Master storyteller Dan Kwong teams up with world renowned drummer Kenny Endo for WHAT? NO PING-PONG BALLS?, a moving, insightful and hilarious tribute to Kwong’s late mother, Momo Nagano. It’s the tale of a Japanese American woman from “the greatest generation”, living life unapologetically as a single parent and artist and joyously defying society to define or constrain her.
Performances for WHAT? NO PING-PONG BALLS? on Friday, October 10 at 2 P.M., Saturday, October 11 at 7 P.M. and Sunday, October 12 at 2 P.M.. are at Interact Theatre Company’s MainStage, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103. Click here to purchase tickets, and here for a map to the theater.
WHAT? NO PING-PONG BALLS? is a featured selection from the Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists, presented at the 2014 National Asian American Theater Festival and Conference in partnership with Asian Arts Initiative and Interact Theatre Company with support from the Ford Foundation.
With a steady compass for social justice, a keen eye for irony and a flair for the absurd, Kwong traces Nagano’s journey from all-American girlhood in Los Angeles to WWII internment camp; from defiant marriage with a Chinese immigrant to single divorcee with four young kids; from urban housewife to Venice Beach artist. As Nagano’s path traverses the terrain of the Civil Rights Movement, modern feminism, and hippie counter-culture, we witness her courage, stubborn determination and fierce motherly devotion. Along the way Kwong shares his experiences as the only son, providing his signature comedy through puppetry, props and song and demonstrating that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as Nagano herself has a sense of humor that shines throughout.
WHAT? NO PING-PONG BALLS? is rich with multimedia: home movies, animation, documentary footage, archival family photos and period television clips transport the audience into the world of this unusual woman and her unique interpretation of family. While immensely entertaining, WHAT? NO PING-PONG BALLS? also informs and educates about the Japanese-American internment experience; single mothers of multiple generations; the evolution of women’s rights, and the modern American family.
In researching single motherhood in the U.S., Kwong was struck by the absence of Asian Americans; an invisibility which resonates with much of the Asian American story in general. Through video interviews with other Japanese American single moms from the 1960s through today, Kwong weaves the multiplicities of their experiences into the show while revealing commonalities from their cultural background.
Throughout the show, master taiko drummer Kenny Endo contributes sensitive and powerful live musical elements on taiko, percussion and Japanese flutes, to complete Kwong’s compelling storytelling.
Dan Kwong is an award-winning solo performance artist, writer, director, playwright and media artist who has been presenting his work internationally since 1989. Hailed by critics as “a master storyteller,” Kwong draws upon his own life experiences as well as historical and contemporary material to explore the many facets of identity. His performances weave together storytelling, poetry, multimedia, dynamic physicality and a generous sense of humor. Touring extensively, Kwong has performed at venues all across the U.S. and in England, Hong Kong, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Mexico, Canada, China and Korea. He is recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Rockefeller Foundation, Asian Cultural Council, Art Matters Inc., Brody Arts Fund, Franklin Furnace, N.Y., and was twice-nominated for the Alpert Award in the Arts. He received awards for Outstanding Mid-Career Artist from the California Community Foundation and the City of LA Cultural Affairs Dept and was honored by the Japanese American Historical Society for Outstanding Contributions to JA culture and history.
Kenny Endo is one of the world’s leading artists in contemporary percussion and rhythm. He is the vanguard of the taiko genre, continuing to pave new paths in this Japanese style drumming even after thirty-five years of experience. A performer, composer, and teacher with numerous awards and accolades, Kenny Endo is a consummate artist, blending Japanese taiko with rhythms from around the world into original melodies and improvisation.
Originally trained as a jazz musician in the West Coast Asian American cultural renaissance of the 1970s, Endo began his taiko career with L.A.’s groundbreaking Kinnara Taiko, and then with the renowned San Francisco Taiko Dojo, the first kumi daiko group outside of Japan. In 1980 he embarked on a decade-long odyssey to his ancestral Japan, studying and performing with masters of ancient classical drumming, traditional Tokyo festival music, and ensemble drumming. Endo has the honor of being the first non-Japanese national to have received a natori (stage name and masters degree) in hogaku hayashi (classical drumming). In the hogaku world, Endo is known as Mochizuki Tajiro.
In the greater musical world “Kenny Endo” has become synonymous with “taiko.” He is arguably one of the most versatile musicians in the genre, crossing easily between classical Japanese style and his own neo-classical, globally-inspired variety. Among his many distinctions are an M.A. in Ethnomusicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, an artist residency at the Lincoln Center Institute in New York, his own “Kenny Endo Day” proclaimed by the Mayor of Honolulu, and certificates of honor from the House and Senate of the State of Hawaii and Honolulu City Council.
Endo has recorded five CDs of original taiko compositions, and was a featured artist on the PBS special “Spirit of Taiko.” He performed for Michael Jackson and Prince as well as Princess Diana and Prince Charles. He opened for The Who, performed a duet with singer Bobby McFerrin, and is featured on the soundtracks for Kayo Hatta’s film “Picture Bride” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” He was also recorded in motion capture suit for James Cameron’s “Avatar.”
Endo’s taiko skills have taken him to the Smithsonian Institute, National Museum of American History, Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., Theatre de Champs-Elysee in Paris, the Kabukiza and National Theater in Japan. He has performed with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, Honolulu Symphony and Tokyo Symphony, traveling across Asia, Africa, Europe, Oceania, the former Soviet Union, Australia, and the Americas in his effort to share taiko with the world.
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Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, and made her jazz vocalist debut in Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York. She is profiled in Jade Magazine.
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