The first festival took place back in May of 2005. The organizer of the event, Queens Theatre in the Park (QTIP), had recognized the rapidly growing Asian/Asian American population in Queens (today, one out of five residents in Queens is Asian/Asian American), and the importance of an event to showcase and celebrate Asian culture. QTIP was already very experienced with presenting cultural festivals. At that point, QTIP had already been organizing the Latino Cultural Festival for eight years, and the Black Cultural Arts Series for four. The Asian Cultural Festival was a natural next step for the organization.
QTIP’s mission is to provide quality and diverse performing arts activities throughout Queens , the most ethnically diverse county in the nation. To foster greater cultural awareness and appreciation, the organization presents and produces programs that reflect this diversity. Located adjacent to Flushing , where more than half the population is Asian, QTIP is strongly positioned to serve the Asian/Asian American community through its annual programming. In addition to the Asian Cultural Festival, QTIP also presents other Asian-oriented events throughout the year. For example, they presented Sun Shier Dance Theatre from Taiwan back in January. And this coming October, QTP will present a Cantonese opera troupe - a collaboration with the Hong Kong Economic Trade & Office and the Hong Kong government.
The mastermind behind the Asian Cultural Festival is its Artistic Director, Vivian Chiu. This Northwestern University alum has been involved with the festival since its first year in 2005, when she was asked to help with outreach and audience development. After her outstanding contributions during that year, she was aptly named the Artistic Director, and Chiu has exceptionally fulfilled that role since. Chiu, who is an actress, singer, and producer herself, has proven that she has the necessary perspective and resources to put together a program that is both diverse and entertaining.
As Artistic Director, one of Chiu's main responsibilities is determining the performances that the festival will showcase. According to Chiu, "I would like to present and hopefully produce collaborative productions that bring artists across different artistic disciplines and cultural backgrounds to work together. That's also why we make sure that we bring at least one international company each year -- we want to show the audience here what Asian artists are doing elsewhere in the world. What's their voice? What do they feel compassionate about?"
In addition to coordinating a diverse program, Chiu also wants this year’s festival to include more younger artists to attract a younger audience. Chiu explains, "We want to create and provide a venue where younger generation feels comfortable of 'hanging out'. Young demographics nowadays like to go to films, or clubs, pubs or just hang out with friends, we're curating a cultural setting, not ACADEMIC but fun and entertaining for them to appreciate arts." Also, the younger audience is the target demographic for QTIP's third performance venue inside the theater, the Cabaret/Cafe, which QTIP hopes will become a "cool cultural night club."
When narrowing down artists for the festival, Chiu also notes what role their heritage plays in their performances. "I'm especially interested in the artists who are taking elements from their heritage or are influenced by it, and develop a whole new vocabulary. For example, SERIOUSLY, the young band mixes the dulcet tones of Korea 's sweet pop with the thoughtfulness of indie rock and the sounds of their California home," says Chiu. She continues, "Kevin So wrote a lot of music, i.e. his hip pop musical - The Average Asian American Victor Woo, inspired by his life growing up in Boston . His songs reflect his passion for a good, smoldering R & B ballad and for a funky, new vision of what it means to be Asian American."
One of the goals of the festival is to bring many aspects of Asian cultures to light. "By introducing the Asian Cultural Festival to the community, I hope non-Asian audiences gets to know and understand the Asian performing arts," says Chiu. She also hopes that the diverse program will break stereotypes like "Asian cultures [being] about Kung Fu and the preconceived notions of quiet Asian women or even amiable Asian men."
Chiu recognizes the benefits of the festival to Asian audience members as well. She explains, "I hope Asian audience will attend theater and appreciate arts more -- Most first generation [Asian Americans] didn't grow up with encouragements of attending theater. Arts and cultures seem not be part of our lives -- I hope the Asian Cultural Festival will change that." Another benefit Chiu notes is that Asians should be more familiar with other Asian cultures in general. "I hope to bridge the cultural differences between ASIAN CULTURES themselves -- For too long, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai [have been] rolled up into one. People tend to consider us as 'ONE' Asian America. We're indeed different but a lot of times, I feel Asian people are protective or exclusive about their own Asian origin. I hope through the Festival, whether you're Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, etc, you get to enjoy other Asian cultures."
In addition to the benefits for the audience and the community, Chiu wants this festival to bring artists together as well. "I hope to see established Asian and Asian American artists mentor new talents-- we need support from the audience, our community, but a lot of times we need support from our fellow actors/artists. I'm saying 'we' here because as an actor myself, I know how hard it is to make art," says Chiu.
This year's Asian Cultural Festival is shaping up to be even more spectacular than previous years'. The audience is projected to consist of 5,000+ individuals, and the list of performers includes nationally recognized names. The artists scheduled to perform include:
Dulsori, meaning "heartbeat of the land" rekindles the spirit of ancient festivals. Drawing on the traditions of Korean farmers who would drum to imitate the sounds of nature and praise the natural forces, Dulsori creates a high energy performance, tapping into the raw power of human emotions and elimination the barrier between performers and audience.
