On the twentieth episode of Backstage Pass with Lia Chang, I’m bidding farewell to the Year of the Tiger and embracing, my year, the year of the Water Rabbit by sharing my epic evening at Prospect Theater Company’s Gala at the Edison Ballroom, at which I was honored with the 2022 PROSPECT MUSE AWARD alongside Leonard Majzlin, Naima Kradjian, and Kenita Miller on May 1, 2022. Co-hosted by Jose Llana and Anika Larsen, the evening featured performances by André De Shields, Sean Mayes, Ali Ewoldt, Jonny Lee Jr., Jason Ma and more and aired on January 29, 2023 at 6:30pm on FIOS 34, RCN 83, Spectrum 56/1996, and streamed on MNN2.
I kicked off Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AANHPI) by receiving a 2022 Prospect Muse Award, alongside Naima Kradjian, Leonard Majzlin, and Grammy Award nominee and Drama Desk Award winner Kenita Miller.
Gold Mountain stars Ali Ewoldt (The Phantom of the Opera) and Jonny Lee Jr. sang “Your Eyes” accompanied by Gold Mountain‘s composer/lyricist, Jason Ma. Utah Shakespeare Festival presented the world premiere of Gold Mountain last November.
Watch the full episode below:
Tony, Emmy, and Grammy Award winner and Hadestown star André De Shields shared the story of how we met and worked together on the 1993 Off-Broadway production of Lonnie Carter’s Gulliver, in which I played his almost love interest, Princess Minor.
André brought me up onstage, sat me down in a chair, then proceeded to sing “How Deep is the Ocean” accompanied by Music Director Sean Mayes on piano, who created the band charts.
Excerpts from my speech:
“I will cherish this evening in my memory as long as I live. Thank you to André, Sean, Ali, Jonny and Jason for entertaining us in my honor, and to all of the artists and volunteers who have made tonight’s gala a success.
It is particularly fitting that I should be receiving Prospect’s inaugural Muse Award on the first day of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and to be honored for my life’s work of documenting my colleagues and contemporaries in the arts, fashion and journalism.
Video by Phil Nee
After years of working as a petite fashion model, acting in the downtown experimental theater scene, and in film and on television, I was disappointed by the lack of control that we have as artists and that we as artists of color were not properly represented in the mainstream media or the history books. I knew that I could make a different from behind my camera. I am grateful to be surrounded by so many of my muses tonight who inspire me and my storytelling everyday. Thanks to all of you here for allowing me to so intimately document your work and lives.
I would like to thank Prospect Theater Company for recognizing me and the importance of my archives. I am fortunate to have my photographs in the AAPI collection in the Library of Congress’ Asian Reading Room and in The Billy Rose Theatre Division of the New York Public Library for all of the world to access.
I dedicate this award to my mother Bev Umehara, a union labor activist and the San Francisco chapter president of APALA (Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance), who impressed upon me the importance of a life of public service, and to my father, Russell Chang, an amateur photographer who was my documentarian since birth.
And finally, a special shoutout to my sisters, Tami and Marissa, who have travelled from the West Coast and are documenting the night for me in video and stills; my Bev’s Girl Films filmmaking partner, Garth Kravits with whom I have created films that promote diversity and inclusion on both sides of the camera; and my ride or die brother from another mother, Jason Ma.”
Lia Chang is a Chinese-American actor, a multi-media content producer, an award-winning filmmaker, and a photo activist and documentarian, who lifts up and amplifies BIPOC communities and artists and the institutions that support them.
Lia moved to New York from her home in San Francisco when she was 17 years of age and made her stage debut as Liat in a national tour of South Pacific with Barbara Eden and Robert Goulet, directed by Geraldine Fitzgerald. She spent many years working extensively Off-Broadway, including Signature Theatre’s revival of Sam Shepard’s Chicago. Her film work includes Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, and The Last Dragon.
The decades of being viewed by others through the narrow lens of ‘Asian actor’ in the industry brought Lia to a turning point, and she picked up her camera, determined to create awareness by documenting the work and the lives of her BIPOC colleagues, resulting in the creation of thousands of photographs and pieces of video.
Her photo archives are housed in the AAPI collection in the Library of Congress’ Asian Reading Room under ‘Lia Chang Theater Portfolio collection,1989-2011’ and in the ‘Lia Chang Photography Collection’ in The Billy Rose Theatre Division of the New York Public Library.
Lia’s awards include the 2000 OCA Chinese American Journalist Award and the 2001 AAJA National Award for New Media. She is also an AAJA Executive Leadership Graduate, a Western Knight Fellow at USC’s Annenberg College of Communications for Specialized Journalism on Entertainment Journalism in the Digital Age, a National Press Photographers Association Visual Edge/Visual Journalism Fellow at the Poynter Institute for New Media, and a Scripps Howard New Media Fellow at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.
