This weekend, a group of Yale undergraduates will stage two plays to galvanize discussion of race and identity on campus.
“The Dance and the Railroad” and “Bondage” — both written by David Henry Hwang DRA ‘83 — will be performed together this Friday and Saturday evening in the Calhoun Cabaret. Director Crystal Liu ‘16 said the production aims to create an opportunity for Asian-American thespians on campus to explore issues of racial identity as well as highlight the role of art in activism.
“The production is an acknowledgement that we don’t need to ignore our race or be race-neutral,” said Liu. “We want to make it clear that we are talking about race.”
Since the beginning of semester, the cast and staff of the production have been rehearsing the plays, one of which takes place in a railroad labor camp in mid-19th-century America and the other in a modern-day BDSM parlor.
Liu explained that two plays’ storylines address the question of how to deal with being a marginalized individual, especially an Asian American. The two plays were selected to be performed as part of the same production because the political message would not be as clear otherwise, Liu said.
Pek Shibao ’15, who plays the character Lone in “The Dance and the Railroad,” said he thinks that the play’s overtly political themes make the production more unique when compared to shows that only hint at such themes.
The plays together cover a lot of ground by charting Asian-American history, the pursuit of the American Dream and stereotypes facing the community today, Shibao said. When the plays are performed together, Liu said, those themes are broadened and contextualized.
The production also conveys the message that modern society is not post-racial, said Alexandra Cadena ’17, who plays the unnamed submissive partner in “Bondage.”
The casting process for the production asked that only students of partial or full Asian descent audition for a role in “The Dance and the Railroad,” Liu said. Posters also specifically stipulated that students of color who auditioned for “Bondage” would be given priority over other applicants.
Liu added that there are rarely any Asian theatrical productions at Yale, noting that this production will be the first time any of Hwang’s works will be performed on campus. Liu added that the production aims to create a space for the Asian-American community in the theater community, which she believes is currently “whitewashed.”
“At Yale and in the world, the visibility of Asian Americans especially in theater is something that I have to go looking for,” said Liu. “Putting on this production comes from wanting to give a people like me something to identify with.”
In addition to focusing on race issues, the show provokes discussion about sexual orientation and gender, Liu and Cadena said.
Liu hopes the production will create a precedent for future conversation about identity at Yale and in society at large.
“If you want to think about and have a serious discussion on about where society is headed, you should come see us,” Cadena said.
Though the production tackles very serious political and social issues, Liu still characterizes the plays as comedies that are provocative and wild, yet uplifting. Shibao added that the show’s unique props integrate martial arts, opera, whips, chains and bondage outfits into the performance.
According to the Asian American Performers Action Coalition, only 3 percent of actors cast in Broadway and in non-profit productions are of Asian descent.