By Randy Gener
New York director Victor Maog recently took over as Artistic Director of Second Generation (2g), the 17-year-old company that supports emerging Asian-American voices. In addition to freelancing on plays and musicals, Maog founded a seasonal outfit called Waterwell Summer Theater Lab and has been the Director of Perry- Mansfield’s Theatre Department since 2008.
During his first season at 2g’s helm, Maog produced three showcase projects: “Instant Vaudeville: Breaking Bamboo,” a short-play festival at HERE Arts Center in New York City; “Community Voices: The Next GenderAsian,” a concert-style reading of six 10-minute plays about what it’s like to be queer and Asian-American today; and “2G: Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” an anniversary showcase at Joe’s Pub inside the Joseph Papp Public Theater building.
“Instant Vaudeville: Breaking Bamboo” was a series of eight original works by new and emerging Asian-American artists. A staple of 2g’s annual programming, it challenges teams to create live theatre in a fast, furious and collaborative manner over the course of one week. Each team creates six- to eight- minute pieces of theatre. Playwrights were asked to create around the idea of the bamboo ceiling: the processes and systems that prevent Asian-Americans from rising in the corporate world.
“Community Voices” brought together new and unheard writers from the Asian-American community who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, two spirit, queer, trans and gender non-conforming. Led by Deen, a first-generation South Asian- American playwright and performer, this writing workshop supported queer, Asian writers interested in exploring their relationship to “gender.”
Hosted by the ukulele-wielding Jen Kwok, “2G: Sixteen Going on Seventeen” brought together a number of commissioned works. Maog wrote in the evening’s program that he has asked 2g’s artists to begin to question their place in society and the very definition of being an Asian in America. “This night is about Asian representation,” Maog wrote. “More, it’s about how we can be leaders in artistic innovation and diversity and inclusion.”
“Just fair warning everybody,” Maog told the audience at Joe‘s Pub. “There’s going to be a lot of Asians on the stage.”
The evening showcased sneak peeks of five of the company’s upcoming plays and musicals-in-progress, including A Smooth Transition, by Mrinalini Kamath; Not Far From China, by Anna Moench; Galois the Musical, by Sung Rno and Aaron Jones; Daddy Taught Me How to Woo, by Lolan Buhain Sevilla; and songs by Adam Gwon, who is working on his first Asian-American musical.
Maog continued: “Each of these writers tonight is answering a personal dare. Each of them said, ‘Yes,’ to their commission on the spot, and then they ran out and bought a very small yacht with their money.”
A member of the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab, Partial Comfort Productions, Gotham Stage Company, and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, Maog has been a mentor director for the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival and served as a U.S. Delegate to the 31st International Theatre Institute/UNESCO World Congress in Manila.
RANDY GENER: What productions have you definitely scheduled for the 2013-2014 season?
VICTOR MAOG: A lot of it depends on funding. We’ve given away our programs for the last five years. It’s been a radical access to the Asian-American story, but we’re determined to take our commissioned pieces to the next level of workshop and production. The public can look forward to tracking these pieces and artists throughout the 2013-2014 season. This will come in the form of evolving public iterations of the work and insight about the creative process and the artist’s back story. Our supporters are asking us to go big or go home. Therefore, our audiences and artists are part of this creative evolution from 2g’s beloved short plays that build community to full-lengths that require the time, space and resources to be part of the national conversation about art, inclusion, and Asian-American-ness. We accept that challenge.
2g is the hub for the next generation of form-bending, ceiling-breaking, morbidly-gifted Asian-American talent. I’m honored to be asked to take on leadership at a time when there is a national dialogue about Asian representation. There is no reason Asian artists should account for only 2 percent of roles on major New York stages. Simply put, 2g’s family of actors, writers, directors, and designers are – bar none – some of the best creators, thinkers, and rule-breakers I know.
Two of the main thrusts you focused on were “Instant Vaudeville” and “Community Voices.” What were the other main thrusts you focused on for your first season as A.D.?
Embedded in those two programs are some of our philosophical underpinnings. With “Instant Vaudeville,” we asked our artists to work on the theme of “bamboo ceilings.” Through the short play form, and in front of a diverse 18- to 35- year-old, hot-to-trot crowd, we were able to spark a conversation – with pandas, musicals, dance theatre — about struggles for Asian Americans in the corporate workplace. Many met our artistic community, but also some of our struggles. Seeing a bunch of Asians and their diverse friends invading the Irish Pub down the street after the show alone is grant-worthy. I live for those intersections.
We want to be accepted by mainstream theatres. In fact, we partnered with McCarter Theatre of New Jersey’s literary department to dramaturg all our plays in “Instant Vaudeville.” We began to ask ourselves who in our own community were we marginalizing. 2g created “Community Voices” to create a groundbreaking space for unheard voices. With three local grass-roots organizations — GAPIMNY (Gay Asian Pacific Islander Men of New York), Q-Wave (organization for people of Asian Pacific-Islander descent), and SALGA (South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association of New York City), we invited six first-time playwrights of the Queer API community to write 10-minute plays based on their relationship to gender. These pieces were presented at La MaMa E.T.C., shepherded by a professional cast. They self-published, and you saw one of Lolan Buhain Sevilla’s plays [entitled “Daddy Taught Me How to Woo”] at Joe’s Pub. It’s quite a trajectory for a new playwright. And extraordinarily validating in this moment in American history.
The biggest shift we have been making at 2g is to recognize the fact that we have a responsibility to our artists, audiences, and the public to capitalize on our talent, intellect, artistry, and being a social hub and to allow ourselves to model the sort of changes we want to see in the world: ones of artistic innovation, diversity and inclusion, personal risk, and radical access.
What are the three main thrusts you seek to improve upon for your upcoming 2g season?
PARTNERSHIPS. We are looking for individuals, foundations, and institutions who want to invest in our next big step. That means moving to full productions, steps to a fair pay-scale, and shedding greater light on our mission, our work, and revising lopsided systems. Some large and rather unlikely partners have already stepped forward to promulgate our mission of putting Asian-American stories on the world stage.
FRIENDSHIPS. We want to create more points of live, real-time experience for people. We had a cool, diverse, money-spending crowd invade The Library at the Joseph Papp Public Theater. It was packed that night. And I want more opportunities to make a 2g community that comes for the art but also the hang. Over the last few years, the public has had very few contact points with our organization. I’m now devising a new program that aims to avoid simply commodifying plays and musicals. This initiative, when launched, treats our creators and audiences as citizens, a community brought together — through a series of events — by the mission of 2g.
PRODUCTION. We want to do major productions of works we commission. We haven’t done that in too long a time. We don’t want to be known as a development center, the middle man. I believe we have the skill, talent, and responsibility to produce and premiere the work in New York City.
 Randy Gener is a founding editor of Critical Stages/Scènes critiques, an award-winning writer, a freelance dramaturge, and an artist in New York City. He is World News Editor of The Journalist.ie, Series Editor of NoPassport Press, and Founder of In the Culture of One World (CultureofOneWorld.org), a cross-media project devoted to cultural diplomacy and international exchange. A former Village Voicecontributor and cultural critic, Gener received the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism, among other prestigious awards, for his essays and editorial work in American Theatre magazine. Author of the plays “Love Seats for Virginia Woolf” and “Wait for Me at the Bottom of the Pool,” Gener served from 2007 to 2012 as the curatorial producer/adviser of “From the Edge: Performance Design in the Divided States of America,” the USA National Exposition in the 2011 Prague Quadrennial of Performance Space and Design in the Czech Republic. www.randygener.org