More recently, Lia co-founded Bev’s Girl Films, which makes films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. She executive produced and starred in the indie films Hide and Seek (AA Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Best Actress Nomination), Rom-Com Gone Wrong, and When the World Was Young (2021 DisOrient Film Audience Choice Award for Best Short Narrative).
Lia is honored to have worked with Prospect Theater Company on a shared mission of lifting up BIPOC theater artists and creating a more diverse and inclusive musical theater canon.
A retrospective of Lia’s photographs will be on view at the Museum of the City of New York later this year, documenting her BIPOC colleagues and contemporaries in the performing arts, which will include photos of Prospect Theater Company artists at work.
The evening’s lineup:
“Coming Back to You” from Notes from Now, music and lyrics by Peter Mills; performed by Adam B. Shapiro.
Drama League and Outer Critics Circle Award nominee Nick Corley presented the 2022 Muse Award to Naima Kradjian.
Since 1987, Naima has devoted her efforts to making a difference in the Greater Binghamton arts community. She is currently the CEO of Goodwill Theatre, Inc. which operates the Schorr Family Firehouse Stage which will be integrated into a Performing Arts and Conference Center Complex. Naima spearheaded the Johnson City Health and Cultural District Master Plan and was one of the founders of the multi award winning First Night® Binghamton New Year’s Eve Festival. She has received many state and local awards for community service including the national Jefferson Award for public service. Having worked with numerous arts and human services organizations, she currently serves on the board of the UHS Foundation and was previously a SUNY Broome Community College Trustee, a chair of Binghamton Forum, and on the advisory board of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in NYC. Naima also coordinated the Opening Ceremonies events for the three Empire State Games held in the Southern Tier. She resides happily in Endwell, NY with her dog Gunnar. Prior to living in Greater Binghamton, Naima was a professional actor, performing Off-Broadway and in several regional theaters. During that time, she also appeared on the soap opera “All My Children” as the gossip columnist Audrey Wilson and in national television commercials. While in Manhattan, Naima performed her one-woman cabaret act in several cabaret clubs and as the opening act for Eartha Kitt. She holds a B.F.A. degree in Performance and Theatre History from the University of Florida and attended Penn State University’s M.F.A. program. Naima has been a strong supporter of Prospect Theater Company for many years, partnering through the Goodwill Theatre’s “Broadway Bound” program on the development of multiple new musicals including The Hello Girls in 2018. During 2020, the Goodwill Theatre was a key partner for Prospect’s VISION series, providing residencies for Prospect artists and making it possible for the company to film four new short musicals in its historic theater property in Johnson City, NY.
“You Have Changed”, written and performed by Bandits on the Run, with Adrian Blake Enscoe on guitar, Sydney Shepherd on cello and Regina Strayhorn.
“I’ll Show ‘Em” from The Oscar Micheaux Project, music by Alphonso Horne and lyrics by Jesse L. Kearney, Jr.; performed by Jovan E’Sean, with Victor Gould on piano and Anthony Ware on soprano sax.
Artistic Director of The Acting Company Kent Gash presented the 2022 Muse Award to Kenita Miller.
Kenita Miller was a cast member of Prospect’s Off-Broadway hit “revisal” production of Working, which won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble. She is currently appearing as ‘Lady in Red’ in For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf and has performed in multiple Broadway productions including Come From Away (Hannah), the Original Broadway Production of The Color Purple (Celie), Xanadu (Erato/Kira understudy), and the Tony Award winning Broadway revival of Once On This Island (Mama Euralie – Grammy Nominee/Drama Desk Nominee). Her Off-Broadway productions include Langston In Harlem, for which she earned an Audelco Award as well as a Drama Desk nomination for her portrayal of Zora Neale Hurston; Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin (Granny); Bella: An American Tall Tale (Miss Cabbagestalk/Mama); Merrily We Roll Along; Wild Party; and Avenue Q. Some of Kenita’s memorable regional credits include the dual roles of Minnie McKnight and Angela in Parade, for which she won a 2014 Barrymore Award, Sarah in Ragtime and Timoune/Mama Euralie in Once on This Island. Her numerous film and television appearances include roles in tick, tick…Boom!, “Sesame Street”, “Bull”, “Hostages”, “Blacklist”, and Liberty City is Like Paris To Me. With her collaborative ensemble, The HawtPlates, she co-created Waterboy and the Mighty World, which was presented at the 2020 Under The Radar Festival, hosted by The Public Theater. In addition, Kenita is a faculty member at AMDA, the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.
