Theatre Espirit Asia (TEA)
The story of the founding Theatre Esprit Asia (TEA) is, like many good ideas, a simple case of two people seeing a need and deciding they were the ones who would fill it. Co-founders Tria Xiong and Maria Cheng had worked to- gether in the Vintage Theatre’s production of Joy Luck Club. After that show’s successful run, both women remarked how wonderful it had been to connect with so many other talented Asian American actors and designers on the show and wished there were more good opportunities for them in the Denver area.
The mission statement for the company has three components:
- Give voice to Asian American narratives that address the contemporary human condition in areas of love, family, identity and immigration issues of racism, sexism, classism and cultural assimilation.
- Provide performance opportunities and nurture the growth of Colorado and US Asian American actors, directors and play- wrights.
- Promote community and understanding amongst the Asian American sectors and between TEA and other indigenous groups through theatre productions and other shared projects, particularly in areas of education and social justice.
- TEA encourages support both in terms of donations and participation in its productions and other sponsored activities.
- More information can be found on the website at www.theatre-esprit-asia.org.
Before long, the idea for their own company, which they named TEA, was launched. The creative ideas flowed easily and many collaborations between the two co-founders and others in their network sprung up quickly. The more challenging components of any young company involved governance and fundraising. That first season, TEA put together a board, by-laws, rounded up as many of the talented actors, directors and designers they knew, created a website, and then began the lengthy process of applying for non-profit status. (Ironically, the process took even longer than normal, almost 18 months; the assumption amongst TEA board is that the IRS scrutinized the documentation even more finely out of the assumption that there was a connection to the political Tea Party.)
Forthefirstyear,TEAcontracted with the Vintage to use the smaller of the two theatre spaces in the Vintage’s home in Aurora. In May 2013 Maria Cheng’s own Spirited and Sworded Treks, a one-woman comedy/drama, based primarily on Maria’s real-life experiences, premiered to critical acclaim. That production alternated with Dust Storm, Rick Foster’s brilliant portrayal of one man’s experience in the Japanese Internment camps during WWII. Both of these one- actor shows have also traveled to other venues for highly successful performances in the greater metro area.
The next production in October. 2013, was 99 Histories, a drama written by Korean American Julia Cho, and starring Tria Xiong as a troubled young woman looking to come to terms with her relationship with her mother. An Aurora Sentinel review of this show noted that the “young troupe has plenty of creative potential” and took on a substantive drama. The Board also approved the addition of a third co-artistic director, Sushma
Bagga, whose skills as a multi- talented artist and performer have been well known among Denver’s Indian American community for many years.
The second season 2014-2015 brought M. Butterfly, David Henry Hwang’s classic drama; Occidental Moon and One Night of Thunder, two original one-acts focused on Indian culture; and Fermata, another original play by Maria Cheng. By the time Fermata took the stage in May, 2015, TEA had moved into its new permanent home at the Aurora Cultural Arts District gallery on 1400 Dallas Street in Aurora. The main gallery space can now be transformed into a theatrical performance stage that seats 45-60 depending on the configuration. TEA’s current Board president, Jonathan Vogels, says that the “new space has really helped us establish a strong presence in the city of Aurora, whose commitment to the arts is strong and palpable. We are very excited to be a part of this scene.”
This season has already featured the structured workshop reading of Citizen Min, Holly Yasui’s bio- drama about her father, noted civil rights attorney Minoru Yasui. Coming in November/December will be Tales of the Asian West, a series of monologues featuring stories from Japan, Bhutan, Iran, China and India. TEA is also in the process of bringing on an executive director, who will help facilitate the fundraising and promotional aspects of the company, while assisting the three co-artistic directors with their vision.