Ping Chong is an internationally acclaimed theatre artist and pioneer in the use of media in the theater. Since 1972, he has created over 100 works for the stage which have been presented at major festivals and theatres worldwide. He has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, a USA Artist Fellowship, two BESSIE awards, two OBIE awards and the 2013 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. He is the recipient of the 2014 National Medal of Arts, the highest honor specifically given for achievement in the arts to an individual artist in the United States. In 1992, he created the first work in the Undesirable Elements series of community-based oral history projects of which there have now been over 50 productions. His puppet theater work CATHAY: Three Tales of China was commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for its Festival of China in 2005 and was presented at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, New Victory Theatre, the Vienna Festival and the World Puppetry Festival in Chengdu, PRC. His adaptation of Kurosawa’s THRONE OF BLOOD, was presented at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival in 2010. Theatre Communications Group has published two volumes of his plays The East West Quartet and a volume on Undesirable Elements. Recent projects include Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity, exploring the diverse experiences of Muslim communities in the United States, and Collidescope 2.0: Further Adventures in Pre- and Post-Racial America, exploring the complex history of racial violence in the United States, both of which will be touring in 2016-2017.
Why is Ping Chong appropriate to be the recipient of the Ellen Stewart Award?
Ping Chong’s visionary approach to theater juxtaposes artistry and innovation while addressing urgent social justice issues of today, bringing stories to the stages of communities whose voices are often not represented in traditional theater settings. As a leader in the field of socially innovative theater, Ping Chong’s work transcends boundaries, exploring the interconnectedness of cultures, and questions how “otherness” is addressed in society. Through his signature Undesirable Elements series, Ping Chong has created over 50 interview-based theater productions working with local community members in specific locations to testify to their first-hand experience of difference. Through these works, and his larger multidisciplinary projects, Ping Chong consistently challenges established perceptions of community and identity, addressing issues of diversity and inclusion and featuring otherwise unheard voices on stage. A recent example is Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity which features 5 young New Yorkers sharing their personal experiences growing up in post 9/11 New York City during a time of rising Islamophobia and fear of otherness in the United States. Ping Chong’s artistic process is based in a collaborative, ensemble method, creating a discourse about pressing issues through an artistic approach that highlights inequality, engages traditionally marginalized communities, and provides access to authentic dialogues about social injustice.
Key accomplishments and impact of the work
For over 40 years, Ping Chong has created original theater works addressing the important cultural and civic issues of our times. Through Ping Chong + Company (PCC), he has created productions in partnership with cultural organizations and grass-roots community organizations, as well as university programs and students ranging from 5th grade to 12th grade, to highlight untold stories, encourage community dialogue, and create tools for change. PCC has created theater productions with youth/young adult performers that focus on the experiences of young immigrants in Atlanta and Seattle (Undesirable Elements 2001 and 2004), child refugees in the United States (Children of War, 2002), survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (Secret Survivors, 2010), and experiences of Inner City Youth (Secret History: The Philadelphia Story, 2008). These productions have been presented in professional theater settings, as well as touring to youth and community centers and Non-government Agencies, and have been featured on national media outlets. In addition, PCC offers in school arts education programs in New York City, serving up to 500 students per year. Students, many of whom have never had theater opportunities before, see a professional theater production and work with a PCC teaching artist to develop their own personal narratives and work as an ensemble to share them on stage. Many of these students are immigrant or first-generation students from disadvantaged public schools who have little to no access to the arts.
“Beyond Sacred” is an exercise in empathy, not polemics: a lesson in human understanding, drawn from real lives.
The New York Times (2015)
Having observed one such residency in Flushing, Queens, I can attest to the remarkable efficacy of teaching this form of storytelling to students, who are empowered by the structure of the “Undesirable Elements” style and emboldened by the respect granted to their personal stories.
Amelia Parenteau, writing in Extended Play “From Muslims in America to Child Soldiers in the Congo: Ping Chong Values Underheard Voices (2015)
This, like any good drama, holds a mirror up to reality, and makes us reflect on our own time, tensions, and even prejudices as we listen to people who have had to give up so much of their own cultures in order to assimilate into a new one. It’s a story we’ve heard before, but perhaps, not enough.
Syracuse Post-Standard review of Tales from the Salt City (2008)
Compelling true stories were promised and delivered in “Inside/Out . . . Voices From the Disability Community,” presented over the weekend at the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater by VSA Arts. The show, part of writer-director Ping Chong’s “Undesirable Elements” series, used a recital format (chairs, scripts, microphones) to fine effect as seven people wove their tales into a riveting chronology.
The Washington Post, 2008
To produce such deep, complex and surprising illusions in a film would be an achievement. Onstage they seem miraculous.
The New York Times review of Kwaidan (1998)
Excerpt from Collidescope
Excerpt from Beyond Sacred (password = beyond sacred)
Excerpt from Secret Survivors
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