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Trauma, war and identity: AATP returns to live theater with ‘Among the Dead’

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Since its creation in 1978, the Asian American Theater Project (AATP) has been a well-established space on campus for students to uplift the stories and voices of Stanford’s Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community.

For its 2021-2022 season, AATP has chosen the theme of the “Future Perfect Continuous,” based on an essay by Olia Sosnovskaya that focuses on the power of revolution, the present as a source of overwhelming tragedy and the potential for imagination to be used as a tool for political movement. 

According to a statement written by artistic director Chloe Chow ’23, AATP draws upon the idea of the “Future Perfect Continuous” to “bridge together who we were and who we aspire to be, both as individuals and as the community of the Asian American Theater Project.” The theme provides AATP the opportunity to explore normalcy in the post-quarantine world as well as the themes of self and community growth. “Among the Dead” will be a production that takes its audience into a space of self-reflection and growth.

AATP executive producer Evelyn Kuo ’23 shared her reflections on this theme and the organization’s experience coming back to campus after a “lost year.” 

“We at AATP are embracing the feeling of linear disjunction and exploring the ways the past, present and future are all connected,” she said. “With regards to our season theme, ‘Among the Dead’ spans across multiple timelines and places, and it really highlights the way the past influences the present, but also the way depictions of history in the present influence the way we view the past.”

“Among the Dead” by Hansol Jung will be the first AATP production of the year and its first in-person play since the University’s pandemic closure. It explores the themes of intergenerational trauma, war and identity through Ana, a young Korean American woman who ventures into the past and finds herself in the shoes of a Korean “comfort woman” for the Japanese imperial army, who is known only by the name Number Four.

Artistic director Tiger Zhou ’22 explained that the play will be exploring the contemporary issue of “comfort women” as well as “social and political themes that resonate across generations” of Asian American families. Comfort women were women, predominantly from Korea, China and the Philippines, who were forced to serve in brothels for the Japanese military. Today, survivors such as Lee Young-Soo continue to seek justice for the abuse and trauma forced on them.

Less than 24 hours after their initial Instagram announcement, “Among the Dead” sold out. Hope Yoon ’24, director of the production, was surprised by this news. 

“AATP has always been a sort of alternative theater space on campus. It’s never really been a huge show that stays in MemAud (Memorial Auditorium). It’s always been [in] the smaller venues and about the lesser-heard voices in theater,” Yoon said. “So to see that the interest level at Stanford to witness [‘Among the Dead’] was so huge [and] a really nice surprise to me and also probably a testament to the fact that folks are more and more willing to listen to the stories that have historically been untold.”

The storytelling aspect of the show is crucial to understanding the impact of history and the way it is told to subsequent generations. Yoon’s vision for the play is to show how history and certain events in time continue to impact an individual’s identity and inflict intergenerational trauma even long after their occurrence. 

 “It’s up to us to continue to tell that story first of all, but also to recognize that how we tell these stories is going to continue to influence whether that history repeats itself in the future,” Yoon said.

Alison Rogers ’25, who portrays Ana, found she was able to relate to her character because they share the identity of being half Asian and half white. Rogers views the role as a meaningful opportunity to use theater as a tool for exploring her identity.  

“Ana spends the play discovering a lot about her identity, her past and her parents’ history. Ana grew up in the United States as a half Asian, half white girl, which can be confusing for someone,” Rogers said. “It was confusing for me growing up, and getting to play a character that struggles with those same aspects of identity is the first time I’ve ever gotten to do that and that’s really big for me.”

Unlike Rogers, David Mazouz ’23 does not personally identify with his character Luke. Instead, he has had to endeavor toward “understanding his cowardice, selfishness, the human choices and from a certain perspective, namely the perspective of Number Four.”  

While Mazouz may be ambivalent about his character, he hopes to portray him “authentically.” Mazouz hopes for the audience to reflect on their journey with Luke and their own socio-political positions during his monologue towards the end of the show. 

Similarly focused on stewarding her role with authenticity is Junah Jang ’24, who stars as Number Four. Jang explains the historical significance of her character’s role as a “comfort woman”: “The biggest challenge is making sure that I’m able to represent the character true to how real girls were treated during that time. That means giving her a lot of emotional depth and agency.”

Jang is no stranger to the play script, having played a different role in her high school’s production of “Among the Dead,” and she looks forward to the new perspective she will gain through her role as Number Four.  

Ahmed Abdalla ’22, on the other hand, will make his stage debut as Jesus, a divine character with a modern twist, in “Among the Dead.” Abdalla decided to give acting a try because he hopes to engage in critical and experiential manners with the play and with acting as a discipline.

“This is one of the last times I’ll have the opportunity to do something in an environment where learning is a thing that is possible. It just seemed like the perfect time,” Abdalla said.

Though Abdalla has enjoyed his rich learning experiences in the theater, he expressed some nervousness over performing for such a large audience. 

“After realizing that the show was sold out, we were all visibly more nervous and stressed,” Abdalla said. “For weeks you practice this just in the context of like four or five people and you feel like it lives in that space… it really hit [us] that over hundreds of people are going to be seeing this and sharing this experience with us. There was a new energy in the room.”

Yoon hopes AATP’s audience will “feel like they’re a very active part of that storytelling and of that act of framing and reframing.” Similarly, Zhou hopes the audience walks away with an understanding of the issues explored by the show and a “deeper curiosity about themselves and their own family history.” 

“Among the Dead” has a waitlist open and will be giving out unclaimed tickets at Nitery Theater beginning at 7:50 p.m. each night for the three shows spanning Nov. 18-20.

This article has been updated to reflect that Alison Rogers shares her half Asian, half white identity rather than a half Korean, half white identity with the character she plays, Ana. The Daily regrets this error.

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Ximena Sanchez Martinez '23 is a writer for the Arts & Life section. Contact The Daily’s Arts & Life section at arts ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.