Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Dian Kobayashi, Emily Kuroda and Jeanne Sakata set for Daniel Akiyama’s A Cage of Fireflies at 2012 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab

A Cage of Fireflies cast at the babbling brook. L to r: Emily Kuroda, Jeanne Sakata, Dian Kobayashi.

A Cage of Fireflies cast at the babbling brook. L to r: Emily Kuroda, Jeanne Sakata, Dian Kobayashi.

Dian Kobayashi, Emily Kuroda and Jeanne Sakata are at the idyllic Sundance Resort in Utah, rehearsing A Cage of Fireflies, a new play by Honolulu-based playwright Daniel Akiyama, which has been selected as one of the eight projects out of nearly 900 submitted to be developed at the 2012 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab, July 9-29, 2012. It was simultaneously a finalist for this summer’s Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference.
Jeanne Sakata, Emily Kuroda, and Dian Kobayashi in rehearsal for playwright Daniel Akiyama’s A Cage of Fireflies at the 2012 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab at the Sundance Resort in Utah.

Jeanne Sakata, Emily Kuroda, and Dian Kobayashi in rehearsal for playwright Daniel Akiyama’s A Cage of Fireflies at the 2012 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab at the Sundance Resort in Utah.

The play tells the story of three elderly sisters of the kibei generation – sent as children to be raised in Okinawa, then returned to live and work in Hawai‘i. Two of the sisters confine themselves to their small Honolulu apartment, enacting the rituals of daily life as they cling to a dream of returning to Okinawa. The third, charged with running the family’s orchid nursery, has inherited a title that is not hers. As long-hidden hopes and regrets surface, the sisters discover what is both selfish and selfless in their love for each other.
 Daniel Akiyama

Daniel Akiyama


Akiyama, a graduate of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, began writing the play in response to an assignment in a playwriting class. He has worked with many of Honolulu’s theatres and states that “after being consumed by the study of dramatic writing most of my adult life, observing others at various stages in their own playwriting journeys, I now find myself in the midst of my own journey – my first full-length play.”

Of the Sundance opportunity, he writes “This play has always been about small, private gestures, about rituals enacted quietly and with precision. The play is rooted in specific references to Okinawan and Hawaiian culture, history, and geography, which are left mostly untranslated and often uncontextualized. This was, of course, deliberate. At this point, I need to know how effective this choice was, how the text unfolds for those who don’t share my own cultural context and assumptions.” The script development at Sundance will be guided by veteran dramaturg Mame Hunt.

A Cage of Fireflies dramaturg Mame Hunt, playwright Daniel Akiyama and director Phyllis S.K. Look.  Photo by Jeanne Sakata

A Cage of Fireflies dramaturg Mame Hunt, playwright Daniel Akiyama and director Phyllis S.K. Look. Photo by Jeanne Sakata

Akiyama will be accompanied at Sundance by another Honolulu resident, director Phyllis S.K. Look, who directed the staged reading of the play at Kumu Kahua Theatre in September 2011, and will supervise the Kumu Kahua premiere production to open in January 2013. Look is a former member of Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s artistic staff and currently a marketing and communications manager at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. This is her third engagement with the Sundance Institute, where she also developed Laurence Yep’s stage adaptation of his young adult novel Dragonwings and directed the Sundance Children’s Theatre school tour of A Thousand Cranes. Look holds an MFA from Yale School of Drama and is the recipient of a TCG/NEA Director Fellowship.
A Cage of Fireflies playwright Daniel Akiyama with director Phyllis S.K. Look at the 2012 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab at the Sundance Resort in Utah. Photo by Jeanne Sakata

A Cage of Fireflies playwright Daniel Akiyama with director Phyllis S.K. Look at the 2012 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab at the Sundance Resort in Utah. Photo by Jeanne Sakata


Dian Kobayashi

Dian Kobayashi


Dian Kobayashi is originally from the Big Island of Hawaii. She now resides in Los Angeles, where she has appeared in productions at the Doolittle Theatre, Mark Taper Forum, East West Players, Theatre @ Boston Court, Company of Angels and Write Act Repertory. She has also performed for theatres across the country including the Pan Asian Rep (New York), International City Theatre (Long Beach), A.C.T. (San Francisco), Sacramento Theatre Company, Sundance’s Children Theatre, Barrington Stage Company (Massachusetts), Long Wharf Theatre (Connecticut), Public Theatre (New York), Seattle Rep, South Coast Rep (Costa Mesa), Huntington Theatre Company (Boston), Syracuse Stage, Arizona Theatre Company and Berkeley Rep, where she was nominated for a Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award. Her TV and film credits include “The William Coit Story,” “The Big One: The Great L.A. Quake,” “Donor Unknown,” Going to the Chapel, “Student Exchange,” “The Hero Who Couldn’t Read,” “Baby M,” “California Dreams,” “The Tracey Ullman Show,” “Baby Girl Scott,” “Dynasty,” a recurring role on “General Hospital,” Moving, Sibling Rivalry, Hot Shots! Part Deux, Drinking Tea and Ophelia Learns to Swim. She is excited to be working with the Sundance Institute once again and to be a part of the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab.

