1960’s and 1970’s
In the United States of the 1960’s, the Asian American community consisted of immigrants from a handful of countries, and the defining label encompassed primarily those whose heritage was Chinese or Japanese (the earliest immigrants), and to a lesser extent, Philippine, Korean, or Indian (the second wave) immigrants. Therefore, the earliest theatrical productions that bore the Asian American stamp examined the viewpoint and experience of those cultures in the majority. With the 1952 reforms in immigration law, immigrants from other Asian and Pacific nations began to make their home in the United States, changing the composition of the Asian American community. In particular, the end of the Vietnam War saw an increase in Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Hmong immigrants, and the Asian American experience onstage expanded to reflect the lives, dreams, and concerns of the newest arrivals.
Asian American drama grew out of the frustration felt by Asian-descent actors who felt marginalized, deprived of all but stereotypical roles on the American stage and screen. In response, the first Asian American theater company, East West Players , was established in Los Angeles in 1965 under the artistic direction of the famed actor Mako. With the help of Ford Foundation funding, East West Players sponsored a playwriting contest for Asian American writers in 1968 and thus launched the careers of the first generation of Asian American dramatists, including Wakako Yamauchi, Frank Chin, and Momoko Iko. In the next decade, other theater companies emerged: LaMama Chinatown in New York; Kumu Kahua, or “Original Stage,” in Honolulu; the San Francisco-based Asian American Theatre Company; the Northwest Asian Theatre Company in Seattle; and New York’s Pan Asian Repertory (which grew out of LaMama Chinatown in 1977). These theaters, along with Joseph Papp and the Public Theatre in New York City, nurtured a second generation of Asian American playwrights: Jeannie Barroga, Philip Kan Gotanda, Jessica Hagedorn, Velina Hasu Houston, David Henry Hwang, Genny Lim, and Elizabeth Wong.