How Crossing an Ocean Pushed This Artistic Director to Be Bold

Outside the Theatre   How Crossing an Ocean Pushed This Artistic Director to Be Bold
 
Chay Yew, artistic director of the Victory Gardens Theater, is looking for more voices that defy traditional forms.
Chay Yew
Chay Yew
Chay Yew
Chay Yew

Who: Chay Yew
Stopped: Outside Ensemble Studio Theatre on W 52nd Street

What are you doing at the theatre today?
CY: I’m in rehearsals for Where Did We Sit on the Bus?, Brian Quijada’s solo play, that I’m directing.

How did you get involved with Brian on this show?
CY: I first saw Brian at the Denver Centre where he was doing a hip-hop, spoken word performance. After the show, I approached him to tell him I thought it was really good; I also asked him if we was going to do a solo show. He said he’d think about it. Then three or four months later he showed me a first draft, and we’ve been working on it since then.

What was it about Where Did We Sit On The Bus that drew you in from the get-go?
CY: Firstly, I think it’s the way he tells stories. I’ve worked with a lot of spoken word artists and poets and using that point of view to tell American stories is very interesting to me. Secondly, the fact that he was talking about what it was like to be the child of an immigrant and trying to be an artist. I found that particularly personal. I had to fight with my folks to do what I do, and to see a version of myself in Brian is very exciting.

It seems to me like the fight was worth it: You’re the artistic director of Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, and you continue to work on exciting projects like this one. What have you learned from your own journey as an artist and immigrant?
CY: If you start thinking that you’re nothing but second, you’re never going to survive in this country. It has to do with privileges and opportunities—if you start feeling like you don’t have something, you’ll never get it. I’ve always said to myself: “I’ve crossed an ocean to do this, so is it worth doing it? I’ve given up friends and family to do this. Is it worth it?” I keep thinking about all these things when I do my work.

How do you balance being an artistic director and a director?
CY: I think you never completely balance the two. Being an artistic director is 24/7. What’s wonderful about doing outside projects is that they also feed what I do as an artistic director. I don’t think you can just do one or the other. I think it’s about the art; the more I’m in touch with that—the more I’m working and bringing different artists in the room together—the better.

What kind of work excites you?
CY: I have a hunger for more voices that defy traditional forms. I’m also hungry for forms that collide and fuse. I wish there were more opportunities for something like say, a hip-hop opera that deals with race, has a cast of five and is performed outdoors. I’m always trying to figure out what the new forms are because I think that makes our field exciting and vibrant. We need to figure out how the next generation is thinking and how they want to tell stories—it might not be a three-act play, it might be something very different. As producers, we have to embrace that and give it room. We have to be brave.

Where Did We Sit on the Bus? officially opened Off-Broadway September 19. For tickets and more information visit ensemblestudiotheatre.org.

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