Emily Kuroda

Emily Kuroda

Emily Kuroda completed seven years as Mrs. Kim in Warner Brothers’ “GILMORE GIRLS.” She also played Suho for one season in “UNDER ONE ROOF” with Flavor Flav. Other television credits include “DROP DEAD DIVA” (where she recurs as Margaret Cho’s strict Korean mother), “GREY’S ANATOMY,” “SIX FEET UNDER,” “KING OF QUEENS,” “CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM,” “THE MEDIUM,” “GENERAL HOSPITAL,” “PORT CHARLES,” “ER,” “THE DIVISION,” “THE AGENCY,” “PRESIDIO MED” and “ARLISS.” Feature films include PEEP WORLD, AUSSIE AND TED with Dean Caine, RED with Bruce Willis, HOTEL FOR DOGS, THE SENSEI, SHOP GIRL, MINORITY REPORT, STRANGER INSIDE, TWO DAYS IN THE VALLEY, DAD, BROKEN WORDS, ABOUT LOVE (Emmy nominated) and WORTH WINNING, Emily has performed in many theaters internationally, including the Kirk Douglas Theatre, South Coast Rep, New York’s Public Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, Seattle Rep, Singapore Repertory Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theater, Doolittle Theater, Huntington Theater (Boston), Los Angeles Theater Center, Zephyr Theater, LA Women’s Shakespeare Company, and the Los Angeles Shakespeare Festival. She is the recipient of five Dramalogue Awards, a Garland Award for outstanding performance, an L.A. Ovation award nomination for Best Lead Actress in a Play, the Playwrights Arena Award and the EWP Award for Outstanding Contribution to Los Angeles theater.
Jeanne Sakata (Photo by Lia Chang)

Jeanne Sakata (Photo by Lia Chang)


Jeanne Sakata recently performed in Seven at USC, Julia Cho’s The Language Archive at East West Players, Don Nguyen’s RED FLAMBOYANT at Ojai Playwrights Festival and Velina Hasu Houston’s Calligraphy. An LA Ovation Award Winner for Best Lead Actress for her portrayal of Master Hua in Chay Yew’s RED at EWP, Jeanne has performed with The Public Theater, Lincoln Center Theater, Kennedy Center, Mark Taper Forum, La Jolla Playhouse, South Coast Rep, American Conservatory Theater, Northlight Theatre Intiman Theatre, Berkeley Rep, A Contemporary Theatre, Portland Center Stage, Syracuse Stage and Arizona Theatre Company, and is a member of LA’s renowned classical group The Antaeus 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 She will next be seen in the upcoming feature comedy The Babymakers.

Sakata made her playwriting debut in recent years with her solo show Hold These Truths (formerly Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi), which will be produced Off-Broadway by EPIC Theatre Ensemble in the Fall. The play had its world premiere in 2007 at East West Players, co-presented by the Japanese American National Museum, UCLA Department of Asian American Studies, and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, and was subsequently chosen by the Epic Theatre Ensemble and the Lark Play Development Center for their first joint presentation, as well as by the New York Theatre Workshop to be showcased at their 2009 Dartmouth Residency. Most recently, the play was performed at Chicago’s Pritzker Pavilion with Silk Road Rising/Millennium Park as part of the Park’s 2011 IN THE WORKS New Plays Series. It was also presented in the Epic Theatre Ensemble’s 2010 Passion Play Festival with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, at the University of California at Riverside, the 16th Annual Conference of the Japan Studies Association in Honolulu, at Japanese American Citizens League Day of Remembrance events in Sacramento and Salinas, California, and at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where it served as the inspiration and theatrical centerpiece of the civil rights symposium Civil Liberties, National Security and the Legacies of the Japanese Removal and Incarceration. With the East West Players Theatre For Youth program in 2008 and 2010, the play has twice toured high schools and junior high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Hold These Truths is part of the Library of Congress Playwrights Archive in the Asian American Pacific Islander Collection in Washington DC, where Sakata’s working script was on display in the Thomas Jefferson Building in conjunction with the Library of Congress celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month during May 2012.

Dian Kobayashi, Daniel Akiyama, Phyllis S.K. Look, Jeanne Sakata and Emily Kuroda at the 2012 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab at the Sundance Resort in Utah.

Dian Kobayashi, Daniel Akiyama, Phyllis S.K. Look, Jeanne Sakata and Emily Kuroda at the 2012 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab at the Sundance Resort in Utah.

