This Q&A was co-written with Annissa Gao.
Yaya Wang is a theater producer, hostess and CEO of a youth arts academy. She recently immigrated to the United States and produced the off-Broadway hit The Little Match Girl. Yaya used to host the “Yaya Show” in China and was a TV broadcaster. She is committed to using citizen art for social change and empathy.
Tell me about your experience immigrating from China and producing your first show in the United States?
I had lived in China for thirty years before immigrating here. I brought my husband, my children, my parents and my cat. When we arrived, we had no place to live; I didn’t understand the culture or English; my children had no school to attend. However, within two weeks, my daughters were able to go to school and I found accommodation for my family and me. At the same time, I always tried to seize every opportunity and started rehearsals for A little match girl. COVID-19 hit and Broadway closed, but I was able to produce many shows in China and hope to create more in America now.
Through your productions, what do you hope to convey?
I hope to transmit diverse cultures and empower young people. Right now I’m 40 and I don’t want to waste my time. I have found my passion and have 2 daughters, and I think this period is one of the best times to pursue my career and personal goals. I hope to empower and highlight young people on stage. Also, I hope to showcase diverse cultures. I’m currently working on Mulan and I love producing shows about women. All the shows I’ve done have focused on women and young people. I want to create shows that can be shown around the world to embrace unity between all different types of groups and ideas – an international echo chamber of unity.
How has COVID-19 affected your productions?
I think that’s one of the biggest factors holding Broadway back from moving forward. I produced The Little Match Girl off-broadway and prepared for the series for a year. We did 7 productions of this show, and COVID-19 happened, so we had to stop the show. I haven’t been able to open a running salon in the US for the past 2 years.
Recently, I was able to put on The Little Match Girl, but the theater has closed again. Also, during the last 2 years, actors and comedians can change jobs and/or move on. I personally know an actress who was on Broadway and is now working at Disney in Orlando due to the lack of opportunities on Broadway stages.
We started to see East Asian representation in arts and TV shows. Why not so much in the theater?
More and more Asians and Asian Americans are part of Broadway. Asians and Asian Americans are incredibly hardworking, and I’ve seen a growing increase in racial representation on Broadway, but of course there’s still a lot of room for improvement. In Hamilton, two Asians play the main characters. I felt represented and heard – I hope to create that welcoming feeling for more audience members in the future.
Do you have any advice for budding AAPI artists?
I hope AAPI artists will continue their passion for the arts and advocate for greater representation of BIPOC artists on stage. It is difficult to dismantle systems of power that oppress so many communities, but through policy change, unity and dialogue, we can reach more diverse theatrical spaces.
In the future, I want to create an Asian Broadway alliance/coalition to build a community of Asian artists and champion representation in theater spaces. I also urge the young people of AAPI to be confident in their abilities and to seize all the opportunities they may have. Young people must have self-confidence because they are the future generations for the arts.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on a production of Mulan, which will have an all-Asian cast. This show will focus on bold and powerful Asian culture, and I hope it will be an opportunity for more Asian actors and actresses.