46 N Los Robles Ave, Pasadena, California 91101

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Dismantling Orientalism: This Is Not a True Story

Reception to follow.

Admission is free. Reservations required.


In 1978, cultural critic and author Edward Said described Orientalism as “a system of thought and a way of seeing of ‘the East’ from the colonial gaze of ‘the West’ as mysterious, intriguing, and exotic, while at the same time primitive, despotic, and savage.” From Puccini’s Madama Butterfly to Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 release of Dune, there are multitudes of Orientalist representations in media that range from outrageous to subtle. All are steeped in colonization and cultural oppression. 

Join us for a timely conversation and staged reading on Asian American representation in popular culture that will focus on dismantling Orientalism within the context of film, video, and theatrical productions and put a spotlight on Asian American artists who are creating subversive and empowering works and paving the way for more meaningful representation and understanding. Panelists will include director Reena Dutt; USC School of Dramatic Arts and USC Dornsife professor Rena Heinrich; and UC Riverside professor of theater, film, and digital production Donatella Galella, with moderator Jenny Lin, a professor at the USC Roski School of Art and Design.

The panel will be followed by a staged reading of This Is Not a True Story produced by the Asian American theatre collective Artists at Play. In the new play by Preston Choi, the heroine of Madama Butterfly completes her tragic suicide only to wake up trapped in a never-ending loop of her story, unraveling the history of Orientalist art and theatre, and the danger of fiction becoming reality.

The event will conclude with a reception with light refreshments and access to exhibitions at the USC Pacific Asia Museum.

Founded in 2011, Artists at Play produces theatrical programming that explores the Asian American experience. Their multifaceted stories provide resources and a platform for underrepresented theatre artists while serving audiences within Los Angeles and beyond. Through their mainstage productions, new play development, and other events, Artists at Play advocates for and collaborates with diverse communities of artists. They have received critical acclaim, including Ovation Award and GLAAD Media Award nominations. 

Preston Choi is a Chicago-based playwright whose work focuses on social science fiction, Asian American/mixed race/queer lives, and the horror of being alive. His plays include Happy Birthday Mars Rover (2022 Planet Earth Arts Playwriting Award, 2022 Darrell Ayers Playwriting Award), performing class (2021–2022 NNPN Bridge Program, 2020–2021 Playwrights Realm Scratchpad Series), A Great Migration or The Migratory Patterns of the North American Monarch Butterfly and the Development of Fatherless Sons (2021 Paul Stephen Lim Playwriting Award, 2019 NNPN National New Play Showcase, 2017 Agnes Nixon Award), and This Is Not a True Story (2018 CAATA ConFest). 

Reena Dutt is a 2021–2022 Drama League New York Directing Fellow and member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab (New York City) and Directors Lab West (Los Angeles). She was most recently a part of Artist Repertory Theatre’s Mercury Company III in Portland, Oregon, and will soon workshop a new play with MadLAB in Los Angeles. Dutt also directs for film and television and has an extensive producing history. 

Born and raised in New York City, Donatella Galella researches how capitalism and white supremacy shape (and are shaped by) contemporary, popular American performance. Her first book, America in the Round: Capital, Race, and Nation at Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage, is a critical history of the first professional regional theatre in the U.S. capital. Galella is working on a second book that considers how yellowface persists in twenty-first-century musical productions and how Asian Americans have mobilized art, activism, and affect to counter yellowface. 

Rena Heinrich is an assistant professor of theatre practice in critical studies at the USC School of Dramatic Arts and an affiliated professor of East Asian studies in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Her forthcoming book, Race and Role: The Mixed-Race Asian Experience in American drama, explores the shifting identities of multiracial Asian figures in theater from the late-nineteenth century to the present day. Heinrich's teaching and areas of expertise include interculturalism; race, representation, and gender in performance; Asian and Asian American drama; ethnography; and performance studies. 

Jenny Lin (moderator) directs the MA program in curatorial practices and the public sphere and is an associate professor of critical studies at the USC Roski School of Art and Design. As a scholar, writer, and curator, Lin explores relations between twentieth- and twenty-first-century art and design and social phenomena such as urbanization, globalization, and decolonization. She is currently writing a new book, Another Beautiful Country: Moving Images by Chinese American Artists, and curating a related exhibition scheduled to open at the USC Pacific Asia Museum in 2023.

Presented by USC Visions and Voices. Organized by the USC Pacific Asia Museum. Co-sponsored by the USC Roski School of Art and Design and USC School of Dramatic Arts. 

Photo (left): Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging
Photo (middle and right): M Palma Photography

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