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Devin Kawaoka is currently starring as Dustin in Broadway’s hit Slave Play by Jeromy O. Harris, which has transferred to the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Devin's character brings an LGBTQ perspective to the show, which is the most Tony Award®-nominated play in history.
Devin grew up in Rochester, New York, a keen downhill ski racer with dreams of competing in the Olympics. He attended New York University as an undergraduate and then in the Graduate Acting Program on a full merit scholarship. Soon after graduating, Devin won the Rosemarie Tichler Award for his performance in Unnatural Acts at the Classic Stage Company. Since then he has appeared on multiple television shows including Lucifier, Marvel’s The Runaways, and Criminal Minds. We caught up with Devin to grab his thoughts about his role in Slave Play.
'Slave Play' Coming Soon | Mark Taper Forum youtu.be
Have you noticed any difference in the types of audiences and their reactions in LA vs. NYC?
Devin: It's hard to generalize, but in Los Angeles we are so much closer to the audience as we are working on a thrust stage as opposed to a proscenium. The audience is a literal character in the Los Angeles production. We address them directly whereas on Broadway the audience was behind the fourth wall. So because of that, I think the audience feels much more implicated. They feel more challenged by the material and tend to feel more freedom to be vocal because of that implication, even sometimes talking amongst themselves as the play unfolds.
Going back to when you first read the play: What was your initial gut response?
Devin: I wanted to tell this story. To be a part of this moment in theatre history. I knew what Jeremy had written was important. Is important. We as a country need to grapple and wrestle with the ideas in this play, with our inability to directly and aggressively address the intersection of sex and race. It is not meant to please—although there are some pretty good jokes in it. It is meant to incite and ignite. Incite feelings and ideas, and hopefully ignite change.
What is your most favorite scene; and your most difficult scene?
Devin: I don't think I have a favorite! The material is so rife with complex psychological, emotional, political, racial etc. conflict that getting to say these words out loud every night is a real blessing for any actor. The end of Dustin's journey is when he is the most revealing, as his partner reads him for being unable to see anything outside of himself. And despite any erasure he may be experiencing as a white-passing Asian man, the repercussions for his relationship in his myopia to not see beyond his own experience are devastating. Having to go through this explosive racial reckoning and ultimate breaking of his decade long relationship is difficult to say the least. And to live it every night takes its toll.
Out actor Devin Kawaoka is starring in Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris outvoices.us
During the pandemic we have seen a horrific spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans. Have you experienced this in any form? And how does the play get to the root cause of this racism — including inter-racial racism.
Devin: My experience is one of fear and sadness. When I have watched these horrific videos, I can't help but imagine my father, aunt, grandmother, etc. being beaten unexpectedly as they walk down the street to get their weekly groceries. How do we live in a world where we can look at another human and see our hatred but not their humanity? How do we see our disgust, but not their grandchildren, their hobbies, their kind acts, their life and community that is just like ours? In the production, I'm aware of the impact of my Asian body on stage. Would it be seen as sexy? Would it fit the mold? Especially in a gay community that not so long ago blatantly posted "No Femmes, No Asians" on the hook up apps. I decided that that would be my act of defiance and solidarity in the face of all this hate. Asian-ness, feminine and masculine, that would be unapologetically displayed for the world to consider, to see, to be desired and or despised.
Get your tickets to Slave Play here.
What better way to celebrate Black History Month by enjoying some history in the making, this time in the traditionally white field of opera.
We caught up with Phoenix native and rising opera star Terrence Chin-Loy for a chat about his role in the upcoming production of A Little Night Music. The distinguished tenor and first generation Jamaican-American will play the part of Henrik Egerman.
Studio Spotlight & Scenes in the Wittcoff Concerts
Terrence, how did it feel to be cast as Henrik Egerman and are things starting to improve with more diverse casting in opera given that the canon is already so white?
