Cascadia Composers A Ligeti Odyssey The Old Madeleine Church Portland Oregon

Stage & Studio: Unit Souzou & Constant State of Otherness

Podcast: Dmae Lo Roberts talks with innovative taiko artists Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe about Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and more.


For this edition of Stage & Studio we highlight Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander heritage month, and we feature innovative taiko artists Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe, the founders and directors of Unit Souzou and Constant State of Otherness.

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Hear past shows on Stage & Studio website. Music by Unit Souzou – “Ancestral Calling” and “Sayonara Mata Ashita”. )

The sense of “otherness” is a feeling most BIPOC people share. For Asian Americans, it can be a constant state. A recent report from the nonprofit LAAUNCH (Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change) found that 71% of Asian Americans are less likely to feel they belong and are accepted in the U.S., while 21% of U.S. adults now say Asian Americans are at least partly responsible for COVID. The same report stated Anti-Asian hate crimes and violence jumped up by 339% in 2021.

Given that AAPIs make up less than seven percent of the U.S. population, those are staggering statistics. Asian Americans throughout history have had to fight “perpetual foreigner” stereotypes, and especially during the pandemic.

Fujii and Watanabe have been tackling the topic of that sense of not belonging with the Otherness Project.  Their first show on this theme, Otherness: Togetherness, was set to debut the very weekend of the COVID-19 shutdowns. Rather than completely stop they live-streamed their show, the first Portland group to do so. Now, two and half years later, Unit Souzou has kicked off a three-city tour of  Constant State of Otherness.

Their first show premiered in Montana and will debut in Portland for the Risk/Reward Festival on May 20, and in Sisters, Oregon, at the Caldera Arts Center as part of the inaugural Hearth Festival. 

Dmae Lo Roberts recorded their conversation on location in their music room.

Toru Watanabe & Michelle Fujii with Kuma.

More about Constant State of Otherness: A multilayered performance rooted in questions of identity and self-worth, Constant State of Otherness features six performers who will employ taiko, Japanese folk dance, song, and personal stories of displacement.

Risk/Reward Festival
Friday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 21 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

Caldera Arts Center
Friday, June 10-Sunday, June 12
Inaugural Hearth Festival at Caldera Arts Center, Sisters, OR

Michelle Fujii

As part of AANHPI month, Unit Souzou also offers these experiences:

Taiko Empowerment: An Otherness Workshop || Saturday, May 14, we’ll facilitate a taiko workshop taught by Michelle & Toru, hosted by Artists Repertory Theatre. We will share stories through body, rhythm, and the powerful beats of taiko, engaging in questions of otherness, identity, and belonging – how we identify ourselves and how we perceive others. How have I been othered? How have I othered myself? How have I othered others? WORKSHOP REGISTRATION $35

AANHPI Processing Space || In solidarity with AANHPI Heritage Month and in recognition of the continued rise of Asian hate, we invite audience members of Asian & Pacific Islander descent to a one-hour facilitated gathering following the Saturday, May 21, 2 p.m. performance to share, reflect, process and acknowledge personal stories of otherness and its impact on our identities and lives.

Also at Artists Repertory Theatre is this ART Book Club offering:

From Grief to Grievance: An Insider’s Guide to Cambodian Rock Band
with Joe Ngo. May 16 and May 23, Mondays (two Classes)

Cascadia Composers A Ligeti Odyssey The Old Madeleine Church Portland Oregon
Joe Ngo

The Obie Award-winning actor, writer and musician will discuss in two classes the process of development, dramaturgy, and music of Lauren Yee’s Cambodian Rock Band. Ngo was instrumental in the development of this play, and also originated the role of Chum. This course will delve into the collaborative process of building a play from its onset; investigate its characters, history and cultural impact on audiences; and examine the play’s relationship to its siblings in the unofficially titled “Father Trilogy.”

The class will be reading Cambodian Rock Band as a group and with the soundtrack of the New York production. There will also be excerpts from The Great Leap and King of the Yees by Lauren Yee. All sessions will be virtual.

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, which continues at ArtsWatch.

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