Rick Shiomi: My journey at Mu

Arts / Article

By Rick Shiomi, Mu Performing Arts

As I took the stage to accept my Ivey Award for Lifetime Achievement, I thought about my journey at Mu, from the days in the early 1990s when I wondered if an Asian American theater company was even possible in Minnesota, to the last few years when Mu entered our “golden era” and is “still on the rise” (Graydon Royce, critic for the Minneapolis Star Tribune).

Rick Shiomi and his wife Martha Johnson at the Ivey Awards on Monday, September 24, 2012. Rick is the 2012 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Photo by Sara Ochs.

I still describe those first five years as “digging trenches”, setting down the foundations of the company, from the commitment to financial stability to the development of new Asian American talent.  In our second season we had to cut one of our main stage productions because we didn’t have the funding.  It felt like a major setback at the time but looking back it was the wise decision.  In our first production, we were working with actors without training or experience and we ourselves were relatively new to directing and producing.  And yet out of that first decade came extraordinary artists like Paul Juhn who is now working in New York, Jennifer Weir who is a talented director, dramaturge and taiko artist and a member of our Core Artistic Group, and Sun Mee Chomet, a successful writer and performer in the Twin Cities. That first decade was filled with crazy adventures, developing taiko within the company in 1997, developing news plays like Mask Dance which was one of the first plays to bring the Korean adoptee experience to the stage and has since been published by Rutgers University Press in Bold Words, edited by Srikanth and Iwanaga; 99 Histories by Julia Cho and Circle Around The Island by Marcus Quiniones; and discovering new talented actors like Kurt Kwan, Sherwin Resurrection, and Isabella Dawis.

We started our second decade off with a huge bang, our successful collaboration with Park Square Theatre on Pacific Overtures by Sondheim. That production was a major discovery that there was surprising pool of Asian American musical theater performers in the Twin Cities.  Actors like Sara Ochs and Laurine Price made their Mu debuts in those productions and Sara has gone on to play lead roles in our more recent successes with Flower Drum Song (the David Hwang revision), Little Shop of Horrors and most recently Into The Woods.  And the pool of musical theater performers has continued to grow with such wonderful artists as Randy Reyes, Sheena Janson, Eric Sharp, Katie Bradley, Suzie Juul and many more.  And these artists have come with more training and experience and have taken their opportunities at Mu with great energy and success.  Mu has become a powerhouse of talented and experienced artists who work together like a family, caring and sharing in a uniquely Mu way.

Michiko Todokoro Buchanan, Heather Jeche, and Jennifer Weir perform in Mu Daiko’s 15th Anniversary Concert. Photo by Michal Daniel.

So when I reached the podium, I asked all those who had worked with Mu to come to the stage, because the award was truly about them, about the success and impact they have had on the Twin Cities theater community.  And many of them are being cast in productions around the cities. They have indeed transformed how the larger theater community perceives Asian American theater and artists and that’s why I received the award.  It was an emotional moment for all of us, standing there on stage together, knowing that the years of hard work and creativity had not been in vain, and that this award is only the beginning of even greater work to come.

The cast and crew of Into the Woods outside the Park Square Theatre marquee. Photo by Sara Ochs.