Terrence: I still remember when I received my Resident Artist contract from Arizona Opera for the 21-22 season and I saw that instead of one of the Liebeslieders, which I expected to be cast as, I was cast as Henrik. I was very aware that shows like A Little Night Music are often cast with completely white casts, not because they necessarily need to be, but because they focus on familial relationships and it makes sense to most people.
Historically, musical theater has been much more adamant on sticking to what we would call typecasting, and part of that is race-based casting. It was so heartening when my boss, Chris Cano, told me that “...[the general director] and I just really hear this role in your voice.” I was very emotional when he said that because I think anyone of any race goes into opera because they want to sing. When we think of singing, we are thinking of the voice. It means a lot to me that in my time here at Arizona Opera, I have always felt that everyone around me considers the voice primarily, and therefore I’ve never really felt any limitations regarding what was possible for me. The idea that the opera canon is “white” is really a mindset. In most operas, and even in most musicals, there’s no real specification that a character must be white; it’s just often what we default to. I think as we as a society make more and more strides in diversity and inclusion, the arts as well as other institutions will continue to reflect those values.
Tim Trumble Photography
Congratulations on Fire Shut Up in My Bones. What do you think it will take for more Black stories to enter the canon - because there are more than plenty of true Black stories out there that remain untold. And do you ever feel like writing something yourself based on your own background?
Terrence: I think this is part of a larger question that opera is answering currently. Most new opera does not enter the canon; it’s performed once or a couple of times at co-producing theaters and then archived. Opera is a large-scale art form that takes a long time to create and eventually produce. I do think people in power are taking initiative to find and encourage these stories to be written, but it’s not an overnight fix. I think someone like Terence Blanchard is a great example, because he had not really written an opera before Champion, which he was encouraged to compose by an opera director.
A lot of composition initiatives that engage composers of color are already taking root, but opera is a specific idiom and these composers, often coming from other idioms, need support and time to become proficient in operatic storytelling. I think that’s where the opera companies come in as they have the power to work with composers from all backgrounds and see their visions become operatic reality. I don’t consider myself a composer, but outside of singing, I do quite a bit of writing. I am very interested in writing a libretto one day!
Yale Spotlight on Terrence Chin-Loy '14 youtu.be
Tim Trumble Photography
What in the storyline and themes of A Little Night Music most resonates with you personally, and as an artist?
Terrence: A Little Night Music is so beautiful because the characters are complex. No one can be said to be doing the completely right or wrong thing, but rather we see each individual character as very human, which is to say idiosyncratic. Desire is a strong theme that runs through the piece. I really connect with my character Henrik because he is stuck between the desire to be morally upstanding and the desire to feel love and passion. I think even though Henrik is not queer, there’s a personal resonance there for anyone who has grown up not wanting to be gay because it felt “wrong.” No matter what our experience, we probably have all felt this tension between something that we felt we should do and the thing we actually want or need to do. Other characters in the show work through this same dilemma in their own ways, and what we see on stage that still makes this piece so relevant today is that sometimes being happy isn’t about what’s right and what’s wrong. I think A Little Night Music is about listening to your heart to find clarity.
How long have you lived in Phoenix and what do you like about it and the scene, the community, and culture?
Terrence: I have lived in Phoenix since August 2020, and this place and its people have really surprised me in the best way. Discovering my love for hiking has been one of the best things about living here. The American Southwest is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and getting to experience that in Phoenix and Arizona at large has been such a joy. I’m a Florida boy at heart, and having the sunshine as a mainstay of daily life has been a beautiful way of living to return to.
Get your tickets to A Little Night Music here.
BoHo Theatre has announced the appointment of Elizabeth Swanson (they/she) as the new Artistic Director, succeeding Stephen Schellhardt, who announced his intentions of leaving in September 2021 after six years with the company.
