Wednesday, March 24, 2021 | 4:00PM - 5:30PM (PDT) | Zoom Webinar

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The Asian and Black Question Up Close in Drama: Plays that Organically Reckon Across the Divide - Velina Hasu Houston, Rena Heinrich and Professional Ensemble*

The Race/Solidarity: Transpacific Conversations series invites faculty and guest speakers to discuss the current racial reckoning at USC and beyond and start this conversation within a global context. This series will provide a platform for faculty and students to engage with a host of social and cultural issues related to race and racism on both sides of the Pacific. Our aim is to help broaden and deepen the current discussion on race with global and historical perspectives, drawing in particular on the expertise and connections of our affiliated faculty and graduate students who have worked on these topics within diverse East Asian contexts and among Asian diasporic communities.

The East Asian Studies Center presents a reading of excerpts from the work of Velina Hasu Houston whose globally produced plays have been exploring racial perspectives of Asian identity and Blackness for decades. Directed by actress, director, and scholar Rena Heinrich, the event will feature excerpts from Houston's new play Setting the Table, performed by professional actors. The readings will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by Heinrich that engages themes of multiculturalism, race and racism, and sociocultural illumination and distortion. Along with Heinrich, the panel will include the playwright and performers.

We wish to express our gratitude to the Performers’ Unions:





through Theatre Authority, Inc. for their cooperation in permitting the Artists to appear on this program. 

*Professional Ensemble:
Alison De La Cruz - Production Manager/Stage Directions 
Natsuko Ohama - Actor (Misao)
Zine Tseng - Actor (Yoshimi)
Chevaughan St. Clare - Actor (Billy)
Nona Johnson - Actor (Willa Jean)
AK Murtadha - Actor (Nathaniel)
Geoff Rivas - Actor (Diego)

Please register for the event if you would like to attend.

Speaker Bios:

Velina Hasu Houston
Distinguished Professor of Theatre in Dramatic Writing and Director of Dramatic Writing, USC School of Dramatic Arts
Velina Hasu Houston is honored by the Kennedy Center, Smithsonian Institute, Rockefeller Foundation, Japan Foundation, Wallace Foundation, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Theatre Communications Group, and others. She founded graduate playwriting studies at the USC School of Dramatic Arts, where she is Distinguished Professor, Director of MFA Dramatic Writing and Head of Undergraduate Playwriting, and Resident Playwright; she also teaches for the USC Jimmy Iovine Andre Young Academy and is an Associated Faculty Member of the USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture; and Affiliated Faculty with American Studies Ethnicity and East Asian Studies Center.


Rena Heinrich
Assistant Professor of Theatre Practice, USC School of Dramatic Arts
Rena Heinrich is an Assistant Professor of Theatre Practice in Critical Studies in the School of Dramatic Arts. She is a theater director and actor, who has been directing and performing professionally for over twenty years. As a scholar, her teaching and areas of expertise include race, representation, and gender in performance; Asian and Asian American drama; performance studies; and postcolonial theater.

Setting the Table by Velina Hasu Houston:

Cultural conflicts have seldom been so intelligently explored on the stage. The New Yorker

Houstons engrossing riff on the flip side of the American immigrant experience is a fascinating, elegant debate about differing perceptions of honor. The piece is a winning, subtly complex melding of Western theatrics and Japanese conversational oratory in which simple sentences are often fraught with untold layers of meaning.BackStage

Velina Hasu Houston explores Japanese and American ethnic distinctions to often stunning effects. The line between the quick and the dead is a fine one in Houston's cosmology, where spirits wander freely and the afterlife seamlessly melds with the now. Houston creates a timeless, timely parable of mother love and a woman wronged. Los Angeles Times

Houston herself plays a role as a counselor between two cultures and two countries and guides us to the most profound side of human psychology. Houstonevaluate[s] the misjudged characteristics of female immigrants, to articulate their voices in a poetic space, and to present to us a transnational feminist drama. Japanese Journal of American Studies

She has a unique lens as a Japanese American of mixed parentage that is an asset to Japan-U.S. relations at all levels because people can come to see a connection between our two nations that not only exists in documents and organizations but which is a living, organic relationship, exemplified by and embodied in individuals like Houston. Former Honorable Consul General of Japan of Los Angeles Kazuo Kodama on observing parallels between the lives of two mixed-race Asian artists Houstons work in drama Isamu Noguchi's work in fine art.

Image: Photograph by Velina Hasu Houston from the English study book of her mother.

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