The FOB tour of Chinese restaurants in Minnesota

Arts / Article

By Randy Reyes, Artistic Director Mu Performing Arts

If you travel to small towns across Minnesota, you will notice a peculiarity about their restaurant offerings, something that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. In these small towns, with little cultural diversity, there is always a Chinese restaurant. This brought up questions for me about the restaurant owners. How did they end up in the middle of Minnesota? And how many people living in these towns and eating in their restaurants actually know their stories?

At the same time, for several years Mu Performing Arts has performed an edited version of the Obie Award-winning play FOB by David Henry Hwang as an educational outreach offering, performing in schools, conferences, cultural training sessions, and more. The play is set in a Chinese restaurant with only 3 actors and explores themes of immigration, tradition, and assimilation. One of the most dynamic venues where we performed this outreach version was at a Chinese restaurant in a Minneapolis suburb about 5 years ago. I actually performed at that event and remember how the restaurant environment – with the décor, smells, and sounds – really added to the telling of the story.

So when the possibility of touring came up, FOB seemed like a perfect way to bring the Chinese immigrant story to these small towns in greater Minnesota. Mu would produce the full version of the play in Chinese restaurants. But we didn’t think that doing the play was enough, we wanted to add an educational element to the experience. So before the weekend of performances, we will be hosting ‘Tea Time’, where a Mu teaching artist will be giving a presentation about the history of Chinese immigration to Minnesota. This presentation will also include the stories of that particular town’s Chinese restaurant owner and their family.

Thanks to the Minnesota State Arts Board Arts Tour Minnesota grant program, we were able to fully realize this exciting project! We are partnering with the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, Twin Rivers Council for the Arts in Mankato, The Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing, and C4 in Rochester. Each of these amazing arts organizations secured a Chinese restaurant (Jin Hu Restaurant, New Great Wall, Golden China, and Kingdom Buffet, respectively) to host our performance. We wanted to make the performance as accessible as possible, so for only $5 you get amazing Chinese food and a profession performance of FOB. Where else can you get fed and entertained for $5?

The tour runs from June 7–29, 2014. Visit our website for more information.

Mu Performing Arts is committed to telling stories from the heart of the Asian American experience. Through this tour – our first ever theater tour – we will be able to share these stories with a community where culturally specific theater on this professional level is not offered on a regular basis.

And playwright David Henry Hwang said about our tour, “I couldn’t be more excited about Mu’s Minnesota Chinese Restaurant tour of my play FOB. Like many Chinese of my generation, I had relatives in the restaurant business, and this play was written in part as a tribute to their spirit. Performing it now in those restaurants themselves brings the journey of this play back full-circle. I hope everyone enjoys the show; I know they will enjoy the food.”