May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in the United States, celebrating the rich history and culture of Asian Americans. A Washington-based theater company, Asian Stories in America, or ASIA, celebrates that culture all year long by presenting plays by or about Asian-Americans. This month ASIA is presenting staged dramatic readings of new plays at the Smithsonian Institution. The company's works are not necessarily "Asian-centric", but address issues faced by many minorities living in contemporary American society.
ASIA's recent dramatic reading of the new play, "Bee" by San Francisco playwright Prince Gomovilas, talks about bumblebees and their unexplained ability to fly. But mostly, "Bee" is a metaphor for two people who see their lives in terms of "black and yellow." It is a fantasy about Evan, a Korean-American man in his twenties who is invisible, and Gina, a 50 year-old African-American woman who is the only person who can see him.
Gina: "I still don't see how someone like me can be any help at all."
Evan: "I don't know. Maybe you don't have all the answers or have a secret potion. But you know what you do have to offer?"
Evan: "Your eyes. Looking at me. I can see my reflection in there. You know, this is the first time in a long time I've been able to see my own face."
Gina grudgingly agrees to help Evan find a cure, and during their adventure, this couple, who seem to have nothing in common, form a bond. In this scene, Evan tells Gina that he was in a Starbucks coffee shop when he first knew he was invisible.
"I went in on day and the woman completely ignored me. And I know it's not entirely implausible to be ignored by Starbucks' employees. I said, 'Hi! Can a have a double latte please?. . . .May I have a double latte? . . . Please? . . .Excuse me, Miss, can you help me? Can you hear me? Excuse, me, hello? Hey, I'm talking to you, I'm talking to YOU!' it took me several more days, several more situations like this before I realized exactly what the problem was that for all practical purposes, I no longer existed."
"It's obviously not as blatant as going right in front of someone and not being recognized. But we all can identify with that in some sort of way or another," says Edu Bernardino, an actor, director and founder of Asian Stories in America. "And with Gina, the African-American woman, she isn't invisible but she's very defensive," he says. "Every time someone says something to her, she thinks it's about, 'Is it because I'm black? Why did you say this?' which is pretty much the same with the Korean-American man. 'Is it because I'm Asian-American? Why can't you see me?'"
Director Edu Bernardino was an actor and set designer in Washington area theaters before founding ASIA three years ago. He says it's hard enough for a professional actor to find steady work. But he says for an Asian-American, as for many minority performers, it is practically impossible not to be typecast or even to get steady work at all. Mr. Bernardino's resolution was to form his own company and choose his own projects to offer more jobs to Asian-Americans and tell their real story. One of his planned shows, "One Hundred Million Miracles" is a showcase of music created especially for Asian-Americans on Broadway.
"And also we want a segment, that is also part of our mission that we're not just recognized as Asian American artists, but that we are artists. And a part of that project would be to have our artists perform numbers those 'dream' numbers (showstoppers) that they would probably never be selected for or looked at for . . .just 'because.' It's that whole 'invisibility' thing, again. And we have a bunch of great performers out there, so we can't wait," he says.
In three years, Edu Bernardino's theater company, ASIA has quadrupled its staff and is becoming recognized as one of the country's premier presenters of Asian-American plays. His next show, "Boyz of All Nationz: The Rise and Fall of a Multiethnic Boy Band" will have its world premier in September.