Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Lia Chang: Velina Hasu Houston’s Calligraphy Set for World Premiere at LATC, November 1-December 12, 2010

Melody Butiu, Kevin Daniels, Fran de Leon, Emily Kuroda, and Jeanne Sakata are featured in the world premiere of Velina Hasu Houston’s new play Calligraphy, presented by Playwrights’ Arena and Latino Theatre Company at LATC (Los Angeles Theatre Center), 514 S. Spring Street in Los Angeles, which begins previews on November 10 and will run through December 12. Opening night is November 12. Jon Lawrence Rivera, Artistic Director of Playwrights’ Arena directs.

With the humor that survival demands, two cousins—one in Los Angeles and one in Tokyo—struggle to navigate change and find new ways of defining themselves as they confront their mothers’ aging. Blending comedy with drama, Houston explores an international family complicated by interracial marriage, feminism, and culture as the West and East collide and converge in adventurous and challenging ways.

Velina Hasu Houston Photo credit: Pacific Rim Press

Velina Hasu Houston Photo credit: Pacific Rim Press

“I was inspired to write the play because of changes that I began to observe in the lives of friends and colleagues, namely how the aging of their parents affected their own lives, how it provoked them into thinking about who they are and what they want to do with their lives,” shared Houston. “I began to talk to individuals in the Los Angeles area who were going through these kinds of experiences and I augmented this work with interviews conducted in Japan. In Japan, I visited senior centers and also interviewed caregivers. In addition, I researched the topics of caregiving and aging in a specific cultural context. What interested me the most was how the lives of Asian women changes as they confront their mothers’ aging. The cultural issues inherent in Asian families seemed to complicate the choices more.”

Internationally acclaimed playwright Velina Hasu Houston has written over thirty plays including fifteen commissions in a career that began Off-Broadway with TEA at Manhattan Theatre Club and AMERICAN DREAMS at Negro Ensemble Company. In addition to Calligraphy, Houston has several plays, a libretto and a novel in the mix. She is currently working on a new play called The Blacker The Berry about three mixed race women whose lives converge in Los Angeles, and is under commission at LA Opera for a new libretto. Her latest play, The Territory of Dreams, has been described as a feminist, post-Crash (the film) view of life in Los Angeles. She recently completed a novel adaptation of her play TEA.

Houston’s plays have been presented at the Old Globe Theatre, George Street Playhouse, Pittsburgh Public Theatre, Smithsonian Institution, Whole Theatre (Olympia Dukakis, producer), NHK (Japan nationwide), Pasadena Playhouse, Syracuse Stage, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, and others including in the People’s Republic of China, Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia. She has been honored by Japan Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, California Arts Council, Sidney F. Brody Foundation, Sidney Poitier, American Film Institute, Pinter Review Prize for Drama, Women in Theatre, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize (finalist), Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics New Play Award (finalist), and others. For film, she has written for Columbia Pictures, PBS, and several indie producers. She is Co-producer of the documentary “Desert Dreamers” (Tivoli Entertainment), narrated by Peter Fonda and premiered by PBS-KQED. She is published by Dramatists’ Play Service, Vintage Books, Smith & Krause, Los Angeles Times, American Theatre, Pacific Citizen, Mademoiselle, Kansas City Star and others. She is a member of Dramatists’ Guild, Writers Guild of America-West, and the League of Professional Theatre Women. Houston serves on the US Department of State’s Japan-US Friendship Commission, US-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange, and Japan-US Bridging Foundation. She served as Research Advisor for Contemporary British, Irish, and American Poetic Drama and Theatre, Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. At the University of Southern California School of Theatre, she is founder of the Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing, Professor of Theatre, Associate Dean of Faculty, Director of Dramatic Writing, and Resident Playwright. Her works are archived in The Library of Congress and The Huntington Library.

