All Classical Radio James Depreist

Stage & Studio: Master playwright Philip Kan Gotanda

The veteran playwright, screenwriter, and opera librettist, whose play "Yohen" is about to open in Portland, talks on a new podcast about his career and the rise of Asian-American theater.

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Philip Kan Gotanda, veteran author of plays about Asian American life, and author of “Yohen,” which is being produced in Portland by PassinArt and Portland Playhouse.

For more than 40 years, Philip Kan Gotanda has been writing plays, screenplays, and opera librettos that speak to the Asian-American experience. Many of his stage plays, such as After The War Blues and Sisters Matsumoto, center on the trauma and aftermath of World War II incarceration camps. Other plays, such as Yankee Dawg You Die, reveal the lack of opportunities and roles for Asian Americans in Hollywood; and another play, The Wash (which he also adapted for film), focuses on an old, bigoted, Japanese-American traditionalist unable to reconcile the needs of his wife and two daughters with his own conservative view on life.

With the depth and breadth of these plays, Gotanda, along with his contemporary David Henry Hwang, is credited with changing the landscape and carving a pathway for Asian-American playwrights in American theater. Gotanda is also a professor at University of California-Berkeley and the winner of numerous fellowships, such as the Guggenheim, Sundance, and Lila Wallace. More recently, he received the 2021 Dramatist Guild Foundation Legacy Award, was a 2023 Inductee to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and this year received the 2024 United States Artists Fellowship Award.

Subscribe and listen to Stage & Studio on: AppleGoogleSpotify, Android and Sticher. Hear past shows on Stage & Studio websiteTheme music: Clark Salisbury.

Recently he wrote the libretto for Both Eyes Open, an original opera with music by Max Giteck Duykers about a farmer and his wife in 1942 after Executive Order 9066 was enacted to imprison Japanese Americans.

“Both Eyes Open,” libretto by Philip Kan Gotanda. Photo: Carlos Castañeda, Jr.

“One of the things I’ve done with my career is, I’ve always wanted to both explore thematically the issues. … not only Asian America but in relationship to other communities; African American, Latinx,” Gotana says. “But also I’ve been interested in making sure I challenge myself in terms of the form — you know, to go from songs to plays to movies, and then finally now I wanted to try opera.”

Kathy Hsieh and William Earl Ray in “Yohen,” produced by PassinArt and Portland Playhouse. Photo: Owen Carey

“Asian American playwrights now have arrived as they have almost everywhere in terms of the media, and it isn’t just, they’re here for a bit, you know, they’re kind of a fad.’ They’re here,” he says. “Asian-American playwrights are kind of at the foreground and are kind of main players in … American theater.”

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In Portland, PassinArt: A Theatre Company, in partnership with Portland Playhouse, is producing Yohen, Gotanda’s play about an older interracial couple who have weathered 37 years of love and are now at a crossroads of their marriage. I’m directing Yohen, which features veteran actors Kathy Hsieh as a Japanese American military bride and William Earl Ray as the retired serviceman who now finds joy mentoring youth by teaching them how to box, and was happy to have a conversation with Gotanda about the play and his sterling career.

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Yohen at PassinArt.org

  • Where: Brunish Theatre, Portland’5 Centers for the Arts, Antoinette Hatfield Hall, 1111 S.W. Broadway
  • Previews: March 27 & 28 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Regular Performances: March 29 through April 21
  • Thursday and Friday performances at 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday and Sunday performances at 2 p.m.    

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Photo Joe Cantrell

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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