Swanson is a freelance director and graduate of the Lir National Academy of Dramatic Arts at Trinity College, Dublin where they earned an MFA in Theatre Directing. Some of Swanson’s recent Chicago directing projects include the Jeff Award-winning HEAD OVER HEELS for Kokandy Productions, which also earned Swanson a nomination for direction; the Jeff-nominated I KNOW MY OWN HEART for PrideArts, and WHERE ALL THE WHITE SNEAKERS AT? for Second City. Swanson has also worked with About Face Theatre, Underscore Theatre, American Theater Company, Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts.
The company, board members, and Stephen are thrilled to welcome Elizabeth into the BoHo family!Swanson is excited to see BoHo continuing to tell compelling stories in line with the legacy Stephen Schellhardt has left with producing shows like BRIGHT STAR and BIG FISH.
Swanson says, “I was first introduced to BoHo through Eli Katz, an outgoing BoHo member. She and I worked together on a PrideArts play in 2018/2019, and Eli spent half of the rehearsal process trying to set me up with BoHo. Eli was absolutely determined that the company and I should meet each other. Stephen Schellhardt then attended a performance of that show and we met for the first time. He just had this wonderfully warm energy that enveloped you in a hug, and that warm welcome was my first impression of BoHo.”
Speaking about their experience of becoming part of the BoHo family, Swanson said, “Everyone in the company since I started applying for this position has been so excited to tell me what a strong family this is. And, that has held true with all of the company and board members I have had the pleasure of meeting and beginning to work with. I am excited to continue the company’s ingrained mission of working together as a family: of spreading love, kindness, and thoughtfulness through every production and story we take on.”
“Once you meet Elizabeth, you are sure to fall in love with their welcoming demeanor, insightfulness, and mission to make BoHo's work accessible for everyone,” says BoHo’s Executive Director Sana Selemon. “While producing theater looks different these days, I am reassured knowing we have Elizabeth as our new Artistic Director to help further Stephen Schellhardt’s vision of inclusivity, while bringing their own ideas of how we can continue to grow and hold onto what makes us special.”
Swanson’s first production for BoHo as Artistic Director will be its first commissioned production: NATIONAL MERIT, by Valen-Marie Santos, to be produced later this year at a venue to be announced. The company produced a virtual reading of the play in May 2021 and is thrilled that Santos will be continuing to develop her work in partnership with BoHo and with mentorship from BoHo’s Literary Manager, Dillion Chitto.
“It’s very exciting to me that we have commissioned our first playwright, the extremely talented Valen-Marie Santos,” said Swanson. “NATIONAL MERIT is a story of the moment. Santos has perfectly captured the later high school experience of applying to college in terms of the pressure placed on this generation, and she has spoken truth about the anguish we create for students throughout the grueling college admission process. To see a playwright reflecting and refracting the current moment with her voice, and telling this story alongside BoHo, is really wonderful. I want to see the company continuing to herald new voices in the future.”
Elizabeth is eager to start the process of choosing the second show for BoHo’s 2022 season with a selection committee of BoHo company members. Elizabeth is dedicated to growing and prioritizing accessibility in the company’s performance venues. “I want to expand our accessibility mission and better communicate what we can offer to guests who come into our space as patrons, season subscribers, and as artists: technicians, performers, and designers,” said Elizabeth Swanson. “We will be offering at least two ASL interpreted performances of each production and incorporating touch tours, as well as thinking more expansively about how we can improve accessibility in every possible way. We are excited to make The Edge Theater our new artistic home with our second production (following NATIONAL MERIT) and to start broadening to more multidisciplinary performance, such as clowning, physical theatre, music, and improvisation. I am also excited to continue the anti-racist work the company has already been approaching thoughtfully: working alongside Sana Selemon to examine pay equity in our budgeting, our casting practices, and how we determine which stories we choose to tell.”
About Boho Theatre
BoHo Theatre tells stories examining and celebrating human relationships — focusing on the Bohemian pillars of Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Love — using bold, intimate theatrical stagings. Our vision is to create a shared community of artists and patrons in which all members are moved through art to make thoughtful, well-examined, caring relationships the highest priority in their lives.