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Carey Wong & ‘The World Transformed’

Stage & Studio podcast: Dmae Lo Roberts talks with the prolific opera and theater scenic designer, whose work is spotlighted at the Portland Chinatown Museum.

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Carey Wong at Portland Chinatown Museum. Photo: Dmae Lo Roberts
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Hear past shows on Stage & Studio website. Music by Clark Salisbury.

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Dmae Lo Roberts talks with veteran scenic designer Carey Wong, who has made magic happen in 300 productions throughout the Northwest and beyond for more than 45 years. Wong got his start professionally in the 1980s as the resident set designer at Portland Opera for eight seasons. Then he moved to Seattle, designing for major theater and opera companies there while still designing for Oregon Shakespeare Festival-Portland, which would become Portland Center Stage, and also for Oregon Children’s Theatre.

Wong has always kept a close relationship with Portland, where he grew up and where his family owned a laundry business in Chinatown. Wong used to work summers there when he was in high school when it was a thriving community for Asian Americans. As the designer of the Portland Chinatown Museum‘s permanent exhibit “Beyond the Gate,” which details the history of the two Chinatowns that existed in Portland, he remains connected to this area. He now serves the museum as an art adviser.

Wong’s design for “Sleeping Beauty” at Seattle Children’s Theatre 2005-2006. Photo: Dmae Lo Roberts

Sixteen of Wong’s designs take center stage at the museum now in The World Transformed. An impressive retrospective of the work of a master scenic designer, this exhibit walks through his growth as an artist but also shows his influences and perspectives as one of the first BIPOC scenic designers in the performing arts.

Roberts talked with Wong at the Portland Chinatown Museum, located a few blocks away from his family’s former laundry business.

Wong’s design for “Madama Butterfly” at Tacoma Opera, 1999. Photo: Carey Wong

The World Transformed is an exhibit of 16 scenic designs and set models spanning the past four decades of Wong’s career.  Designs featured include six shows with Asian or Asian-American settings as well as set models for designs he created for Portland Opera and Portland Center Stage in its inaugural season. In addition to scale models of each production, the exhibit includes text panels explaining each design, along with research images, original artwork, and production photographs to provide the viewer with an understanding of how scenic designs evolve from concept to realization.  Projected images and video clips from other productions designed by Wong will be shown in an adjacent smaller gallery space.

The exhibit shows how a scenic designer not only transforms the everyday world into unique physical and psychological landscapes onstage, but also how those onstage environments can themselves be engineered to undergo a visual metamorphosis or transformation during the course of the performance that enhances a viewer’s understanding of the overarching theme or viewpoint of the dramatic work.

Carey also designed Beyond The Gate, the museum’s permanent exhibit about historic Chinatown.

Wong with design of “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” at Seattle Children’s Theatre, 2002-2016. Photo: Dmae Lo Roberts

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Carey Wong has designed sets and/or costumes for more than 300 operas, plays, ballets, and themed environments. Theater credits include Seattle Repertory Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Portland Center Stage, Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage Baltimore, Syracuse Stage, Intiman, Seattle Children’s Theatre, The Village Theatre, Mixed Blood Theatre, Marin Theatre Company, Prince Music Theater, Hey City Theater and Spain’s Nearco Produciones.  He has been resident designer for Portland Opera, Opera Memphis, and Wildwood Park for the Arts.  Opera credits include Seattle Opera, Spoleto Festival USA, New York’s Valhalla Wagnerfest, Pittsburgh Opera, Vancouver Opera, San Francisco Opera Center, and the Beijing and Macao Music Festivals.  He was exhibition designer for Beyond The Gate: A Tale Of Portland’s Historic Chinatowns, the permanent exhibit at the Portland Chinatown Museum.

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  • Carey Wong: The World Transformed continues through Sept. 10 at the Portland Chinatown Museum, 127 N.W. Third Ave. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Admission is $8 adults, $6 seniors, $5 students, free for ages 12 and younger. More information at 503-224-0008 or portlandchinatownmuseum.org.

Dmae Roberts is a two-time Peabody winning radio producer, writer and theatre artist. Her work is often autobiographical and cross-cultural and informed by her biracial identity. Her Peabody award-winning documentary Mei Mei, a Daughter’s Song is a harrowing account of her mother’s childhood in Taiwan during WWII. She adapted this radio documentary into a film. She won a second Peabody-award for her eight-hour Crossing East documentary, the first Asian American history series on public radio. She received the Dr. Suzanne Ahn Civil Rights and Social Justice award from the Asian American Journalists Association and was selected as a United States Artists (USA) Fellow. Her stage plays and essays have been published in numerous publications. She published her memoir The Letting Go Trilogies: Stories of a Mixed-Race Family in 2016. As a theatre artist, she has won two Drammys, one for her acting and one for her play Picasso In The Back Seat which also won the Oregon Book Award. Her plays have been produced in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, NYC and Florida. Roberts is the executive producer of MediaRites, a nonprofit multicultural production organization and co-founder of Theatre Diaspora, an Asian American/Pacific Islander non-profit theatre that started as a project of MediaRites. She created the Crossing East Archive of more than 200 hours of broadcast-quality, pan-AAPI interviews and oral histories. For 23 years, Roberts volunteered to host and produce Stage & Studio live on KBOO radio. In 2009, she started the podcast on StagenStudio.com, which continues at ArtsWatch.

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One Response

  1. Another excellent program, Dmae! Thank you, to your guest: Carey Wong, for sharing his life’s passion and helping us understand and learn the depths of your work as a scenic designer.

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