by Producing Artistic Leader Julia Cho
On the day that Artists at Play opened our eighth mainstage show, I was honored and privileged to represent our organization in a special conversation between Theater Leaders of Color. Hosted by artEquity and Oregon Shakespeare Festival, this was a two-day gathering all recorded as part of a podcast series. And throughout almost the entirety of that experience, I could not stop thinking that my being there was definitely a mistake.
As an actor first and foremost, I never imagined my theatre producing career (career?!) would lead me to this point. When Sharifa Johka of OSF first emailed me with the invitation, I enthusiastically said yes but also had to cap off my response with “I want to make sure you don’t think I’m the WRITER Julia Cho. If so, no offense taken!” Sharifa confirmed the invite was “indeed for you,” and I eventually was transported to a fancy home in the hills of Topanga Canyon with a bountiful culinary spread, the likes of which I’ve never experienced on any set as an actor. I then found myself the company of such esteemed colleagues (colleagues?!) as Torange Yeghiazarian, Executive Artistic Director of Golden Thread Productions; José Luis Valenzuela, Artistic Director of the Latino Theatre Company and the Los Angeles Theatre Center; and Wren T. Brown, Founder and Artistic Director of Ebony Repertory Theatre; along with our moderator, the inimitable Carmen Morgan. This was Session 1: People of Color Leading Theaters of Color. I was/am a Person of Color Leading a Theater of Color?!
Then the next day, Session 2: People of Color Leading Theaters of Color in Conversation with People of Color Leading Predominantly White Institutions. The previous day’s group was now joined by Jacob Padrón, Artistic Director of Long Wharf Theatre; Hana Sharif, Augustin Family Artistic Director of Repertory Theatre St. Louis; Eric Ting, Artistic Director of Cal Shakes; and Nataki Garrett, the new artistic director of OSF—who shook MY hand and said, “Your reputation precedes you” and I somehow managed not to melt into a fangirl puddle while silently screaming in my head, ‘OH MY GOD SHE THINKS YOU’RE THE PLAYWRIGHT NO WAIT SHE’S NATAKI GARRETT SHE MUST KNOW THE OTHER JULIA CHO SHE’S TALKING ABOUT *YOU* SHE’S TALKING TO *YOU* DON’T BREAK EYE CONTACT.’
Over two days, thoughts were shared, dialogues were introduced, and mutual respect abounded in these discussions regarding the challenges of working within and under the “rules” of predominantly white theatre institutions. With these astounding POC at the helm of their respective organizations, I am hopeful for what’s to come in Los Angeles theatre, American theatre, Asian American theatre.
After floating down to the real world from that magical weekend, I now choose to outwardly express my great pride in Artists at Play, not shy away from acknowledging how hard we work and what we’ve accomplished. At the podcast recording, we were asked about what keeps us hopeful and one of my answers was the fact that my AAP family is still here (and remain friends) after each show, every year. Won’t you support AAP with a monetary contribution? Please join me in saying THANK YOU to this team for all that they do—for me, for each other, for every AAP program, for the local and national landscapes of theatre. I remain grateful for my AAP cohorts, who have helped guide and continue to shape my producer self.
P.S. I’m finally done calling myself a “dumb actor” now.