LA Stage Alliance Disbands After Awards Ceremony Blunder

Jully Lee, an actor and director, had a bad feeling about this year’s Ovation Awards, the annual competition honoring stage work in greater Los Angeles. She was a voter who had never been told when the ceremony would be, and she learned she was a nominee only when she was given 48 hours to submit a pretaped acceptance speech for use in the event that she won.

She watched anyway.

What she saw was not good. The awards ceremony, streamed online last week, showed a picture of a different Asian-American actress when announcing her category. And it mispronounced her name.

Lee laughed, reflecting a lifetime of trying to be a good sport. But her boyfriend grabbed a screenshot, and posted it on social media, and he was not the only one.

The reaction was swift, and furious, as long-simmering frustration over the functioning of the LA Stage Alliance, which administers the awards, combusted with the pain and anger of an Asian-American community devastated by a wave of anti-Asian violence.

Forty-six theaters resigned from the alliance — about a third of its members. And on Monday, the organization, which for nearly a half-century had been the main coalition for a sprawling theatrical ecosystem in the nation’s second largest city, announced that it was disbanding.

“It is with deep regret that the board of governors has unanimously decided to cease all operations,” the group said in a statement posted on social media.

The rapid implosion was precipitated, most recently, by East West Players, the Asian-American theater that co-produced “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo,” the play in which Lee performed. (In another slight, the Ovation Awards attributed the production only to the Fountain Theater, saying it would not credit co-producers.)

The morning after the ceremony, Snehal Desai, the producing artistic director for East West Players, announced that his theater was revoking its membership in the alliance, and urged others to do the same.

“I felt like I needed to make a strong statement, because we were paying to be part of this organization that was diminishing us,” Desai said. “And I did call on other theaters to join us, because I wanted more than statements of support. Statements don’t do anything.”

Many of the region’s theaters, which had been speaking up in support of diversity, equity and inclusion, first in response to the unrest over racial injustice last summer, and then again in response to hate crimes this spring, followed suit.

“This was an inexcusable, terrible, unfortunate act, but it was also emblematic of a bigger failure of the LA Stage Alliance in the past few years,” said Danny Feldman, the producing artistic director at Pasadena Playhouse, who said the organization’s inadequacy had become more clear during the pandemic. “They lost the confidence of the community, and this was the tipping point.”

The LA Stage Alliance was a nonprofit, dating back to 1975, that sought to support theater in Los Angeles. In addition to overseeing the Ovation Awards, it maintained onStage:LA, a website with listings and ticket discounts and published a digital arts magazine called @This Stage.

Last summer the organization furloughed its staff; emails to the executive director, Marco Gomez, were answered by a publicist, Ken Werther, who said the leadership was declining to make any further comments.

Lee, in an interview on Monday, said she was uncomfortable being seen as the face of the controversy, but also upset about the events that had transpired.

A Rise in Anti-Asian Attacks

    • A torrent of hate and violence against people of Asian descent around the U.S. began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Community leaders say the bigotry was spurred by the rhetoric of former President Trump, who referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus.”
    • In New York, a wave of xenophobia and violence has been compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities. Many community leaders say racist assaults are being overlooked by the authorities.
    • In January, an 84-year-old man from Thailand was violently slammed to the ground in San Francisco, resulting in his death at a hospital two days later. The attack, captured on video, has become a rallying cry.
    • Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in the Atlanta massage parlor shootings on March 16. The suspect’s motives are under investigation, but Asian communities across the United States are on alert because of a surge in attacks against Asian-Americans over the past year.
    • A man has been arrested and charged with a hate crime in connection with a violent attack on a Filipino woman near Times Square on March 30. The attack sparked further outrage after security footage appeared to show bystanders failing to immediately come to the woman’s aid.

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