The National Asian American Theatre Company will present a virtual reading of “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder with an all-Asian American cast for one night only, Wednesday May 19, at 8 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific, in celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
The proceeds of this reading will benefit the company. Yumi Iwama, who portrayed Emily Webb in NAATCO’s 1994 production of the play, proposed the reading to NAATCO, following her recent interview with The New York Times:
“The idea that I was this Asian actress playing this iconic American role was just daunting. I remember being in kind of a high emotional state throughout the run, because I really wanted to do it well. And I loved Emily. She didn’t have these issues of ‘Do I belong here?’ She was part of this town, part of this community. She just lives her life with abandon in a way that I never felt I had the license to.
“I grew up in a very white town, Rumson, N.J., and I was one of maybe two or three Asians in my entire high school. It was hard. My career started doing ‘The King and I.’ I played Tuptim in seven different productions over the years. Emily was that first opening to me, that ‘Oh! Maybe there’ll be more to my career than these stereotypical Asian characters.’”
For this reading, Iwama will be playing the role of Emily’s mother, Mrs. Webb, and suggested her niece, Midori Francis Iwama (“Usual Girls,” Roundabout; “The Wolves,” Lincoln Center Theater), for the role of Emily. NAATCO enthusiastically agreed.
Amy Hill (best known for her TV work, from “All-American Girl” to the reboot of “Magnum P.I.” as well as “American Dad,” “Black-ish,” “Mom,” “Hawaii Five-0,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and more) will lead the cast as the Stage Manager, along with Cindy Cheung, Kassandra Cordova, Autumn Domingo, Connor Domingo, Ron Domingo, John D. Haggerty, Midori Francis Iwama, Yumi Iwama, Paul Juhn, Peter Kim (NAATCO’s associate producer), Glenn Kubota (who played Mr. Charles Webb in the 1994 production), Clara Haru Mulligan, Olivia Oguma, Trevor Salter, Jon Norman Schneider, Alok Tewari, CJ Uy, Izaac Wang, and Rita Wolf.
Special guests will include Richard Eng, the co-founder of NAATCO and president of the board; Larry Schafer, NAATCO board member; Susan Bernfield, New Georges’ artistic director; Maria Striar, Clubbed Thumb’s artistic director; and Kate Katigbak, NAATCO’s graphic designer. Mia Katigbak will direct the performance; Sean Seau is the assistant director; Alyssa K. Howard will be production stage manager; Miranda Cornell will be production assistant.
NAATCO is delighted to be working with Virtual Design Collective (VidCo) on this project. They are a newly founded collective of over 20 designers, programmers, and technicians using innovative ways to tell stories and create communities online.
“The decision to do this reading came on the heels of the Georgia Senate elections, when we thought an all-Asian American cast performing an American classic would be part of a celebration of hope and healing after the devastating events earlier in the month,” said Katigbak. “Recent events of anti-Asian violence, however, have reframed our presentation. With this reading, we denounce the brutal and senseless attacks on Asian Americans as we underscore one of the basic tenets of NAATCO’s mission in the most affirmative way: to reflect and emphasize the kinship among people of disparate cultures.”
NAATCO joins The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in paying tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history and are instrumental in its future success. For tickets to “Our Town” or more information about all of NAATCO’s programs, visit naatco.org.