Ping Chong is a theater director, choreographer, and video installation artist. Born in Toronto and raised in New York City’s Chinatown, he is a seminal figure in the Asian American arts movement and a pioneer in the use of media in theater. His theatrical works bring his unique artistic vision to bear on major historical issues of our times and focus on bringing unheard voices and underrepresented stories to the stage. Encompassing puppetry, dance, documentary theater, sound, and other experimental theater forms, his works have explored a wide variety of subjects, from a hidden genocide in Africa to modernization in China to the experiences of Muslim youth in post-9/11 America. Throughout, the common thread has been a unifying commitment to artistic innovation and social responsibility.
Since 1972, as founder and artistic director of Ping Chong + Company, he has created over 100 productions which have been presented at major theaters, festivals, and museums worldwide. Major interdisciplinary works include Collidescope: Adventures in Pre- and Post-Racial America (with Talvin Wilks; University of Maryland, 2013; University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2015; Wake Forest University, 2017), Throne of Blood (Brooklyn Academy of Music, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 2010), Cathay: Three Tales of China (John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2005), Kwaidan (Center for Puppetry Arts, Jim Henson Festival, 1998), Deshima (Mickery Workshop, 1990), Nosferatu (La MaMa, 1985/1991), Angels of Swedenborg (1984/2011), among many others.
[The words “Art is” appear, followed by scrolling words…Empathy, Practice, Hope, Change, Beauty…it stops at Action. Art Is Action.]
[Multimedia performances, installations, and workshops are interspersed throughout the video from puppeteers to live stage productions.]
Ping Chong, theater director and artist: For me, it’s about the urgency of being a proactive artist. We’re drifting so far away from our humanity, not only because of politics but because of technology, that we need to retrieve who we are. In my own work, I’m creating spaces for ordinary citizens to feel empowered to speak onstage, telling their own truth.
There’s been over 60 productions with different communities—with the Congolese community, victims of war, with folks who were sexually abused as children, with people who have disabilities. Part of my work is also about healing. It’s about helping people feel reaffirmed. That has value in helping to create a society that’s more just and more humane.
[The words “Art is” appear, followed by scrolling words…Action, Expression, Change, Creativity, Hope…it stops at Justice. Hashtag Art Is Justice. Agree? Share this video.]
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In 1992, he created the first Undesirable Elements production, an ongoing series of community-based oral history projects, working with real people to explore issues of culture and identity. Representative works in the UE Series include Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity (LaGuardia Performing Arts Center and touring, 2015) Inside/Out: Voices from the Disability Community (Kennedy Center, 2008), Cry for Peace: Voices from the Congo (Syracuse Stage, 2010), and Gaijin (Yomiuri Prize, Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre, 1995). His puppet theater work ALAXSXA|ALASKA premiered in August 2017 at the University of Alaska Anchorage and will be presented at La MaMa in October. Theatre Communications Group has published two volumes of his plays, The East/West Quartet and Undesirable Elements: Real People, Real Lives, Real Theater. Chong is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a USA Artist Fellowship, two Bessie Awards, two Obie Awards, a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, and a 2014 National Medal of Arts. He lives in New York City.