Ma-Yi Theater Company Records

Date Range: 19892008
Survey Conducted: Mon, 2008-11-24
Creator: Ma-Yi Theater Company

History: The Ma-Yi Theater Company is a non-profit professional organization that gives voice to Asian American experiences through the development of plays and performances that push Asian American aesthetics beyond stereotypical Orientalist markers. The name “Ma-Yi” comes from the pre-colonial name of the islands that the Spanish named the Philippines. Ma-Yi was founded in 1989 by a group of six former University of the Philippines students and Godabil Theater Company members. Godabil arose in the Philippines during the politically tumultuous last years of Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship (1965-1986). Member actors employed vaudeville expressionism as a form of street protest until notice of its activities by the military impelled some of its members to emigrate. Years later, several former members reuniting in New York City decided to found the Ma-Yi Filipino Theater Ensemble, Inc. as a means to address concerns about the stereotypical nature and paucity of roles available to aspiring Filipino actors. The company originally held a predominantly Filipino orientation but it has since expanded to become a venue for pan-Asian American talent and works. The company initially solicited and translated plays from the Philippines, but soon found that plays produced by Filipino Americans better resonated with their America-based audience. In 1999, the company made a decision to expand their mission to cover works of American playwrights of all Asian origins.

Subsequent years have seen the company developing an increasingly multi-ethnic talent pool and producing ever-riskier plays. In 2004, Sung Rno launched the playwright collective – Ma-Yi Writers’ Lab – as part of his NEA/TCG Playwright’s Residency at Ma-Yi. The invitation-only collective is designed to foster professional development and peer-to-peer collaboration through monthly meetings and presentations of works-in-progress, workshops, writing retreats, professional showcases, and playwright commissions. The innovative works produced by up-and-coming and established playwrights in turn create opportunities for Asian American actors to hone skills, collaborate, and take creative risks. In 2006, the company published Savage Stage: Plays by Ma-Yi Theater Company, an anthology that featured nine plays that Ma-Yi commissioned, developed, and premiered. Several critical essays by Ma-Yi’s Literary Manager, Josephine Barrios-LeBlanc, PhD, were also part of the anthology.

As part of its advocacy mission, Ma-Yi presented the “Performing Ethnicity Arts Festival and Conference” in 2004. Comprised of a 3-day conference and 2-week arts festival that drew national and international scholars. “Performing Ethnicity” investigated the legacies of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair – in large part celebration of America’s new role as a colonial power and its influences on the development of contemporary culturally specific works. In 2007, the company helped organize the first American contingent of artists to the World Social Forum (WSF) in Nairobi, Kenya. As a follow-up to their participation in WSF, members of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab presented panels and led discussions on how art and artists can affect social change in the first United States Social Forum.

Through its advocacy and publicity efforts, insistence on artistic excellence and fiscal responsibility and nurturing of creative risks, Ma-Yi has become the leading Off Broadway company challenging narrowly-conceived popular expectations of culturally specific theater.

Sources: Barrios, Joi. “A Hunger for History: A Study of Ma-Yi Theater Group’s Project: Balangiga.” MELUS 29, no. 1 (Spring, 2004): 253-281.

“About.” Ma-Yi Theater Company. Accessed February 3, 2015.

“Ma-Yi Theater Company.” Wikipedia. Accessed February 3, 2015.

Pincus-Roth, Zachary. “National Asian American Theater Festival Planned.” Playbill News. March 12, 2007. Accessed February 3, 2015.

Shewey, Don. “Theater; A Troupe That Sought An Asian American Role.” New York Times. Mar. 4, 2001.

Summary: Ma-Yi Theater Company’s collection spans approximately 74 linear feet and comprises of financial files, production series files, press and marketing files, artist and designer files, computer files, props and artifacts, publications, and documentation of past events. The bulk of the material dates from the past ten years, although older material such as incorporation documents and old event programs dating back to the company’s founding exist in condensed form.

Ma-Yi’s current financial series comprises of foundation, corporate, and government grant files and bank statements, old checks, and other records that document the company’s financial transactions over the past two years. These records are retained in office cabinet files while older records in the series dating back to 2000 are kept in office storage.

The company’s production files are similarly stored according to their status as active or inactive files. Working production files comprises of the Associate Director’s and the Stage Manager’s books dating back to the past three years. Contents of the Associate Director’s books include calling scripts, financial contracts, correspondence, and information about performance spaces. The Stage Manager’s books contain information such as performance reports, the latest script changes, sound cues, light cues, and music CDs. Two to three books per show are kept for current shows. Older production files that have been condensed to include only the most important documents are kept in office storage and date back to 1998. DVD documentation of the company’s organization of the “Performing Ethnicity Conference and Arts Festival” and its participation in the World Social Forum and U.S. Social Forum are included in their production files.

The company houses props and artifacts it has used in productions in an 11 x 5 foot office storage room. These include lighting and sound equipment, instruments, props, costumes, and set designs used in recent shows as well as approximately 7 linear feet of historical show-specific props and artifacts, including costumes tribal members custom-made for the company in the Philippines.

For its artists and designers, the company keeps files containing headshots, resumes, and applications among its working files. Within the storage room are 2008 script submissions, the copyrights to which are held by the submitting authors.

Press and marketing files comprise approximately 7 linear feet and consist of old articles and reviews of company shows. Present in the collection are also one linear foot of framed posters and an old lobby display. About twenty linear feet consists of copies of Ma-Yi’s 2006 anthology of plays Savage Stage and about one linear foot consists of copies of company member Jessica Hagedorn’s novel Dream Jungle (2003).

Documentation for the company’s shows and events exists in several formats that include one-and-a-half linear feet of old programs that date back to the company’s beginnings in 1989, slides, digital photographs, and approximately one linear foot of tapes recording Ma-Yi’s shows. These exist in VHS, CD, DVD, and mini-DV format. The slides document shows predating the company’s transition to digital photography in 2001.

Beginning in 2003, the company has been generating many of its records on office computers. The office currently uses 6 un-networked computers that operate both Mac and PC systems. Each staff member maintains his/her own hard drive and electronic files. The company maintains full recordings of shows, graphics, photos, and other media used for marketing production mainly on its Mac computer and uses its PCs to generate administrative and financial files, document how the process of current shows are going, and store working scripts. Many of these computer files are printed out on paper, creating some duplication of information. Data is backed up on CDs. Back-ups for Ma-Yi Executive Director Jorge Ortoll’s electronic file exists for 1999 through 2008 and 2003 through 2008 for Associate Director Suzette Porte’s files.

Total Size: 74 linear feet, 74 boxes, and electronic files
APA-related Size: 74 linear feet, 74 boxes, and electronic files
Languages of materials: English
Arrangement: other
Location: Ma-Yi Theater Company offices
Bibliographic Control: none
Conditions Governing Access: Currently inaccessible to the public.

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