HomeChinese American15 minutes with award- winning playwright Lauren Yee

15 minutes with award- winning playwright Lauren Yee

By Louis Chan, AsAmNews National Correspondent

It’s a summer day in New York City. Birds are chirping and children can be heard gleefully screaming in the background.

It sounds like a setting for a new Lauren Yee play, except this is real.

The 30-something writer is taking some time for a walk while simultaneously fulfilling her obligation to grant an interview to AsAmNews.

This after spending the day working on a script for a show still in development.

Multi-tasking is something you might expect Yee to be good at. After all, prior to the pandemic, she was on track to be the second most produced playwright in the country.

Her most recent play- The Song of Summer is in the midst of a four week run at the San Francisco Playhouse. King of Yees will be produced by the Sierra Madre Playhouse in California next month, followed by The Great Leap at the San Jose Stage Company and the Round House Theater in Maryland the following two months. The Cambodian Rock Band will launch its national tour next spring.

The native San Franciscan and New York transplant is fulfilling a life long ambition. She’s also written for television (Pachinko on Apple TV) and has aspiration to write a film in the future.

She knew as early as her years at Lowell High School in San Francisco that she wanted to be a writer. Yee never caught the acting bug, so didn’t get involved in the drama department while at Lowell. Instead she started her own group.

“I formed my own theatre company,” she told AsAmNews during a phone interview. “So it was it was a lot of like, self taught.”

She wrote a ten minute play, Remembering the Zodiac, based on her interest in the Chinese zodiac and entered it in a contest by the Asian American Theater Company. While never produced, the script got a dramatic reading and set her on the path she’s on today.

Yee says from the beginning, she just wrote about the “themes that I was interested in as a human being.” The Yale grad says her parents have always been supportive, helping her to fold programs and even building sets.

“My parents were born and raised in San Francisco. Some of my grandparents were born and raised in California. As a family that are not recent immigrants, I think that there’s more of a sense of stability, you know, that allows future generations to kind of follow fields that may not be as traditional.”

She estimates half her plays are about Asian American identity and the other half about topics that catch her attention. Both King of Yees and The Great Leap were inspired by her father’s life story.

RELATED: The Song of Summer sizzles in its own insecurity

News stories about a copyright dispute between Robbie Thicke, Pharrell Williams and the estate of Marvin Gaye spawned The Song of Summer.

The play about a relationship between Robbie, a shy not-so-confident teen who grew up to be a rock star and Tina, an assertive and confident young woman who never achieved her high ambitions, serves as the premise of the play.

The Song of Summer stars Monica Ho and Jeremy Kahn. SF Playhouse photo by Donny Gilliland

“I think I was interested in the idea of homecoming. this musician, a one hit wonder, is coming back home and what is he coming back home to? And who was he, you know, years earlier? And I was just interested in kind of, if there was this relationship, that was that was unfulfilled or unfinished”

She says both Tina and Robbie are more alike than their exteriors show. The young Tina comes across as both brassy and sexually aggressive.

“I think like both of them has this sense of armor that protects them emotionally. It comes out in terms of regret, it comes out in terms of aggression and I think for him it comes out in terms of vagueness and plausible deniability. Putting on this sense of bravado is a way of shielding her, you know, herself, like the more complicated emotions she feels underneath, like how to express them.”

Filming has already begun on Pachinko, an eight-part limited series based on the novel by Min Jin Lee. It’s release date has yet to be set.

Yee could not talk about the other show she is working on that is still in development.

She could not tell me what the future holds other than to say “I can’t wait.”

We can’t either.

The Song of Summer is scheduled to close August 14 at the San Francisco Playhouse. Tickets are available for both in person viewing or on demand streaming.

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