BERKELEY — Prolific playwright Philip Kan Gotanda has been appointed a professor in the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies at UC Berkeley.

A groundbreaking figure in American drama and a champion of stories of marginalized and under-represented communities in America, Gotanda’s works are produced and studied throughout the U.S. and abroad.

Philip Kan Gotanda
Philip Kan Gotanda

Gotanda’s plays challenge notions of what the Asian is or is not in America and the world. He investigates themes of American intersectionality, transnationalism, and intergenerational and interracial conflicts.

He is also a filmmaker, screenwriter and musician. His films “The Kiss,” “Drinking Tea” and “Life Tastes Good” have all been screened at the Sundance Film Festival.

Gotanda has played an integral role in the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies (TDPS) since 2009, when he was an artist in residence. Since then, he has taught playwriting, and generously served as a mentor for many students, particularly under-represented students hoping to pursue artistic careers.

The department presented Gotanda’s new play “I Dream of Chang and Eng” in 2011 thanks to a grant from the Creative Work Fund, directed by TDPS Professor Peter Glazer. “After the War Blues,” an updated version of “After the War” (which debuted at A.C.T. in 2007), was performed on the TDPS stage from March 7 to 16.

“We are so fortunate to have one of the most distinguished playwrights in America added to our fold,” says Catherine Cole, chair of TDPS. “Gotanda is an extremely nimble and sensitive interlocutor in terms of bridging scholarship and practice, which is a defining feature of our program. He is as comfortable with doing the meticulous and extensive historical research for his plays as he is collaborating with designers, choreographers, actors, musicians, scholars and costumers.

“Gotanda’s creative work has included directing, acting, film and opera. His remarkable ability to move across forms, genres and media is quite rare, and it is something that we know will make Gotanda an invaluable leader in our department and on the Berkeley campus.”

Gotanda’s appointment brings the study of playwriting to the forefront of TDPS. The department already offers a two-semester playwriting course and sponsors a new play reading series. Gotanda’s goal is to create a more structured playwriting program at UC Berkeley that will become nationally recognized.

Aside from Playwriting, he will also teach courses in Screenwriting, American Cultures, Contemporary American Drama and Asian American Theater. He also intends to continue writing and mounting new works on the UC Berkeley stage as they develop toward full productions.

Gotanda, who has worked in the professional theater world for the past three decades, is excited to take on this new role. “This is my second act, teaching. And it’s liberating to the mind and soul. It’s not about me, it’s about the student, it’s all about helping the student learn. I can’t think of a more sublime way to spend the rest of my life.”

Originally trained as a lawyer, Gotanda received a law degree from Hastings College of Law and a bachelor’s degree in Japanese art from UC Santa Barbara. He has received awards and grants from the Guggenheim, National Arts Club, Pew Charitable Trust, Rockefeller, The Lila Wallace Award, National Endowment for the Arts, TCG-NEA, Sundance Theater Fellow, Sundance UCROSS Fellow, Map Fund, Creative Work Fund, Gerbode Foundation and others.

The Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies teaches performance as a mode of critical inquiry, creative expression and public engagement. Through performance training and research, it creates liberal arts graduates with expanded analytical, technical and imaginative capacities. As a public institution, it makes diversity and inclusion a key part of its teaching, art making and public programming. For more information, contact Joshua Hesslein at (510) 642-9925.

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