From left, Rick Shiomi, artistic director, Mu Performing Arts, with performers, Katie Bradley and Sun Mee Chomet, discussing the life experience of Korean adoptees in America and how it inspired their theater writing and acting as adults. The two performed as part of the Week of Mu, an open-house series Friday at the Lowry Lab Theater in St. Paul. (AAP Staff photo by Tom LaVenture)
ST. PAUL, Minn. (August 25, 2010) – A week of free performances offered a glimpse of the wealth of talent at Mu Performing Arts, and will likely encourage many to look into the upcoming Mu season of full taiko and theater productions. This past Friday, two Mu actresses performed brief one-act solo performances called “My Story: All American Girl,” on stage in the Lowery Theater – the same building where the new Mu Performing Arts offices are located in downtown St. Paul. The two then joined Mu Artistic Director Rick Shiomi for a post-performance dialogue.
Shiomi explained how the performances, supported by a Saint Paul Cultural STAR Program grant, showcased the talented Mu artists, both the New Faces and the Stories programs and of course the Mu Daiko Taiko group.
Other performances throughout the week included youth groups from both Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota and Hmong American Partnership; Mu Daiko Taiko; and the Council for Asian Pacific Minnesotans Youth Leadership Council.
The two actors on Friday, Sun Mee Chomet and Katie Bradley, are both Korean adoptees but illustrated how a generation of thousands of adoptees that are now adults have a common bond within very different life experiences.
For Chomet it was a 7 minute improvisational comedy about her life experience growing up in the Detroit area, where she was the only Asian student in her mostly Black school and her siblings were the only Whites.
She created composite characters of people she encountered in describing the things said to her about her ethnicity and background while growing up. The caharacters came to life with Chomet’s perfection of their accents whether in her Jewish community, and the Latinos and even a Southern bell.
Even though she was raised completely in the same neighborhoods and schools the characters she portrayed knowingly or unknowingly exoticised or stereotyped her as an ethnic or even a foreigner. She turned the experience around with a character created to illustrate her experience returning to Korea where she was recognized as an American for lacking Korean culture and language.
Many may have first seen Chomet as Liang May Seen, the leading role in “100 Men’s Wife”, a History Theater production written by Jeany Park about the first Chinese woman in Minnesota. Chomet has since gone on to receive acclaim for her roles and playwriting.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner wrote a role specifically for Sun Mee Chomet in Guthrie production of “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures.” She also appeared in the Guthrie productions include “After a Hundred Years”, and in several productions with Mu Performing Arts, and other local and regional theaters including Penumbra, Hartford, and Cincinnati Playhouse.
Many recognized Katie Bradley from her leading role earlier this summer in the Children’s Theatre Company musical, Mulan, Jr., portraying the legendary teen princess and Chinese hero.
On Friday, Bradley performed a piece about the adoptee experience by fellow Mu actor Sundraya Kase. The role has special meaning for Bradley, who adopted as an infant from Seoul, South Korea, and raised in Roseville. She said her life experience was different but with parallels.
Like most Korean adoptees, Bradely said she believed the “fairy tale” that was told to her as the birth of a poor mother who gave her up for adoption for the chance at a better life.
In the performance, the Kase character is adopted at 11 months old from Seoul, in 1970. The dialogue illustrates a fantasy childhood of putting two worlds together, of a teenager who would rather reject her ethnicity to fit in with a mostly White mainstream community. She would try to ignore the other Asian kids in school.
As a college student the character begins to interact with other foreign and American born Asian students and begins to appreciate the comfort and support of a community of people that share a common culture and life experience – people who ‘get’ her.
As an adult the character begins to play a role in the Korean adoptive community, even returning to Korea to help with transporting an adoptee baby to America to another family. She looks at the baby and realizes that her orphanage caregiver loved her and that this was her just 20 something years earlier.
Following the performance Bradley said that she formed an attachment to her heritage at a much younger age than her character. She went to Korean culture camps, participated in events with the Korean Adoptee Ministries and as a member of the Chang Mi Korean Dance group actually performed in Korea as a youth.
Bradley returned live in Korea for six months after college. She wanted to do more to absorb the Korean life on an every day basis to further overcome the barriers to her culture.
The 2010-2011 Mu Season was recently announced.
The Mainstage Productions include a Guthrie Theater collaboration of “Cowboy vs. Samauri” written by Michael Colamco. This comedy is loosely based on Cyrano de Bergerac, and substitutes race for the long nose in the original story. It will run from November 13 – 28, 2010, in the Dowling Studio of the Guthrie Theatre.
“WTF”, writing by local artist Katie Ka Vang, is a groundbreaking exploration of the Hmong American experience, and runs from January 21 through February 6, 2011 at Mixed Blood Theatre.
Mu and The Ritz Theater will present “Little Shop of Horrors”, based on the book and lyrics of Howard Ashman, and music by Alan Menken from March 19 through April 3, 2011. The beloved musical comedy is transformed into the story of a man-eating plant as its never been seen before and with an Asian American cast.
In another raucous percussion concert that pulls out all the stops, Mu Daiko Taiko will perform “Soul of the Drum” June 16 – 26, 2011 at the Ordway Center’s McKnight Theater.
Mu’s one-weekend-only special presentations include the annual Taiko Lab featuring Mu Daiko, on October 2-3, 2010 at The Lab Theater.
Mu brings two nationally recognized South Asian artists to Minnesota in “Mute-Able: An evening of solo performance by Sheetal Gandhi and Shishir Kurup” on February 24 – 27, 2011, in The Lab Theater.
In collaboration with SteppingStone Theater, My will present “The Magic Bus to Asian Folktales” from April 29 through May 22, 2011, SteppingStone Theatre. Written by R.A. Shiomi, Cha Yang and Jaz Canlas, with music by Gary Rue, the youth production follows the story of three children that are magically transported to Imperial China, Laos, and the Philippines, where they discover wondrous tales that teach them about their culture, their ancestry and themselves.
The Mu Artist Development Showcases include the New Eyes Festival, an annual reading series of new Asian American theater works by emerging and established playwrights on December 9 – 12, 2010 at Dreamland Arts.
The New Faces Program Year-End Performance of students from Mu’s new actor training program will share their talents in June 2011 at the Lowry Lab Theater,
Passing the Beat, the annual Student Taiko Recital will be held July 15 – 17, 2011, at the Jewish Community Center of Minneapolis. www.muperformingarts.org