Director and actress Gingerlily Lowe, along with her playwright husband, Kent Brisby‘s Asian Story Theater‘s production of THERE and HOME AGAIN: more stories from the Sun Cafe was recently seen at the San Diego International Fringe Festival.
The day before THERE and HOME AGAIN‘s last show, asienne sat down with fifth generation Chinese-American Lowe at the Downtown San Diego venue. Lowe talked about: the immigration history in relation to Asian(American) stories, Asian theatre and life as an Asian actress.
On Asian Visibility in Acting
I know for me personally that it was very important.
I grew up in the ’60s and we never saw Asians represented in the media. In fact when Bruce Lee started doing the Green Hornet, that was a huge event for us.
In that time, the world was still pretty segregated: I grew up in Chinatown in Los Angeles [and] the Japanese lived in Japan town, there was a Mexican area, there was Silver Lake, the white part of town and there was the black part of town…etc.
I think it’s important for people of different ethnicities and backgrounds to see each other because then we humanize each other versus looking at people you don’t know or understand and thinking of them as “other“.
Still, in Hollywood, we don’t have as much Asian representation as I wish that we should. There was a little dry spell on TV. There were no Asians featured in a show. Maybe we’re lucky because it might be the sidekick or something like that or have a small role.
I think it’s very very important to be reflected in a place where you live and not just be considered a food or a rug.
On who she saw on-screen growing up
You know, honestly, I think Bruce Lee was the only one and that was kind of short-lived.
On Asian Story Theater‘s History
Kent [Brisby] and I started the first Asian-American theater here in San Diego called Pacific Asian Actors Ensemble sometime in the ’70s so it was a long time ago. That was when East West was just starting.
We just started doing theater here in San Diego because being an Asian actor, it’s impossible to get cast unless you just want to play the butler…or they [did] yellowface too, you know? It was just very hard even with Asian parts available.
So, we started that to give opportunities to actors to just have a place where you could hone your craft and practice and get roles and do work that other people might not see.
I think we first started with the show And the Soul Shall Dance by Wakako Yamauchi. Later on, we evolved. We were working at the Marquis Theater. Then, we were doing theater for children and families [with] a company [we had] called The Magic Machine.
We just did our own pieces. But you know, everybody that we cast, we try to have a multiethnic cast and different cultures. We also did a lot of gender-bending where we cast women as men and men as women so we did that in the ’80s.
And even though we cast multiethnic casts–which I think was pretty exciting and still new at that time–we still weren’t seeing shows that reflected our backgrounds and our stories.
So, we started with the Chinese Story Theater at the San Diego Chinese Center. From there, we became the Asian Story Theater because we expanded our stories not to just be Chinese stories.
On the History of Asian-American Stories
We wrote a lot of stories. First, the Japanese were here and of course, after the war and the internment all the Japanese were taken away and the heads of the communities were basically shipped off–some [just] for speaking Japanese. Then, the neighborhood changed. Some of the Japanese were able to come back to their properties here in San Diego, but a lot of them just lost everything that they had built up. And then the Chinese started coming in. In this area, there were Chinese and Filipinos. All of this area was kind of the Asian Historical District part of town.
On the tales behind Sun Cafe
The Sun Cafe, originally, that story, dealt with both the Japanese and the Chinese communities. We found a lot of stories about the Filipinos but it was too many to put all in that show. So, then, later on, we developed a show called Halo-Halo. [It] was based on a lot of interviews–a more modern story–but also just about the Filipino community in San Diego.
On THERE AND HOME AGAIN
This one is just the Japanese stories and a few new ones so that we could do an hour for The Fringe. It’s different episodes by different writers. [My husband], who directed the show also wrote the connecting pieces and gave the show a shape. The one with the barber is based on an essay that Lloyd Ito wrote about his experiences after the war and we turned that into a script.
On the script-writing process
[It takes] a couple of years. For this one, this project and Halo-Halo is a little different because we actually brought in a lot of other writers. They did a lot of interviewing. We had Joyce Teague from the Japanese Historical Association who helped to connect us with a lot of different people.
The Japanese Historical Society had collected many interviews that are just archived and so we would research from those as well.
On the future of THERE AND HOME AGAIN
This show toured with just four actors for a little bit [a couple of months ago]. We did it at the Japanese temple here on Market Street, the Buddhist temple. Then we did it at a few libraries and a couple of schools.
Then, when Fringe came along, we expanded it a little bit more to what it was with The Sun Cafe [where] we had a lot more actors.
On Asian Story Theater’s future
For right now, this one will just be Fringe. We’re working already on a couple of other projects. One is about the Gold Rush so we just started some research on that. We’re also working on a story about Hapa.
For more on Asian Story Theater, check out www.asianstorytheater.org.
This interview was edited and condensed for time.