UPDATE: APRIL 5, 2021 – The Los Angeles Stage Alliance (LASA) announced early this morning that it would “cease all operations” following the departure of more than 25 of the group’s 150 participating theater companies. That exodus followed accusations that LASA showed disrespect to Asian American actress Jully Lee and theater companies representing diverse artists including East West Players and Deaf West Theatre.
Initially following the the member exodus last week, LASA announced plans to undertake diversity initiatives. However, by Monday, a statement released by the organization described a very different path.
“It is with deep regret that the board of governors has unanimously decided to cease all operations for L.A. Stage Alliance,” the organization wrote. “We’ve had many challenges like many other organizations and at this time we are unable to continue.”
— lastagealliance (@LAStageAlliance) April 5, 2021
APRIL 2, 2021 – At least 26 of the region’s best-known theater companies have exited the L.A. Stage Alliance (LASA), a group representing local theater companies and the organizer of the annual Ovation Awards, in protest of the organization’s treatment of theater professionals of color.
While concerns about LASA’s record have come up for several years, the Los Angeles Times reports that the current firestorm was set off by an incident involving East West Players and actress Jully Lee at the Ovation Awards on Tuesday night.
East West Players is one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious Asian American theater companies. At the awards show, two plays co-produced by the company, Hannah and the Dread Gazebo and The Great Leap, were credited exclusively to East West’s collaborators, Fountain Theatre and the Pasadena Playhouse, respectively.
“Every time East West Players co-produces in an effort to bring Asian American actors more visibility in L.A. theatres, the other predominantly white organization is solely listed and uplifted,” East West wrote in a statement on Instagram that began the #LeavingLASA social media movement. “This is what erasure of our work and our community looks like.”
Jully Lee, star of Hannah and the Dread Gazebo, was nominated for her role–but her name was mispronounced by presenters and the photograph shown on screen was of an entirely different Asian American actor.
“This wasn’t a personal attack on me by L.A. Stage Alliance. Clearly I didn’t matter enough for it to be personal,” Lee told the Times. “I just felt like a nameless, faceless, Asian person that happened to be nominated for one of their awards.”
Amid the current climate of awareness regarding racism and violence toward AAPI people in the U.S., the slights struck a nerve with viewers of the awards and those who learned about what happened online afterwards.
“There was so much anger and pain that was being expressed. It wasn’t just me, it was what this mistake represented for so many people,” Lee said.
After East West announced it would be cutting ties with LASA, other companies quickly came out to say they would as well–showing solidarity with East West, and expressing their own concerns about LASA.
Deaf West Theater noted that it requested the awards include closed captioning or an ASL interpreter for the Ovation awards, but none was provided in spite of Deaf West being nominated for multiple awards.
Latino Theater Company posted a statement saying it would revoke its membership in LASA “until it aligns with our mission of reflecting artists from all communities of Los Angeles in all of its diversity and intersectionality.”
East West collaborators Pasadena Playhouse and Fountain Theater are also among those revoking their LASA memberships, as are institutions including Center Theatre Group, Geffen Playhouse, and others. The #LeavingLASA tag on Instagram features an array of statements from local companies large and small.
In response to the criticism, LASA issued a statement apologizing to “Jully Lee and the AAPI community,” though not mentioning East West Players by name.
“L.A. Stage Alliance takes its dedication to equality and support of its diverse theater community and representations seriously,” the statement reads. “With that in mind, effective immediately, L.A. Stage Alliance will focus on undertaking a visible and transparent transformation so it can be held accountable to the community it serves.”
The statement from LASA also contains a list of what it characterizes as “initial steps,” including the creation of a new, diverse task force that will review and reassess the organization’s mission and activities, establishing a more diverse advisory board to specifically address issues with the Ovation Awards, and create partnerships and programs “for the benefit and equitable treatment of all its members.”
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