Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lao American Theater in 2014

This April, TeAda Productions' Refugee Nation will be returning to Minneapolis after 4 years with a new version of the popular Lao American play. Among the new elements is an expansion of Litdet Viravong’s role and new opportunities for local artists to be involved.

They'll be coming back to Intermedia Arts from April 10-13 and April 17-20. The show starts at 7PM Thursdays – Saturdays and at 2:30PM  on the Sundays. There will be free childcare provided during the Sunday matinee performances for youth ages 3 – 11.

Another thing to keep on our radar will be the next National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival is taking place in Philadelphia this year, October 8th-12th, 2014.

Catzie Vilayphonh and her Laos in the House project are going to be collaborating with Saymoukda Vongsay of Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals fame as well as the members of Refugee Nation to discuss their experiences, show examples of their work and consider the next directions they want to take.

The ConFest is currently entitled "Home: Here…There… Where?"

The conference is centered around the proposition that trough the lens of the Asian American experience of migration and the search for a sense of “place” and equity on personal, community, and global levels, there is a distinctive Asian American relationship to broad definitions and meanings of home.

Already scheduled are 4 full-length productions, 2 performance showcases, 20 panel discussions or workshops, and 3 plenary sessions. There will also be open-mic opportunities, video presentation sessions with artists sharing work-in-progress, neighborhood artist/open studio and community tours, new play readings, and open space sessions.

I think it will be interesting to see how Lao American theater artists respond to the idea in comparison to other Asian Americans represented there.

All of this has me thinking of how it also might fit into the traditional Lao theater form of Lam Luang.

Lam Luang is a form of Lao theater where morlam singers and others dress up to enact various characters from Lao folklore and our legendary epics. This is a sung story but they range from the family-friendly to the lewd, with serious and bawdy works among the repertoire. Several stock characters might appear in a Lam Luang performance. These include the hero, ພຣະເອກ, heroine ນາງເອກ, king father, queen mother, clown, villain ຜູ້ຮ້າຽ, and supernatural forces such as gods, demons, spirits, or Nyak.

The question for me has to be: How might we make this cost-effective and interesting to mount different productions in the United States, and what might be the community's larger development advantage if they were able to successfully popularize it.

As you might expect, the Lam Luang form includes Jataka tales of the Buddha's life but can also reflect contemporary development projects and community concerns such as UXO. At the present moment, we're seeing modern and classical Lao music incorporated into this form. But there are other possibilities.

As an artist I think our responsibility has to be to push it as far the form as far as it can be pushed. To straddle that odd line between mastering the traditional form with excellent production values but to still do what no one has done before, due to various constraints of time, space, budget, and talent.

The question I have to consider as an arts developer is: Given the current level of philanthropic support for Asian American theater, should Lao American theater go after the same funds or strive to develop independently? Much as the research shows saying your book comes from an indie publisher doesn't really affect people's decision to buy that book, does saying your an Asian American theater production over a Lao American theater production bring in that many more audience members or funding dollars to underwrite the development and production costs?

Without a sustained commitment from Asian American philanthropists or Lao American philanthropists, I think the question is really in the air.

Admittedly, now I can't get "The Producers" out of my head:

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