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The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

CHUANG Stage casts AAPI voices as the lead

CHUANG Stage has been bringing multilingual plays to the Boston area since its founding in 2018.

There are 146 theater companies in the greater Boston area; only one of them is pan-Asian.

CHUANG Stage is Boston’s first Asian American and translingual theater company. Since its founding in 2018, it has played a pivotal role in opening theater to greater populations in order to uplift diverse, underrepresented voices and identities for Boston’s AAPI performing arts.

Producer, director and dramaturg Alison Yueming Qu first founded CHUANG Stage as a student organization at Emerson College after feeling as though the institution’s theater program was lacking in diverse AAPI and international voices and representation.

“To me, it felt like it really didn’t speak to the diverse Asian American Pacific Islander and the international community there. I hold so much pride in this heritage of mine, and I am a theater maker, I’m a performer and I’m a storyteller from all those identities. But at Emerson, I felt like I hadn’t been able to tell all of those stories,” Qu said.

CHUANG’s Korean-American Community Engagement Associate Jenny S. Lee said that through its linguistic distinction, the theater challenges the long-existing trend of theater that is usually only accessible and uplifting to English speakers. CHUANG Stage provides a space for non-English speakers to enjoy theater and see themselves represented on the big stage.

“Many of our Asian community members don’t speak English,” Lee said. “So a lot of the work that we do is seeking to bridge that gap, address that community and bring those people to the theater, to help build and lift up our voices and stories.”

According to Qu, not only does CHUANG Stage uplift the AAPI community through its translingual work, but it also provides a greater space for intersectional AAPI and queer identities to be seen.

“A lot of theater companies right now don’t feel like intersectional stories are as important. But our job here is to always think about the intersectionality of affinities and look at what it means to be AAPI and queer at the same time because it’s really a unique experience,” Qu said.

Lee said that ensuring a theater like CHUANG Stage properly serves its community is a highly involved process.

“We look into who our community is. Who are the real live actual people, actual communities, actual organizations, actual demographics, in Boston and the greater Boston area?” Lee said. “If we’re trying to reach, for example, a certain population that lives in Chinatown, we make sure that we have Mandarin translations for all the posters so that people can actually access the information they need to be able to come to us.”

Qu said that sustaining this effort comes with its own challenges. Because the CHUANG Stage is so young compared to other theaters and there’s little infrastructure for new companies, it’s difficult for new theater companies like it to be created. This is compounded by the financial strains of being a nonprofit and existing systematic obstacles.

“I looked at the big theater companies, like the Huntington Theater; I was just like, where were you when you were little? People don’t really teach [those skills] anymore. And that is a part of capitalism. Nonprofits don’t ever become rich overnight, you also can’t make a whole deal of money and then save it for a rainy day,” Qu said. “On the back side of things, there’s a lot of existing racism and existing systematic oppression from the great white American theater.”

Despite these challenges, Lee remains hopeful and excited for the future of AAPI theater and grateful to those who have helped make it possible.

“Right now, a lot more resources and attention are being given to untold stories and underrepresented communities, and I think that’s really awesome,” Lee said. “I have to give so much credit to the Black community for uplifting all of our voices by speaking out. We’re now in a place where leaders are paying attention, listening and investing. They’re ready for the new voices, for our voices.”

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