The house lights dim. For the next twenty minutes the whole room is taken on a rollercoaster of emotions. My attention is divided–I am both focused on what is happening on stage as well as the reactions from a cluster of ladies two rows in front of me. I can hear their “ooh”’s and their gasps and their sighs, every time a character says something minutely profound. These are audible and visible reactions you can’t find in a movie theater–live theater is an invitation to be present and emote in that moment.
It’s an indescribable feeling when a woman comes up to me after the show and tells me how much she loved my play. That a little script I wrote about a dive shop in Japan could somehow be relatable to an American audience. My play grappled with ideas of grief, loss, and healing, inspired by the true events of Japanese families still searching for their lost ones even seven years after the 2010 tsunami. To see it come to life for a second time on the Stella Adler stage in Hollywood was all the more emotional. This production incorporated elements I never thought of: projections, spotlights, footage of the tsunami overwhelming houses and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Showing the audience that this play was rooted in truth increased the level of intensity and poignancy.
When I first got the call that “Ocean Debris” had been selected for The Blank’s 25th Annual Young Playwrights Festival, I was excited to be able to tell this story of human perseverance and tenacity. I was also overjoyed to bring together a cast and director who are all Asian American. When Hollywood simply will not learn from low box office hauls and listen to common sense re: whitewashing (see: “Ghost in the Shell,” “Aloha,” “Great Wall,” “Iron Fist”), it’s crucial that storytellers take matters into their own hands. The creators are the ones who have the power of opening doors for Asian actors, and it’s an honor to play even a small role in that movement. Broadway is more diverse than ever but still can do much, much better, considering there are only a handful of roles for Asian leads in theater.
The issue is not talent, it’s opportunity. Ever since the Bruce Lee biopic outrage and the “Mulan” protests to cast a Chinese actress as the famed heroine who saved China, I have been more aware of the ethnicities of the characters I write. Change starts in the room of creators. When given the chance I believe America has a plethora of Asian stars in the making, and I hope I can be part of the movement that includes “Wong Fu,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Fresh Off The Boat,” majority Asian Broadway casts, and much more.
To my cast and crew: thank you for being a part of “Ocean Debris.” I am eternally grateful for all the heart and soul you poured into this play. To The Blank Theatre: thank you for taking yet another chance with me in YPF.
Written by Cassandra Hsiao
Mentored by Jennie Webb
Directed by Angela Oh
Mark Daugherty as Tomi
Mallory Low as Emiko
For more information, visit http://ypf.theblank.com
“Ocean Debris” premiered the fourth week of the festival from June 22-25.