Faces of Asian America: Being a Composer and Lyricist | #APAHM2014

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Tim Huang is a composer and lyricist living in NYC.

I am a composer, lyricist, Asian dude.  I am a writer of theater living in New York City.  Among my more notable credits are a few one acts for Prospect Theater Company, York Theatre, and Baayork Lee’s National Asian Artists Project.   I was a 2008 MacDowell Fellow, a Dramatist Guild Fellow and a founding member of the Asian American Composers and Lyricists Project.

My full length, Costs of Living, was a selection of the 2012 ASCAP Musical Theater Workshop hosted by Stephen Schwartz, the BMI 2012 Master Class hosted by Stephen Sondheim, a finalist for the 2012 American Harmony Prize and a nominee for the 2013 Weston Playhouse New Musical Award.  My newest piece, Peter and the Wall, was selected for the 2013 Rhinebeck Writers Retreat alongside pieces by Duncan Shiek (Spring Awakening), Heidi Rodewald and Stew (Passing Strange), and Adam Gwon (Ordinary Days)

How do you see yourself in regards to being a composer and lyricist?

For me, being a composer is best defined as Truth Speaker.  I say this for two different reasons.  The first of which is, to be an artist should always be synonymous with being a truth speaker:  truth to power, truth to ones’ own insecurities etc.  Not everyone will agree with me but I feel like it’s an artists’ responsibility to shine bright lights in dark corners, wherever they may be.  So on a very broad, basic level, that’s what I try daily to be.  The second reason I say that is because of (and this pertains to my life as a theater writer and in particular a writer of musical theater) the obligation I feel I have to speak the very plain truth that folks who look like me (and you) are grossly underrepresented or at best misrepresented in mainstream media.

For reasons which belong in a different blog (and I’m happy to discuss them with anyone who is curious) it is still very much in vogue to equate a story featuring an Asian American protagonist with “The Immigrant Story.”  And surely, there are many that fit that bill.  But would you be totally blown away if I told you there were twice as many that were not, that existed outside the canon, that were JUST as well written, JUST as gratifying and JUST as beautiful that will never see the light of day?  It’s true.  Because the economics of producing commercial theater (and, I presume although I do not know firsthand) the economics of producing commercial film and television also) demand that certain concessions be made in the name of appealing to a wider audience.  i.e., people tend not to think a story is about THEM and THEIR experience when the lead character doesn’t look like them or come from their home state.

Which I find to be a little puzzling because surely I don’t have to have had breast cancer to know that I can participate in the annual walk, or raise money for the Kumen foundation.  But that seems to still be the nature of how we live despite the many, many steps forward we have made since my early twenties when I was auditioning for the Miss Saigons and the Kings and I. But until the day I can go to see Kung Fu by David Henry Hwang, (whose name is literally printed on every ticket,) and be immediately told by the box office attendant that my tickets aren’t there because she looked under W and not H, I will continue to cast THIS particular light on THIS particular dark corner.  And yeah, that actually happened last week.

How has being an Asian American affected your life as a composer, or vice versa?

Well this gets to be a little tricky.  Because ultimately, as a free person, every direction my career goes in is a choice made by me.  Which is to say I’m responsible.  This is what I signed up for.  But being who I choose to be frequently comes at the cost of having meaningful relationships with more influential folks in my industry.  Which, in turn, amounts to being less popular or known than my more esteemed colleagues.  The subjects that I am moved by don’t often move those who might offer me greater exposure.  If that makes any sense.  To which I simply grin and say “Challenge accepted.”

Contact Info/Shameless Plugs

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Tune in every day this month for Reappropriate’s daily “Faces of Asian America: Being X” series, which will profile an awesome Asian American in celebration of AAPI Heritage Month.

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