Jeanne Sakata Photo by Chris Komuro

Jeanne Sakata Photo by Chris Komuro

Jeanne Sakata recently performed as Po Mama in East West Players’ production of Kenneth Lin’s Po Boy Tango, a role she originally created at Chicago’s Northlight Theatre. An LA Ovation Award Winner for Best Lead Actress for her portrayal of Master Hua in Chay Yew’s RED at East West Players, Jeanne also starred as Maria Callas in EWP’s Master Class. A member of LA’s The Antaeus Company, she has performed with The Public Theater, Lincoln Center Theater, Kennedy Center, Mark Taper Forum, La Jolla Playhouse, South Coast Rep, American Conservatory Theater, Intiman Theatre, Berkeley Rep, A Contemporary Theatre, Portland Center Stage, Syracuse Stage and Arizona Theatre Company. Screen credits include Tyler Perry’s Meet The Browns, Desperate Housewives, ER, Threat Matrix, Line of Fire, Presidio Med, American Family, NUMB3RS, John Ridley’s I Got You, the MOW’s The Reading Room, HIROSHIMA, Consensual Relations, and the feature films XXX2: State of The Union and American Fusion. Sakata recently made her playwriting debut with her solo show Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon HIrabayashi, which premiered at East West Players and was subsequently chosen by the Epic Theatre Ensemble and the Lark Play Development Center for their first joint presentation, as well as showcased at the New York Theatre Workshop’s August 2009 Dartmouth Residency. The play will next be showcased in Chicago as part of Millennium Park’s 2011 IN THE WORKS new plays series.

Playwrights’ Arena, under the leadership of artistic director Jon Lawrence Rivera, is dedicated to discovering, nurturing and producing bold new works for the stage written exclusively by Los Angeles playwrights. Playwrights Arena was founded in 1992 by Jon Lawrence Rivera and Steve Tyler. The Latino Theater Company has demonstrated over 23 years of commitment to creating and producing some of the most exciting main stage theater in the Los Angeles area. It was founded in 1985 by current Artistic Director, Jose Luis Valenzuela.

Diane Levine is the producer and Luis Alfaro is the dramaturg. The design team includes Ann Sheffield, scenic design; Debra Lockwood, lighting design; Robert Blackburn, sound design; Nathan Wang, original music design; and Drew Bird, costume design.

Previews for Calligraphy are November 10 and 11 at 8:00 pm. The production closes on December 12. The performance schedule runs Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 3:00 pm. For tickets go to or call (213) 489-0994, Ext. 107. LATC is located at 514 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, California 90013.

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Lia Chang

Lia Chang

Lia Chang is an actor, performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multimedia journalist.

As a photographer and videographer, Lia collaborates with artists, organizations and companies in establishing their documentary photo archive and social media presence. She has been documenting her colleagues and contemporaries in the arts, fashion and journalism since making her stage debut as Liat in the National Tour of South Pacific, with Robert Goulet and Barbara Eden.

Selections of Lia’s archive of Asian Pacific Americans in the arts, fashion, journalism, politics and space are now in the newly created LIA CHANG THEATER PHOTOGRAPHY PORTFOLIO in the ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN PERFORMING ARTS COLLECTION housed in the Library of Congress Asian Division’s Asian American Pacific Islander Collection.

Lia’s portraits and performance photos have appeared in Vanity Fair, Gourmet, German Elle, Women’s Wear Daily, The Paris Review, TV Guide, Daily Variety, Interior Design, American Theatre,, Life & Style, OUT, New York Magazine, InStyle,,,,,, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, USA Today, The Boston Globe, New York Times and Washington Post. A former syndicated arts and entertainment columnist for KYODO News, Lia is the New York Bureau Chief for She writes about culture, style and Asian American issues for a variety of publications and this Backstage Pass with Lia Chang blog.

Other Articles by Lia Chang:
Juicy Buns at Ollie’s
The Dish on Susur Lee and Shang
A night out with Gordana Rashovich, Flora Goforth in The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore
André De Shields Set for World Premiere of Charles Smith’s The Gospel According to James at Indiana Rep, 3/22-4/10
Photos: A.B. Cruz III and Lillian Kimura Receive 2011 AALDEF Justice in Action Awards
Photos of Lion Dancers in Los Angeles Chinatown
Photos: Chinese New Year Festival at The Huntington in San Marino
Andy Warhol, Romare Bearden, Alexander Calder, Lia Chang in Art & Healing Exhibit at Snug Harbor on SI
My Empire State Building at Dusk on view in HHC’s “Art and Healing-Healthy for the Holidays” Art Exhibit
STORIES FROM CHINESE AMERICA: The Arthur Dong Collection, Vol. 2 as 4 disc DVD Box Set
<Lunch at The Modern, A Stroll Through The Conservatory Garden in Central Park
Cherry Blossoms, Magnolias, Tulips and Narcissus at Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Spring in New York is a Veritable Color Riot
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive.

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