the invited talents will produce.

“I think I am going to enjoy what kind of crazy, wild theatre we can put together,” said Tang. “Doing it in 24 hours means we’re riding the adrenaline rush, and you never know what can emerge.” 

Uyeji added, “I think this festival is going to be a success because we want to celebrate the community of amazing AAPI artists that exist in Seattle.” Resilience! An AAPI 24-Hour Play Festival will premiere over livestream this Saturday, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. Tickets are available on Ticket Leap.

Flyer depicting information about the Resilience! An AAPI 24-Hour Play Festival. Black calligraphy text reads "Pork Filled Productions Presents RESILIENCE! An AAPI 24-Hour Play Festival. Watch live online Nov. 13 at 8:00 PM PST" on a yellow and orange background with sun rays and an orange-outlined pig illustration.
“Resilience!” promo by Zenaida Rose Smith

Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.

📸 Featured Image: Pork Filled Production’s 2019 production of “The Brothers Paranormal.” (Photo: Roger Tang)

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