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In 2004, a new national tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic THE KING AND I began a journey across the country. It was directed by Baayork Lee, veteran director/choreographer and Broadway dancer. She was assisted by Nina Zoie Lam and Steven Eng, both established performers in their own right. Though each of the three had known and worked with the other separately, it was the first time these three worked as a team, with Baayork steering the ship and Nina Zoie and Steven supporting.

In discussing their own experiences as theater artists of Asian heritage, they discovered a common desire to find some way to improve work opportunities for professional artists like themselves, as well as exposing communities like they had been brought up in to the professional theater.

When the KING AND I tour completed in 2005, Baayork was struck with the concern that the full cast of adults and children would be out of work. Particularly for the children, the completion of this tour meant that their lives would once again return to no exposure to the theatre, even after many had expressed a strong interest in the art. As a result, Baayork began a summer musical theatre school in New York City’s Chinatown, employing both Steven and Nina Zoie as teachers as well as bringing in other well-established artists to instruct. The success of this program resulted in several more sessions being held the following summer, allowing the children to perform classic works of the musical theatre (as well as a dabbing in Shakespeare), and providing affirming artistic role models.

Baayork would go on to direct several more highly-regarded productions, including the national tour of BOMBAY DREAMSand the New York City Opera production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA, again assisted by both Nina Zoie and Steven. With CINDERELLA, Baayork became the first Asian-American to direct at the nationally regarded company. And under her artistic leadership, CINDERELLA would boast one of NYCO’s largest Asian/Asian-American representations for a non-Asian specific production, with professional Asian artists onstage, in principal understudy assignments,


and on the creative team. While the production was not by any means Asian looking, it simply had more Asians involved across the board that the company had experienced before.


It became more evident with each successive project that artists of Asian descent had a unique voice to offer, whether or not the project dealt specifically with Asian cultural matters. Also, there were untapped communities longing to explore the theatre as well as younger generations thirsting for role models for affirmation.

It was time to take on these issues through a more organized long-term vision. They felt a personal investment needed to be made, so they took the necessary steps to form a not-for-profit theater company that would be national in scope. It was important that Asian communities and traditional theater audiences around the country (not just in New York or Los Angeles) experience high-quality work from professional Asian theater artists onstage, as well as be given the chance to learn from them in educational workshops. Hence, National Asian Artists Project, Inc. (NAAP) was created.

The inaugural project for NAAP was a co-production with Oconee Performing Arts Society, based outside of Atlanta, Georgia. In late 2009, they created a concert staged version of THE KING AND I, employing 9 professional actors from New York (8 of Asian descent), 1 local professional, and 23 local children of various ethnicities. Performing onstage with them was the impressive Atlanta Pops Orchestra. Equally essential was the workshop that 2 of the professional actors conducted at a local elementary school, where they engaged the full 600-member student body in choreography and music. This artistic and educational triumph was a prime example of the pursuit of NAAP’s mission.

With the success of its first project, NAAP looks forward to creating a long history of arts advocacy and education through high artistic quality.

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