APA Spotlight: Rick Shiomi, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Mu Performing Arts

APA Spotlight is a weekly interview of Asian Pacific Islander Americans (APIA) community leaders. It is a spotlight on individuals who have dedicated their careers to issues surrounding the APIA community with the goal of bringing much deserved recognition to their work and cause(s).

Rick Shiomi has been one of the leaders of the Asian American theater movement for over twenty-five years. He is a co-founder of Mu Performing Arts (based in Minneapolis, Minnesota) and has been the Artistic Director since 1993.

As a playwright, his plays include the award winning Yellow Fever which played Off Broadway, in Japan and around North America, and many others such as Play Ball, Rosie’s Cafe, Mask Dance and Journey of the Drum. As a director he has worked extensively with Mu, directing Yellow Face by David Hwang, Temple of Dreams by Marcus Quiniones and an Asian American production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

As the Artistic Director at Mu Performing Arts he has overseen the development of many new plays including Cowboy Versus Samurai by Michael Golamco, Ching Chong Chinaman by Lauren Yee and 99 Histories by Julia Cho. He led Mu Daiko, the taiko group of MPA from 1997 to 2009 and serves on the Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists, the first national Asian American theater network. He has served on panels for the NEA and he is the 2007 recipient of the Sally Ordway Irvine Award for Vision.

The mission of Mu Performing Arts is to produce great performances born of arts, equality, and justice from the heart of the Asian American Experience.

What is the mission statement of your life?
Work to create a global acceptance of Asian North American culture and perspectives.

How did you end up doing what you’re doing?
I always wanted to write (bad poet and prose writer) but didn’t find my voice and medium until I worked with the Asian American Theater Company in San Francisco in the early 1980’s where I had my first play Yellow Fever produced. Then fell in love with all the artistic facets of theater from playwriting and directing to prop and set work. I was a co-founder of Mu and have been the artistic director since 1993.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see play the lead role as you?
As a young man, maybe Eric Sharp, as a middle aged man, maybe Kurt Kwan and
as an aging cowboy riding off into the sunset, maybe Randy Reyes (all actors
who work with Mu)

How can people find out more about your organization or get involved?
Go to our website muperformingarts.org. Or write me at ricks[a]muperformingarts.org

If you had a crystal ball, what do you see for the future of the Asian Pacific Islander American community?
A growing dynamic community and culture with lots of API’s breaking the glass ceiling in all kinds of fields.

Bonus Question: What advice do you have for young professionals? Would you give different advice for young Asian Pacific Islander American professionals?
To young professionals in general I’d say think creatively and outside of the box but never let your work ethic lapse because great ideas need action to happen.

To young API professionals, the sad reality is still that you have to work harder and be more creative to level the playing field. But why settle for the box others want to put you in. In other words, be a creative but practical optimist because pessimism makes waking up in the morning hard.

Bonus Question: What are your comfort foods and what memories do you have associated with them?
Ochazuke. I can still taste the ochazuke my mom used to make for me when I was a kid growing up in Toronto.

Bonus Question: What’s your guilty pleasure?
Eating carbelicious foods on my new high protein/fat diet.

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About Koji Steven Sakai

Writer/Producer Koji Steven Sakai is the founder of Little Nalu Pictures LLC and the CEO of CHOPSO (www.CHOPSO.com), the first Asian English streaming video service. He has written five feature films that have been produced, including the indie hit, The People I’ve Slept With. He also produced three feature films, a one hour comedy special currently on Netflix, and Comedy InvAsian, a live and filmed series featuring the nation’s top Asian American comedians. Koji’s debut novel, Romeo & Juliet Vs. Zombies, was released in paperback in 2015 and in audiobook in 2016 and his graphic novel, 442, was released in 2017. In addition, he is currently an adjunct professor in screenwriting at International Technological University in San Jose.
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