Since its founding in 2004, the Chinese Heritage Foundation has supported area theater companies whenever they have planned a production with a Chinese connection. The History Theatre’s production of A Hundred Men’s Wife, based on the life of the first Chinese woman immigrant to MN, received one of the Foundation’s first grant awards. In addition, the Foundation invited one of Liang May Seen’s granddaughters, Barbara Woo Bjornaas then living in Seattle, to return to Minnesota for a reception. This granting activity continued with a 2010 funding to the Children’s Theatre for its production of Disney’s Mulan; a 2012 award to the Stages Theatre for its production of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, based on the book by Chinese American author, Grace Lin; and a reception for author C. Y. Lee at Theater Mu’first production of The Flower Drum Song.
In 2017 the Foundation stepped up its support of the theatre arts by underwriting the attendance of young Chinese American students at the History Theatre’s production of The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin, written by young Chinese American playwright Jessica Huang. The response was so positive that the Foundation decided recently to underwrite more free tickets for young Chinese American families to attend Theater Mu’s current production of The Princess’ Nightingale. On May 13, Mother’s Day, 250 young Chinese families took advantage of the Foundation’s offer and attended, for free, a matinee performance of this wonderful Chinese adaptation of the familiar Hans Christian Anderson tale. After a rapt performance many families stayed behind to greet artistic director Randy Reyes. They listened as Reyes described the Theater’s efforts to create the authentic Chinese production they had just seen: from having Chinese calligraphy projected via shadow puppetry, to incorporating Chinese operatic movements and the well-known Chinese folk song The Jasmine Flower into the chorus. Afterwards Reyes received many thoughtful questions such as how to navigate in an American society while keeping one’s Chinese heritage in mind, and he continued to address them in the reception afterwards.
Both Theater Mu and the Foundation were thrilled with the interest generated by this joint event and plan to work closely together in the future to engage more young Chinese American families in the theater.