By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
Champions of diversity in theater took a curtain call in Chinatown at Asian Pacific American Friends of the Theater (APAFT) benefit on Sept. 18. The organizers recognized Daniel Dae Kim, up-and-coming actor Angela Lin and Marc Masterson, outgoing artistic director of the South Coast Repertory.
The mission of APAFT is to encourage and to enable the casting of Asian Pacific actors, vocalists, musicians, dancers and other performers on the main stages of the major theaters in Southern California.
Judge Ernest Hiroshige, APAFT president, succinctly summarized the organization’s mission: “APAFT’s argument is simple, if it’s an American play with American characters, Asian Pacific American actors and performers are Americans!”
That message resonated with Kim, late of “Hawaii Five-0,” who left the show, along with co-star Grace Park, after it was revealed that their white co-stars earned more per episode.
As an established actor, Kim said he felt an obligation to take a stand for equity and diversity in Hollywood. Since leaving “Hawaii Five-0,” Kim has had no time for looking back. He is a producer on the ABC medical drama, “The Good Doctor,” and was recently cast as Daimio, a Japanese American character, in the upcoming reboot of “Hellboy,” after Ed Skrein left the role amid complaints about white-washing.
Kim stated: “When you’re in a position like I was, when you have the luxury of saying “No,” … when your decisions affect everyone, from the people at your level to the people just starting out. If you can get an opportunity that helps those that come after you, I think there is no choice but to make that choice.”
APAFT recognized Kim for his contributions to theater. A graduate of New York University’s Graduate Acting Program, he received a Broadway Beacon Award for his role as the King of Siam in the Broadway revival of “The King and I.”
“To train in the theater is fundamental part of becoming and actor. It remains the only dramatic art form where the performer and the audience share an experience in real time,” Kim said. “Theater is a shared human experience that will be gone when it’s over but it will exist in our imaginations it will always exist in our memories.”
He commended APAFT for advocating for Asian Pacific Americans, and noted that he owes a debt to performers such as George Takei and Tzi Ma, an APAFT board member, for being role models.
“We have to make ourselves heard because collectively we need to stop being the minority that is silent. But be the ones who say not only should we be here we deserve to be here,” Kim said. “We have a place at this table, we have something to contribute and we have something to say. It is time for us to do that.”
Lin, featured this summer in “King of the Yees” at the Kirk Douglas Theater, said she appreciates that Kim and APAFT are advocating for Asian Pacific Americans in theater.
“It’s overwhelming, to have an organization say that we’re fighting for you,” Lin said. “You hear of Constance Wu, Margaret Cho who have been verbose about white-washing, well, I’m not them. Nobody cares what I say. I feel helpless and I would get depressed about it really, I don’t know if it will ever change in my lifetime.”
It means so much because they’re helping me see myself as an American, that I don’t have to pigeonhole myself the way that the rest of America has pigeonholed me.”
Lin received the APFT award for Outstanding Up-and-Coming Performer. She performed on Broadway in David Henry Hwang’s “Chinglish” and “Stop Kiss” at the Pasadena Playhouse.
A graduate of Carnegie Mellon, she moved a couple years ago from New York to Los Angeles, and observed that many actors in L.A. produce their own work. While many roles remain stereotypical, she noted in L.A. that there are more opportunities to produce your own work, which has caused some soul-searching.
“Out here I’ve had to ask myself, ‘who am I, who do I think I am?’ It’s teaching me that I’m not just Asian but an American, it kind of blew me away. I can’t believe how much it affected me. Throughout my career I’ve only ever seen myself as Asian and only Asian.”
Playwrights Howard Ho and Yurie Ann Cho, recipients of APAFT scholarships, were also recognized. In 2016-17, APAFT has committed $9,000 to underwrite programs to help APA writers, actors and performers.
A bittersweet recognition was given to Masterson, who recently announced that he is stepping down as artistic director of South Coast Repertory. During his seven-year tenure, he featured Asian American actors in white roles and produced diverse shows including “Vietgone” by Qui Nguyen, “Office Hour” by Julie Cho and Kimber Lee’s “Tokyo Fish Story.”
“It is time to draw this chapter of my career to a close, there are many exciting things ahead of us. I didn’t set out to be a champion of Asian American theater,” Masterson said.
“I believe in art that reflects and engages the community. The days of large regional theaters standing as monuments to European culture are over. We need to redefine what we mean by reflecting and serving our community. Which community? What are the stories and who gets to tell them?”