Newsletter — July 2016

c2b950dc-85ce-401f-b107-dc663dc95c63OPPORTUNITY. EMPOWERMENT. CHANGE.

Those are the words that came to mind when I learned of the new direction TheatreFIRST was taking — a transition into being a development house for new theatre to be created, a commitment to having at least half of their artists be women, and at least two thirds of their artists be people of color. It’s bold. It’s brave. It’s necessary.

The world is changing. So the stories we tell within the theatre must change with it. I remember as a young Filipino-American boy going through school without a single book, story or movie dedicated to exploring my experience as a Filipino-American. The closest I got was The Joy Luck Club in high school, and even that (despite what the administration might have thought) had very little to do with my life. How was I supposed to feel included? How could I not feel like an “other” within my own community? How could I possibly feel American?

If we are to be a vehicle for change we must empower the voices of those who have not been given the opportunity to use them. We must tell their stories. The stories being told in TheatreFIRST’s 2016-17 season range from a wide-ranging collection of lenses. This season alone, we have Filipino-Americans, African-Americans, Japanese-Americans; and, as the TheatreFIRST grows, so will the list of stories told.

This is a process. This will take work. Sure, we will hit many challenges on the way. But as I said before — this is bold, this is brave, and this is necessary. Each and every one of us has an important story to tell. We will to find the way to tell it. With opportunity comes growth. With growth comes progress. TheatreFIRST is taking the first steps towards this progress and I am proud to be a part of it.

So here’s to opportunity. Here’s to Empowerment. Here’s to change.

Here’s to TheatreFIRST.

— Jeffrey Lo, co-writer, Beneath the Tall Tree





“I remember, now, a time. She was peeling with a knife a pinya. All the little eyes, off in a single strand, removing the skin, revealing the golden fruit underneath. And she told us, you were a babe then, but you were there too, in the kitchen, the story of the first pineapple. How The Goddess was sick and in bed, and how her Child sought to help with the house chores, but was all together helpless; always asking: “How do I make a fire?” And “Where is the flour?” And “What do I put in this recipe?” Until finally, The Goddess wished she had a Child with a hundred eyes, so as to see how to do everything! Later, when she was well, The Mother sought for the Child, only to find a fruit growing in the backyard; the fruit of a hundred eyes.”

— an excerpt from Bagyó by Rob Dario

The creative team behind Bagyó, along with an amazing group of bay area artists, continue to sculpt and craft the story and the questions it asks. The last reading (photos below) opened up the conversation as to how a story that uses Shakespeare’s The Tempest as a vehicle to tell the story of Southeast Asian survival could shed light on universal truths. Further, the question was raised: Is it possible that we’ve had it backwards and, in actuality, we can only reach universal truths by being deeply culturally specific? A new draft is out and we read it next week. What questions will be birthed out of the questions we’ve asked?




“Tye. I know it’s your life. Both of us know. All this stirring through the colonies though done opened a window. Maybe only just a little bit, but pretty soon it may done been shut altogether. You gotta decide what side of the window you gonna be on when it does shut. So tell me you done give it some serious thought. You done promised me that, now.”

— an excerpt from VS., by Cleavon Smith, Stephanie Prentice and Reggie White

The first draft of VS. asks so many questions of the man known as Colonel Tye, a black man that escaped slavery during the Revolutionary War and joined the British Army, starting his own revolution within the context of another. The VS.creative team understands what story they want to tell and are wrestling with the how. In a show that employs text and music to shed light on a place and time so vast, our artists ask the hard questions of tone, rhythm and theme. A world is being built.




“I think at the moment I’m held together with band aids, dirt, sunscreen, bug spray, and sweat. It’s been a crazy adventure so far…”

— an excerpt from Adrienne Walter’s blog as she excavates in Pompeii, Italy

Our third play of our 2016–17 season, BENEATH THE TALL TREE, is the story of archaeologist Adrienne Walters and her journey to unearth her connection to her family history and how it connects to the larger fabric of the world. Not only is the story being currently written, but the story is currently happening: Addie checks in with us from Pompeii (she will regularly) as she explores the imprint of earlier civilization, using it to define her own impact. Visit her blog HERE.



“But I always thought it was strange, if our mother cells done so much for medicine, how come her family can’t afford to see no doctors?”

— The daughter of Henrietta Lacks

Lauren Gunderson, playwright behind HeLa, asks:

How can we know our lives have meant something? How does knowing affect what death means?

Does our linked life as humans which evolved from one source make us all immortal? Can a person outlive themselves?

Can something be good that started from something bad? What parts of our humanity are biological? Does our biology make us good or bad?


Lily Janiak, The San Francisco Chronicle‘s new lead theatre critic, came over to Live Oak to talk about our internal mandates. Learn more about the story we are telling within the stories we are telling:

TheatreFirst puts numbers to the diversity question


Next month we’ll give you a look at all of our other initiatives plus an extended look at the story of Bagyó and an early look at the commissions in development for our ’17 – ’18 Season.

Mad Love,

All of us at TheatreFIRST