CastAndLoose Live!: Joe’s Pub (NYC)

CastandLooseLive! Aloha, Ghost In The Great Wall of Ni’hau: “Whitewashing, exoticism, Orientalism, and invisibility… CastAndLoose Live! tackles everything the entertainment industry has to say (or not say) about Asian characters and performers…”

Upon seeing this description in the Asian American International Film Festival 40 email chain following the Launch Party at the Fat Buddha, I knew that I had to go. I bought my tickets which were $20. A portion of proceeds would be donated to the Asian American Performers Action Coalition, whose mission is to expand the perception of Asian American performers in order to increase their access to and representation on New York City’s stages.

Since most of my friends are banking interns who work late into the night (fingers crossed they get return offers next year!), I made my way to yet another Asian-American event (read about the Asian American Film Festival, coming soon!) on my own. On Monday, July 17th, at 6 p.m. (a “typical” internship end-time), I headed to Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in downtown NYC.

Upon arrival, I found myself seated at a candle-lit, bar-style table that spanned the restaurant down its equator. I ordered a very expensive appetizer taco and a frozen sangria to fulfill my purchase promise ($12 minimum in addition to ticket cost). Then, taking in the chatter of the crowd, I doodled.

CastAndLoose1.jpg

ABOUT THE SHOW

CastAndLoose is a Tumblr page that began when actress, improver, and writer, Lynne Marie Rosenberg, could not help but notice the problematic language of everyday casting notices.  Her collection of recent casting calls is now a site which “brings you your daily dose of show business misogyny, racism, and general absurdity.” In addition, “the lofty goal of CastAndLoose is to enact significant change in the way writers, students and content makers in film, tv, and theater view their characters, and view actors.”

In 2014, CastAndLoose Live! debuted at Joe’s Pub as a kind of Tumblr-blog-brought-to-life. For its near two year anniversary, performers would once again read aloud casting calls, take a spin performing small skits, and share personal anecdotes about the acting industry from their Asian-American perspectives.

THE SHOW BEGAN

The lights dimmed. Applause roared Joe’s Pub to life.

On the screen at the back of the stage, a video appeared. I watched as images and video clips flashed before the crowd, scenes of Asian exoticism and Orientalism, old newspaper cartoons depicting “Chinks,” an image of “Cousin Chinky” from Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, and countless  popular films (Breakfast At Tiffany’s) that are prime examples of Hollywood’s insufferable plight of white-washing coupled with yellow-face (when white actors play Asian characters, and when white actors play Asian characters and alter their face via makeup/prosthetics to “appear more Asian,” respectively). Throughout the video, the audience released exasperated gasps, booming boos, and audible laughs at how incredulously our experiences as Asian-Americans have been historicized by the media… the blatant racism and inaccuracy. The audience was livid and activated. It was the perfect slew of samples to show just how many times, we as Asian-Americans have been misrepresented by Hollywood and American popular culture as a whole.

Then, the actors were introduced. Tonight’s show featured Asian-American performers including:

  • Pun Bandhu (Plenty)
  • Cindy Cheung (House of Cards, 13 Reasons Why)
  • Orville Mendoza (Pacific Overtures)
  • Diana Oh ({my lingerie play})
  • Aneesh Sheth (Southern Comfort)
  • David Shih (Somebody’s Daughter)

Our host was Lynne Marie Rosenberg, curator of CastAndLoose Live! In her about page,  she describes herself as “Jewish, but not Jewish enough to play Jewish and Irish, but not Irish enough to play Irish.”

During introductions, audience participation rose to a high. “We’ll never make it through these introductions-“ Lynne joked, beaming at the enthusiasm of clappers, cheerers, and whoopers alike. With the introduction of every performer was a solid 15-30 seconds of applause.

“What if there was an America beyond Orientalism?” our host, Lynne, began. “The next time Hollywood says that people won’t show up for a movie with non-white actors, remember THIS. Look around you.”

“What if there was an America beyond Orientalism?” our host, Lynne, began. “The next time Hollywood says that people won’t show up for a movie with non-white actors, remember THIS. Look around you.”

I looked around a nearly-filled pub holding a diverse crowd. Asian-Americans were well-represented, but so were other races and ages, a multi-colored room hosting millennials and Baby Boomers alike. The support was overwhelmingly validating.

In the first half of the night, the show’s stars read, verbatim, from Lynne’s online collection of real, recent casting notices. The second half was a series of performance pieces inspired by casting notices and written by members of the Ma-Yi Theater Company’s Writers Lab.

The actors began by reading aloud casting calls. The cast performed playful, intense, satirical, and comedic renditions of every exclusionary statement and blatantly-racist casting call on the menu.

Throughout the show, Lynne would reiterate, “These are not casting calls from ten years ago— these are from literally this week.”

Throughout the show, Lynne would reiterate, “These are not casting calls from ten years ago— these are from literally this week.”

One of my favorite parts of the second half, the short performance portion, was the actors’ group reading of “Asian People Are Not Magicians: a PSA read by Badass Artistis” written by Diana Oh. While humorous, it revealed the microaggressive comments Asian-Americans are subjected to on a daily basis. This powerful piece captured the frustration I personally feel as an Asian-American while navigating predominately white spaces.

I literally shrieked when one of the performers read this line. “OHMYGOD YES.” So much yes.

Gif from Mic.com

Overall, the show served to highlight the amount of stereotyping and exclusion of Asians/Asian-Americans that occurs in contemporary casting notices.

From these casting calls, it seems that Hollywood aches for:

  • Accentless characters (which should never be Asian)
  • Accented-characters (and any “Asian” accent or ability to speak any “Asian” language will do)
  • Young Asian female school girls and geishas
  • Silent women
  • Desexualized men
  • Aged Asians (i.e. “Origami Instructor” or “Kung Fu Master”)
  • Ninjas
  • Terrorists
  • 7/11 store owners

Why does the media go out of its way to perpetuate these stereotypical facades of Asian-Americans? Is it out of ignorance? Or out of habit?

The film/television industry is making waves by depicting Asian-American families in Fresh of the Boat, and Asian-American leads in Master of None, The Mindy Project, and Quantico. However, even with these community victories, the media, TV, and film industry continue to conflate Asians with Asian Americans.

It is gut-wrenching to think that even in this day and age, Asian-Americans continue to be relegated to typecast roles, that white-washing continues to be a phenomenon, and that there is an exclusion/limited portrayal of the Asian-American experience.

We have been conditioned to not expect to see ourselves in films.

No wonder so many Asian-Americans are self-conscious of their Asian-ness. We have been conditioned to not expect to see ourselves in films, except as stereotypes, sex objects, and sidekicks, so that when we do, we have trouble reconciling our ideas of self with the media’s perpetuation of who they think Asian-Americans are.

The solution?

It will not be easy to convince Hollywood to cast more Asian-American characters. It will not be easy to convince them that Asian-American voices and lived experiences are just as valid and worthy of depiction as the white experience.

But we can start by supporting Asian-American visionaries. We can start by educating ourselves through performances, and by starting conversations with others. We can start by demanding for and reclaiming our representation.

Read more at:

http://www.castandlooselive.com/about

http://castandloose.tumblr.com/

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