Kang Eun Il Haegumplus
Kang Eun II is one of the world's most acclaimed Haegum artists. She is considered the forerunner of a crossover style which combines traditional Korean music with non-traditional genres. This musical pioneer has performed with world-renowned artists such as Bobby McFerrin, Yoshia Brother, Luciano Pavarotti, and NHK Orchestra.
Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Incisive writer and performer Kristina Wong mixes sharp humor and psychology in "Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Wong's performance is a swear-to-god-not-autobiographical, serio-comic portrayal of the high incidence of anxiety, depression and mental illness among Asian American women. Tangling, spinning, and mixing yarns, Wong's irreverent and provocative work has resulted in a national cult following. "Politically charged art with unapologetic humor." -Bitch Magazine.
Seriously is made up of four young men from Diamond Bar, California (Philip Park, 19, Chris Pahm, 19, Josh Baek, 22, and Nathan Park, 19). Seriously's music blends hints of K-pop (Korean pop music), Brit-pop and American rock & roll. Their distinct songs blend a "melancholy-hued optimism" with raw honesty. Worlds apart from the mainstream "boy bands," Seriously provides their fans with upbeat, energetic pop rock tunes infused with heartfelt lyrics.
Playwright Qui Nguyen's LOST ACCENTS is the third play in his ambitious work, A GOOK STORY TRILOGY. The first play in the trilogy, Trial By Water, was produced in 2006 by Ma-Yi Theater Company in association with Queens Theatre in the Park. The three plays follow the journey of a young boy from Vietnam to America, his assimilation into the culture, and his return to Vietnam years later. While each play stands completely on its own, collectively, this powerful trilogy examines the spiritual, emotional, and psychological effects of immigration on Vietnamese boatpeople. In LOST ACCENTS, the boy returns to Vietnam, now as a young adult, to rediscover the country that he fled, and to confront the daughter of the man he killed. Now more American than Vietnamese, he must face a country that no longer sees him as their son.
Ragamala Music and Dance Theater
From Temple to Theater takes audiences on a journey through time, presenting classical Bharatanatyam as well as highlights from the company's stunning contemporary collaborations. Set to diverse musical influences, from the soulful music of India to the thundering Taiko drums of Japan to the a capella vocalizs of Zap Mama, this program is sure to delight all audiences.
Taking maximum - and hilarious advantage of his distinct cultural background, Henry has been hired by CBS and Paramount Studios to co-create, write, produce and star in his own sitcom based on his life as a Korean-Merican born and raised in Tennessee. After his crowd-pleasing performance at The 59th Annual Radio & Television Correspondents' Dinner, Henry was invited to perform at the White House. He brings his unique and witty perspective to the Asian Cultural Festival.
Christine Toy Jackson
Christine Toy Jackson gives an upbeat autobiographical portrait-in-song of her favorite subjects - her husband, her dog, coconut cake, and of course, her favorite Broadway shows. Songs include classics such as "This Can't Be Love", "My Favorite Things", "If I Were a Bell", "If I Loved You", "and "How Deep is the Ocean." Also included are contemporary favorites, including a piece she premiered in Kevin So's award-winning musical, VICTOR WOO, THE AVERAGE ASIAN AMERICAN. Christine has appeared on Broadway, off-Broadway, in national tours, on the concert stage, and in regional theatres across the country, as well as on film and television.
An Evening with Kevin So
Pioneer Asian American singer/songwriter KEVIN SO will perform songs from his highly acclaimed CD "A BRIGHTER DAY," as well as material from his upcoming musical "VICTOR WOO: THE AVERAGE ASIAN AMERICAN." Kevin was recently awarded two New York International Fringe Festival Awards, including Outstanding Music and Lyrics. Don't miss this very special evening of eclectic music from one of the most original and exciting entertainers of the past decade. Kevin So is a powerful voice for the new generation of Asian Americans.
The storytelling duo of Robert Kikuchi Tngojo and Nancy Wang bring their tales to life throughout the United States and abroad. They weave spoken word, music, rhythmic dialogue with modern dance technique and traditional Asian instruments including Taiko drums and Shakuhachi flute. Imagine a combination of Red Skelton, Ginger Rogers, and the street corner storytellers of China laced with the precision of the martial arts of Japan, if you can. Their stories originate from countries throughout Asia, including China, Tibet, Japan, Cambodia, and the Philippines.
The Asian Cultural Festival will take place on April 23-27, 2008 at the Queens Theatre in the Park, located in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. For more information on the festival, the performers, or to purchase tickets online, please visit the Queens Theater in the Park website at http://queenstheatre.org/7AsianMenu.htm. You can also call Queens Theater in the Park at 718-760-0064.