“Al Otro Lado del Rio”, music and lyrics by Jorge Drexler; performed by Genesis Adelia Collado and Anika Larsen with Jaime Lozano on guitar.
Drama Desk Award winner Gretchen Cryer presented the 2022 Muse Award to Leonard Majzlin.
Born in Brooklyn, Leonard graduated from George School, a Quaker school in Bucks County, and from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He worked alongside Joseph Papp as a charter member of the New York Shakespeare Festival, and subsequently assisted producers Henry Guettel and Arthur Cantor on their national companies of Broadway musicals. After serving as an agent at the William Morris Agency, Leonard began writing, directing and producing films and videos in the corporate sector. In the 1980s, he shifted his focus to media and interpretive plans for museum exhibits. For a number of years, he produced media and museum exhibition plans with the American History Workshop in Brooklyn, NY. His work has been featured at BAM, The Museum at Eldridge Street, The Jewish Museum, The Arizona Historical Society, and The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, among others. He also produced the highly praised Off-Broadway musical To Whom It May Concern, written by Carol Hall and directed by Geraldine Fitzgerald. For NYU Steinhardt, Leonard developed and teaches its graduate course, Media Design for Learning in Museum Exhibits & Public Space. He is the Media Advisor to the Dramatists Guild Foundation Legacy Project, a series of video documentaries featuring thirty prominent playwrights, lyricists, and composers on the craft of writing. He continues to support The Music Hall at the Dramatists Guild Foundation, a free work space for playwrights, composers and lyricists established by his late wife, composer/lyricist Carol Hall. With Carol, Leonard was also a Trustee of the Grisham Foundation, which has supported Prospect Theater Company for over eighteen years. Most recently, Leonard underwrote script commissions for Prospect’s exciting VISION SERIES, a music-theater-on-film initiative. Leonard applauds Cara, Melissa, Pete and all the artists who have made Prospect one of the preeminent theater companies in New York.
“It’s Amazing the Things That Float” from the Flood, music and lyrics by Peter Mills; performed by Sherz Aletaha.
“Stories Like Air”, music and lyrics by Paulo K Tiról; performed by Liz Casasola, Genesis Adelia Collado, Michael Protacio, Alex Chester, David Rowen and Matthew McGloin.
The band for the Spring Gala was lead by music director Anessa Marie (piano), and featured Mike Forzano on Bass, Sasha Ono on Cello, Sunny Sheu on Violin, Brandon Wong on Drums.
Prospect’s Board Gala Committee members include Jane Abramson, Tira Harpaz, and Jason Ma.
I would like to also thank those who sent congratulatory messages in the program and slideshow: my Gold Mountain family, BD Wong, Yao King, Lily M. Fan, AALDEF, Liz Casasola, Elaine and Ti-Hua Chang, Max Chang, Lori Tan Chinn, Joel de la Fuente, Pauline Chang and Bob Baptista, Ken Davenport, Dramatists Guild Foundation, Steven Eng, Ariel Estrada, Peter Jay Fernandez and Denise Burse, John D. Haggerty, Francis Jue, Stephanie Grayson Arts LLC, Bert and Lorna Hill, Arlan and Lillian Huang, Timothy Huang, Laura Brandel and Haven Tuesday, David Henry Hwang, Christine Toy Johnson and Bruce Johnson, Jeff and Jusak, Marjorie Johnson, Lucy and Victor Kan, Joanna C. Lee and Ken Smith, Valerie Lau-Kee, Wing Lee and Jinny Chung, Telly Leung, Dar and Bill Lock, Jaygee Macapugay, Ma-Yi Theatre Company, NAAP, Jeannie Park and Kyung B. Yoon, The Sakachez Family, David Shih, Leigh Silverman, Vera Sung and ABACUS Federal Savings Bank, The Cre8sian Project, Theatrical Rights Worldwide, Paulo K. Tirol and Noam Shapiro, Ching Valdes-Aran and Suzen Murakoshi, Virginia Wing, and Perry Yung.
Jun. 1-Jul.1: Prospect Theater Company Presents New York Premiere of Award-Winning New Musical LIZARD BOY, Written by and Starring Justin Huertas and Featuring Kiki deLohr and William A. Williams at Theatre Row
Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer, activist, documentarian, corporate photographer and an Award winning filmmaker and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Lia is also the host and Executive Producer of BACKSTAGE PASS WITH LIA CHANG, an Arts and Entertainment and Lifestyle program that airs on Sundays at 6:30pm on FIOS 34, RCN 83, Spectrum 56/1996, and streams on MNN2.