The Theatre Lab provides rehearsal space, dramaturgical support, an acting company, stage management and accommodations/meals for playwrights, directors, choreographers, composers, solo performers and ensembles. The Lab’s unique day-on, day-off rehearsal structure provides Fellows the time to explore revising their work, without the pressure of daily rehearsals, as well as freedom from commercial attention. The three-week residency culminates in a closed presentation of each project for Lab participants, followed by a collaborative feedback session.
The table read for playwright Daniel Akiyama’s A Cage of Fireflies at the 2012 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab at the Sundance Resort in Utah. Photo by Jeanne Sakata

The table read for playwright Daniel Akiyama’s A Cage of Fireflies at the 2012 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab at the Sundance Resort in Utah. Photo by Jeanne Sakata


Fellows at the Lab will be supported by a team of advisors and colleagues who provide feedback on the material and process. Dramaturgs for the Lab are: Janice Paran, Artistic Associate; Roberta Levitow, Artistic Associate; Mame Hunt, Artistic Associate; and Jocelyn Clarke (Ireland). Artists in Residence are: Eric Wainaina, composer and bookwriter from Nairobi, Kenya; and Zainabu Wallo, playwright from Ikeja, Nigeria. The eight projects were selected with input from an Advisory Committee including Lydia Diamond, David Henry Hwang, Stephen Wadsworth, Mame Hunt and Janice Paran.

Sundance Institute Theatre Program
The Theatre Program has been a core component of Sundance Institute since Robert Redford founded the Institute in 1984. The Theatre Program identifies and assists emerging theatre artists, contributes to the creative growth of established artists, and encourages and supports the development of new work for the stage. Under the guidance of Producing Artistic Director Philip Himberg, the Theatre Program is the leading play development program in the United States. Titles such as Spring Awakening, An Iliad, I Am My Own Wife, The Good Negro, Circle Mirror Transformation, Passing Strange, Grey Gardens,Crowns and Marie Antoinette have gone from Theatre Program Labs to production from coast to coast and internationally, garnering multiple Pulitzers, Tonys, Obies and other recognition. The Theatre Program’s East Africa initiative is the only professional program of its type on the continent, offering Labs, cross-cultural exchange, mentorship and exposure to artists in six African countries .www.sundance.org/theatre

All Sundance photos courtesy of Jeanne Sakata.

Sundance Institute
Sundance Institute is a global nonprofit organization founded by Robert Redford in 1981. Through its artistic development programs for directors, screenwriters, producers, composers and playwrights, the Institute seeks to discover and support independent film and theatre artists from the United States and around the world, and to introduce audiences to their new work. The Institute promotes independent storytelling to inform, inspire, and unite diverse populations around the globe. Sundance Institute has nurtured such projects as Born into Brothels, Trouble the Water, Son of Babylon, Amreeka, An Inconvenient Truth, Spring Awakening, I Am My Own Wife, Light in the Piazza and Angels in America.

Other Articles by Lia Chang
Epic Theatre Presents Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths, starring Joel de la Fuente, May 20-21, 2012
West Coast Premiere of David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish at Berkeley Rep stars Michelle Krusiec and Alex Moggridge, August 24-October 7, 2012
Rick Shiomi helms Mu Performing Arts’ Asian American Cast of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, July 17-August 5, 2012
Photos: All-Access Pass to Disney’s Aladdin at The Muny with Thom Sesma, Francis Jue, Robin De Jesus, John Tartaglia, Jason Graae, Curtis Holbrook, Eddie Korbich, Samantha Massell and Ken Page
Performing Arts Images from the Asian American Pacific Islander Collection on Display at the Library of Congress to Celebrate APA Heritage Month
Photos: Yellow Fever Playwright Rick Shiomi Explores New Territory with An All-Female Cast
Tony Award – winning Playwright Terrence McNally to be Honored at Westport Country Playhouse Annual Gala, September 24, 2012
Richard Thomas and Boyd Gaines to star in An Enemy of the People at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre during Manhattan Theatre Club’s 2012-2013 Season
Multimedia: Exclusive photos and video of Disney’s The Lion King Las Vegas -In the Makeup Chair with Thom Sesma
Photos: BD Wong, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Brandon Victor Dixon, Tom Viola at “Passing It On: An Evening of Mentorship to Benefit Rosie’s Theater Kids”
Photos: Highlights of Shinsai: Theaters for Japan (3pm) with Andre Bishop, Mary Beth Hurt, Jennifer Lim, Angela Lin, Philip Kan Gotanda, Thom Sesma, Sab Shimono, Richard Thomas, Jay O. Sanders, and more
Photos: Highlights of Shinsai: Theaters for Japan (8pm) with Oskar Eustis, Patti LuPone, Lisa Emery, Ann Harada, Paolo Montalban, Thom Sesma, Sab Shimono, Henry Stram, Richard Thomas, John Weidman and more
Photos: In Rehearsal with Director Bartlett Sher and the cast of Shinsai: Theaters for Japan
David Henry Hwang Set as Signature Theatre’s Residency One Playwright for the 2012-2013 Season
C.J. Wilson navigates armor and swordplay in Signature Theatre Company’s World Premiere of Kenneth Lonergan’s Medieval Play
Photos: In Rehearsal with BD Wong at Dixon Place for Live Concert Recording of Herringbone
Photos: David Henry Hwang, Oskar Eustis, BD Wong, Brian d’Arcy James, Francis Jue, Jennifer Lim and Leigh Silverman at WNYC’s The Greene Space
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang. Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography

Lia Chang. Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography


Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist.
All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2012 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

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