Tim Dang at the David Henry Hwang Theatre.
Tim Dang at the David Henry Hwang Theatre.

Rafu Staff Report

East West Players, the Little Tokyo-based theater organization, announced on Tuesday that longtime producing artistic director Tim Dang will be stepping down in June 2016 at the end of the organization’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Dang has worked at EWP for 23 years, serving as producing artistic director since 1993. He explained in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo that the announcement followed months of planning, as well as the conclusion of a five-year strategic plan implemented by the theater group in 2011.

“Today is last day of our fiscal year so it was the perfect time, exactly one year until I transition out,” Dang said.

“East West Players is extremely fortunate and grateful that Tim chose to devote over twenty years of his life guiding and nurturing EWP through critical transitions and challenges, molding the theater into the great institution it is today,” said Robert Kawahara, EWP board president.

Under Dang’s leadership, the budget for the Asian American theater group has grown from $350,000 to $1.4 million. EWP became one of the first 99-seat black box intimate theaters in Los Angeles to transition to a state-of-the-art mid-sized theater with a professional union contract for actors, designers, and directors.

EWP also spearheaded the first national Asian American Theatre Conference hosted in Los Angeles, bringing together almost 200 theater professionals from throughout the country (and internationally). The work continues as the Fifth National Asian American Theatre Conference and Festival will take place in October in Ashland, Ore.

Dang has produced and directed 10 musicals by Stephen Sondheim for the David Henry Hwang Theatre. His final production in 2016 will be “La Cage Aux Folles.” He noted that EWP has made efforts to produce more work on experiences of South Asians and more works with hapa (multiracial) characters.

“There were a lot of times when our hapa actors said, ‘I’ve never played me before,’” he noted.

The EWP board will conduct a national search, its first, for the next producing artistic director. Dang, who joined EWP after graduating from USC, was selected internally to succeed the late Nobu McCarthy. Longtime staff member Marilyn Tokuda, arts education director for the past 13 years, will also be departing as she is retiring in June 2016.

“EWP is probably one of the last to go through this change. JANM (Japanese American National Museum), LTSC (Little Tokyo Service Center) and JACCC (Japanese American Cultural and Community Center) have all gone through these changes,” Dang said.

“We’re going to continue to plan for the next five years. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that with the next leader so the transition is seamless.”

He said EWP will conduct another five-year strategic plan and will reach out to artists, donors and subscribers to share their thoughts on the future of the organization.

While he has a year to prepare for his departure, Dang said he is looking forward to the next phase in his career, including becoming a mentor for young leaders.

“I’m quite sure I will stay in the arts. I’ve been at EWP since I graduated from college,” Dang said. “Before I get too, too old, I’d like to see what’s out there and see what it would be like to do some other kinds of opportunities that may be Asian American and may not be Asian American.”

“I have a year of rehearsal before my closing night, which will be June 30, 2016,” he said.

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