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With Play's All-Asian-American Cast, Kansas City's Unicorn Theatre Reaches A 'Landmark'

Unicorn Theatre / Facebook

The Unicorn Theatre's staging of a play with an all-Asian-American cast is “a landmark event,” according to one member of that cast.

Speaking with Gina Kaufmann on KCUR's Central Standard on Wednesday, Andi Meyer described "Vietgone" as a “sex comedy” about how playwright Qui Nguyen’s parents met at an Arkansas refugee camp.

Meyer said the Unicorn’s artistic director, Cynthia Levin, had been thinking about featuring an all-Asian-American cast for several years.

“I know that Cynthia has really been a pioneer in Kansas City in terms of creating equity and inclusion onstage,” she said. “I remember back in the ‘90s, she would bring people in, at least once a season, to be able to do an African-American play. And so, I think now, 20 years later, it’s finally time to have an all-Asian-American cast.”

To Meyer, it makes a difference to see such diversity onstage.

“Most of the benchmark theater organizations across the country are run by white men,” she noted.

And while some theaters shake it up a bit, she said, many of the plays that get performed are written and directed by white men, even though women account for 70 percent of ticket sales.

The lack of representation leads to people getting pigeonholed — not only on stage, but in plays and in the arts and in media, Meyer said.

“It’s really my feeling that it has a culture-wide effect in the United States,” she said.

There aren't many Asian-American writers in the arts, Meyer said. She hopes that the next step is to form sustainable organizations "so we can continue to put our own voices out there."

Meyer is also the artistic director of Tradewind Arts. This weekend, she’ll host an event called #RepresentationMatters/Changing the Narrative, which features short plays by local playwrights on the topic.

“It really makes a difference who’s telling your story,” she said. “The phrase, ‘No taxation without representation’ … it’s basically the same thing. If somebody else is telling our story, if somebody else is representing you, they have a different voice, they have a different take, they have a different understanding.”

For example, in "Vietgone," one of Myers’ favorite lines is about how the food in the Arkansas refugee camp is “just a plate of meat.”

“In America, we have a love for big pieces of meat, a big piece of chicken, a steak … and that’s not necessarily true of Asian food,” she said.

The important thing about "Vietgone," she said, is that everyone on stage is Asian-American, just as the play was written.

"We have the opportunity to find our own reflections in the arts," she said, "so people can actually come to the theater and see as close to an accurate representation of themselves as they have ever been able to in Kansas City."

Vietgone, Wednesday, April 18 to Sunday, May 13 at the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main St., Kansas City, Missouri 64111, 816-531-7529).

#Representation Matters/Changing the Narrative, 5 p.m., Saturday, April 21 at Charlotte Street Open Studios, 1100 Walnut St., Kansas City, Missouri 64106.

Listen to the full conversation with Andi Meyer here.

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org and follow her on Twitter @JenChenKC.

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