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A Director's Note from Aimee Chou

On the first day of rehearsal, I shared one of my favorite lines from Tiger Style!: “Everywhere we go we’re never accepted. We’re like a Discover card”. 

I’ve experienced this to some degree as a second-generation Taiwanese-American, and even more so as a Deaf person in a hearing world. Tiger Style! explores the hunger to belong, in the backdrop of the past five years’ elections, US-China trade war, the xenophobic ways Americans talk about COVID-19, and more.

The same week we released this ASL reading, the horrific shootings in Atlanta, GA brought the national conversation about anti-Asian sentiment to a fever pitch. Eight lives lost, in a spree targeting Asian spa businesses. 

Overnight, Tiger Style! become even more relevant.

In both art and life, racial tension isn’t new to us. But we’re just now starting to discuss it openly.

Take the lead characters: studious siblings Jennifer (Grace Yukawa) and Albert Chen (Joey Antonio) have a Harvard M.D./Ph.D. and Carnegie Hall on their resumes. But their tiger mom pooh-poohs taking an Asian-American Studies course, advising: “If you want to study Asians you can look in a mirror for free.”

As the rising wave of violence proves, we need more than a mirror. 

But we do need to see ourselves on screens and stages, authentically. Not just doctors and engineers, but as workers in Foxconn factories and massage parlors, as vulnerable elderly, as Deaf/disabled individuals, and more.

“Minari” recently swept six Oscar noms, but casting opportunities for Deaf/disabled Asians are rare. This ASL reading is proof, to me, that The Huntington values intersectionality.

“Being a part of Tiger Style! helped me embrace my Asian identity even more,” Grace Yukawa shared with me. “Racism and xenophobia are nothing new, but I am so grateful that this play covers these topics along with many other issues the AAPI community, especially women, face.”

I believe theatre is not reparative, but illuminative: it can’t fix racism, but it can shine a light on it. Playwright Mike Lew deftly tucks bits of textbook history into this witty, cerebral comedy: The Chinese Exclusion Act, Model Minority Myth, xenophobia, and “exotic” Asian women. 

This past week, many people are sharing Asian-American history as a tool to unpack the Atlanta tragedy. Growing up, I didn’t see Page Law or paper sons in my U.S. history books. Railroads and laundromats of the 19th Century feel so abstract, yet Tiger Style! connects the dots: 

“We came together to share a story that resonates with what we go through in America. It’s given us hope and understanding of the historical role we hold in society,” Joey Antonio told me. “With that understanding, we start the change within us to create the change around us.”

I hope that this reading gives audiences joy, and shows how multi-faceted Asians are. Where else will you find art so intersectional, Lew’s pun-filled dialogue was translated not only into American Sign Language, but also snippets of Chinese Hand Language? Hats off to Joey Caverly (Director of Artistic Sign Language) for brilliantly maneuvering the challenging text. 

We are many, but we are not one. To paraphrase actor Jan Wong (Dad, Tzi Chuan, Gen. Tso, Melvin): “We stand for our ancestors to hold our beliefs. We are brothers and sisters banding together - we live 10,000 lifetimes until we shall meet again.”

 - Aimee Chou


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