Sophia Skiles on Shakespeare VI: Asian American Artists, Making American Theatre

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Sophia Skiles is a theater performer and theater educator. She has performed in work directed by many including Anne Bogart, Richard Foreman, and Mary Zimmerman with strong ties to Ma-Yi Theater and the National Asian American Theater Company.

With over 20 years of experience in acting and teaching, Sophia taught in public schools throughout NYC, pre-college students at Northwestern.

Shakespeare as a dramatist is someone who invites radical remaking of power. He gives language to women, who were considered less than powerful. And gives them a go at power. And sometimes they fail, but you get these moments on stage, where they had claimed the power.” – Sophia Skiles

I met Sophia through a mutual friend, John Haggerty, who has appeared twice on Feisworld Podcast. Sophia and John performed in a groundbreaking production of Shakespeare called Henry VI, which was made possible by the NAATCO (National Asian American Theater Company)

Henry VI has an all-Asian cast, a first of its kind. The show went on between August 11 and September 8 in New York City, after weeks of rehearsal among the cast members. The cast members rehearsed 3.5 hours each night including weekdays and weekends. Sophia has two children. The commute to and from New York City would have been tough enough.

“This Country Has Always Been a Wonderful Place and Experience for Some People. But It’s Also, at the Same Time, an Awful Place for Those Who Have Been Left Out of That Promise. But It’s an Incredible Promise, Liberty and Justice for All.”

image asset | Feisworld

It’s not easy to be an artist, and especially challenging if you are Asian American. Hollywood’s hiring freeze: Female, Black and Asian directors rarely worked in 2017 films” – according to this article. Asian actors are often an afterthought with very few roles to consider.

Learn more about Henry VI:

Recommended reading: “The Bigger Theatres Still Don’t Think About It,” Says Asian Theatre Company Founder on Diverse Casting

But just as theatergoers become acclimated to the artificial verse of Shakespeare’s characters, NAATCO’s audience quickly adjusts to the unconventional casting. Katigbak shows confidence in an audience’s ability to accept the reality of the stage world. NAATCO’s shows often have elements of abstract staging, underplaying the realism even in a script like Chekhov’s Seagull. “If we continue to give the audience something to chew on, something really good to experience — I can’t say I want them to forget that we’re Asian, but it’s no longer a factor.” BY AARON GRUNFELD, JUL 11, 2015

image asset | Feisworld

Show Notes:

  • [05:00] Who is the perfect audience for the show?
  • [07:00] What is the play about and how did you manage to get that all-Asian cast?
  • [09:00] How long have you been an artist? Can you share a bit of your background and story behind theatre?
  • [11:00] You’ve been pursuing theater since high school. What’s your role as a teacher?
  • [13:00] What intrigued you to write about the casting process?
  • [17:00] What’s your take on Asians being underrepresented in theater plays and movies?
  • [20:00] The show is a lot about humanity and vulnerability. Is that on purpose? What’s your take on that?
  • [23:00] Being an Asian artist or producer is tough in the US. It’s hard to get hired and to stand out. What has been your experience in that regard?
  • [28:00] Can you summarize the plot of the play?
  • [32:00] The show is provoking us to think about the current role/identity of the Asian culture within America and social differences. What are your thoughts on that?
  • [35:00] America is also a land of opportunities, food, stories, and people. Networking. What has been your experience and how can we make sure we make the most out of that?
  • [36:00] How are the rehearsals and what do you do to actually remember so much text? How’s the support from other artists?
  • [38:00] How is the dynamic with the rest of the cast?
  • [40:00] How do you prepare for uncertainty and things you cannot control during the play?
  • [47:00] How do you manage to have family/children and also rehearse and perform?

Favorite Quotes:

[09:00] It’s really unlike any other creative space, as an Asian-American artist, to be making American theatre, in that way.

[14:00] The whole premise of art is about transformation, is about change, it’s about bringing questions to things.

[24:00] You want to feel like the world is familiar and strange at the same time. And that’s what great art should do. I think this piece really aspires to that.

[27:00] For me, Shakespeare as a dramatist is someone who invites radical remaking of power. He gives language to women, who were considered less than powerful. And gives them a go at power. And sometimes they fail, but you get these moments on stage, where they had claimed the power.

[33:00] This country has always been a wonderful place and experience for some people. But it’s also, at the same time, an awful place for those who have been left out of that promise. But it’s an incredible promise, liberty and justice for all.

tn 500 naatcohvi4photobywilliamp.steele | Feisworld
tn 500 naatcohvi3photobywilliamp.steele | Feisworld
tn 500 naatcohvi1photobywilliamp.steele | Feisworld

Photo Credit: William P. Steele

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