Los Angeles Theater Companies Leave L.A. Stage Alliance After Asian Actress Misidentified At Ovation Awards

More than 25 Los Angeles area theater companies, including the Geffen Playhouse, the Pasadena Playhouse and the Deaf West Theatre, have revoked their memberships in the L.A. Stage Alliance after the nonprofit organization misidentified and mispronounced the name of Asian actress Jully Lee at an awards show earlier this week.

The L.A. Stage Alliance has issued an apology and pledged to undertake “a visible and transparent transformation.”

The incident occurred Tuesday night at the virtual Ovation Awards for local theater productions. Lee’s first name was mispronounced when the nominees for best featured actress were read, and a photo of another Asian actress was shown onscreen.

Lee was nominated for her performance in Jiehae Park’s Hannah and the Dread Gazebo, a co-presentation of East West Players and the Fountain Theatre. The following day, East West Players left the organization, posting an Instagram statement saying, in part, “The mispronouncing of our names combined with the sentiment that all Asians look alike is not new. However it particularly stings when the evening is supposed to be about raising the visibility of LA’s theater community and celebrating our artists.”

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East West also decried the Alliance’s traditional practice of recognizing only one theater per production, even in the cases of co-presentations or co-productions. “Every time East West Players co-produces in an effort to bring Asian American actors more visibility in LA theatres, the other, predominantly white organization is solely listed and uplifted,” the statement says. (Hannah and the Dread Gazebo was presented with the Fountain Theatre, which was credited throughout the awards ceremony.)

In solidarity, a growing number of theater companies have revoked their memberships from the Alliance throughout the week, including the Pasadena Playhouse, Geffen Playhouse, Center Theatre Group, Deaf West Theatre, A Noise Within, Rogue Machine, Boston Court, Latino Theatre Company, Playwrights’ Arena, 2 Cents Theatre Group, Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, Inkwell Theater and Artists At Play, among others. (Deaf West Players, whose acclaimed production of Spring Awakening won a 2016 Ovation and was nominated for three Tony Awards, also cited the Alliance’s failure to provide closed captioning and ASL interpreting as a reason for its departure.)

“We stand with @EWPLayers and are revoking our membership from the LA Stage Alliance, effective immediately,” the Geffen tweeted. Pasadena Playhouse tweeted that it “stands with our producing partner #EWPlayers in revoking our membership to the @LAStageAlliance following last night’s Ovation Awards.”

The roster of exiting theater companies posting the hashtag #LeavingLASA grew so quickly that last night East West Players tweeted a thank-you to its allies along with a “quilt” of the supporting companies:

Lee, a Korean-American actress and director, wrote in a tweet that she “was not the only person misidentified with a wrong photo/name mispronunciation. I was just the 1st one of the night. #DoBetter doesn’t even scratch the surface.” On the LA Stage Alliance’s Facebook page, Lee wrote, “Can you also post public apologies for Mike Millan and Joshua Bitton? I’m sure you have a list of other people who felt slighted or disrespected at the ceremony… owning up to these mistakes would be to acknowledge all of them instead of focusing on the mistake that had the most attention on social media.”

LA Stage Alliance, which has its origins in two separate organizations –  the Los Angeles Theatre Alliance service organization founded in 1975 and The League of Producers and Theatres of Greater Los Angeles trade association founded in 1983 – serves more than 500 arts organizations from across Greater LA, according to the organization’s website. More than 300 of are dues-paying members.

Last July, the Alliance furloughed several staffers due to the Covid pandemic but later announced that it would proceed with its annual Ovation Awards. The pre-recorded show, in which the nominees’ names were read in a voice-over, was hosted by Celebration Theatre Artistic Director Michael A. Shepperd (who, by various reports, correctly announced the winners’ names.)

In its apology, LA Stage’s board of directors wrote that it “takes full responsibility for the mistakes made in the Ovation Awards presentation on Tuesday, March 30. We sincerely apologize to Jully Lee and to the AAPI community, as well as to our members, voters, and the community at large.

“A written apology,” the organization continued, “can only do so much, especially when there are underlying issues that need to be addressed. LA Stage Alliance takes its dedication to equality and support of its diverse theatre community and representations seriously. With that in mind, effective immediately, LA Stage Alliance will focus on undertaking a visible and transparent transformation so it can be held accountable to the community it serves.”

The organization said it will take what it called the following “initial steps”:

  • “Create a task force of diverse theatre representatives and artists to review, assess, and modify LASA’s mission, services, and allyship to the BIPOC and marginalized community”
  • “Create an advisory board with diverse theatre stakeholders to review and revise its Ovations Awards policies and procedures and assure adequate BIPOC representation on all Ovation committees”
  • “Create an operations plan that supports its members, voters, and programs at large.
    Create new partnerships and develop relevant programs for the benefit and equitable treatment of all its members”

 

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