From left: Judge Ernie Hiroshige, chair of APAFT; Olivia Zenetzis, high school scholarship recipient; Kristina Wong, star of “Sweatshop Overlord”; Melody Butiu, actor; Liana Bartollme and Jace Izuno, both LAC High School of the Arts APAFT scholarship winners. (Courtesy Ernie Hiroshige)

Recently, Asian Pacific American Friends of the Theater (APAFT) hosted a theater party at a performance of “Sweatshop Overlord,”written by and starring award-winning writer and actor Kristina Wong.

This production was about her personal efforts to manufacture virus protective masks for the underserved public during the pandemic.

APAFT used the theater party as an opportunity to invite their high school scholarship winners to attend a professional production and hear a talk-back with its star. Three high school students and their parents attended and an APAFT Artistic Advisory Board member, actor Melody Butiu, met with the students at the post-play reception and exchanged thoughts about Wong’s performance and writing. 

Wong also discussed her one-person play in a talk-back with the audience after the show and made an unannounced visit to the APAFT reception and talked to the scholarship winners. They were thrilled to meet and chat with her.

It is APAFT’s hope that this type of experience for its high school scholarship winners will enhance their theater experience as they seek professional careers in the performing arts.

At the reception, APAFT Treasurer Linda Puchalski was presented with the 2023 APAFT Special Award for her outstanding performance in overseeing the expenditures and programs that APAFT has sponsored for the past three years.

APAFT is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to overcoming the lack of casting of Asian Pacific American actors and the lack of production of APA stories on the main stages in the Los Angeles and Orange county areas.

APAFT believes that less than 3% of all actors cast in mainstage productions are APA. Mainstages are larger theaters like the Pantages, Ahmanson, Taper, Geffen, Pasadena Playhouse, and South Coast Rep.

APAFT also strives to enable APA actors, playwrights, directors, other performers and staff to be cast as performers in greater numbers in the future. APAFT President Ernest Hiroshige believes that APA actors should be cast to play  “American” parts in “American” plays because they are, obviously, American. 

APAFT raises funds to provide scholarships or grants to promising playwrights to help them write plays that feature APA stories or that will provide opportunities for APA actors, APA directors and other APA performers at the mainstages.

The APAFT Emerging Playwrights Program, now in its second year, funds the development of a play written by a promising playwright for a year and ultimately leading to a public reading directed by a professional APA director and performed by APA actors. APAFT scholarships have been provided to other APA professional actors and APA playwrights to further their talent.

Forty APAFT supporters attended this theater party along with three APAFT high school scholarship winners: Jace Izuno and Liana Bartolome – both students at the L.A. County High School of the Arts (LACHSA), and Olivia Zenetzis of Santa Susana High School, a performing arts school in Simi Valley.

APAFT gives each scholarship winner $1,500 (four in the 2022-23 school year) to fund talent-enhancing lessons in voice, dance, and drama. These scholarships are awarded solely on the talent of the applicant and the upside potential they display in audition tapes and the answers they provide in their APAFT application. APAFT’s Artist Advisory Board— APA professional actors, playwrights, and directors — are the judges.

Olivia Zenetzis is a junior in high school and hopes to move on to college and obtain a BA is fine arts in musical theater. She hopes to perform professionally as a vocalist, dancer, choreographer, and director. Her APAFT scholarship allowed her to take voice, drama, and acting lessons to raise her overall talent and led to her being cast professionally in “Ragtime” at a regional theater last March.

Liana Bartolome is a senior at LACHSA. When she won the APAFT scholarship, the judges were united in rating her vocals as a “10” in top quality. She is studying voice, drama, and musical theater and is starred in “Carousel” in Aprilat LACHSA. She hopes to attend NYU in pursuit of her dream of appearing on Broadway.

Jace Izuno, a senior at LACHSA, is a vocalist and dramatic actor and has been cast in the starring role of Michael in the film “When We Danced,” which was shown last April. He is a member of the National Children’s Chorus, which performed at Carnegie Hall in May and was cast in the musical “Urinetown” at LACHSA, also in May. He hopes to be a professional actor and vocalist and will pursuit his study of the arts in college.

APAFT encourage parents who have a talented high school-age student (8th or 9th grade currently) interested in a professional career in the performing arts to apply for admission to LACHSA if you reside in L.A. County or Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) if you reside in Orange County.

APAFT feels many Asian Pacific parents and their high school students with talent in the performing arts are not aware of the admissions procedures. Both LACHSA and OCSA are tuition-free public schools that provide excellent training and development of students who seek careers in the performing and dramatic arts.

APAFT wants you to know that if you are a talented student in the performing arts and seek a career as a professional, and you are Grades 8 or 9, these high schools provide an excellent opportunity to enhance your talent. APAFT encourages parents and students to go to the websites of LACHSA and OCSA for the details and the timeline to apply for admission for the fall 9th– and 10th-grade classes. For example, the deadline to apply for LACHSA for fall 2023 was January 2023. 

APAFT recommends that students wishing to become professional actors, dancers, other performers, or playwrights should apply to the drama, theater, or musical theater departments at these schools. Audition tapes showcasing your talent are required for performing arts applicants.

APAFT is interested in helping APA applicants prepare themselves for admission to LACHSA or OCHSA. Visit or email

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