We are thrilled to announce a staged reading of ILLEGAL in Queens on August 28th! Admission is free, thanks to our sponsors, Chinese American Youth in Civil Services. Please join us and spread the word:
Location: LeFrak Concert Hall, Copland Music Building, Queens College For the nearest parking lots and campus entrance, use this address: 153-49 Reeves Ave, Flushing, NY 11367 https://kupferbergcenter.org/directions /
In honor of Immigration and AAPI Heritage Months, we are happy to present a preview of Illegal to the Chinatown/LES community in support of OCA-NY and UA3 who provide vital services and advocacy to NYC’s underserved populations.
UA3 is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization that serves populations most often overlooked, including racial minority groups, seniors, people with disabilities, domestic violence survivors, and undocumented immigrants. In addition to providing food to the community members to combat food insecurity, it aims to also focus on breaking down barriers and bridging the racial and cultural divide. Where the pandemic has created an atmosphere of anti-Asian hate, UA3 works with every racial, ethnic, religious background individuals and groups with the common theme of unity in solving community issues and working together to guide and help members back to basic wellness and qualify of living in mainstream society.
OCA-NY is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1976. OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates – New York is a chapter in a national non-profit civil rights organization promoting and protecting the political, economic, and cultural rights of Asian Pacific Americans in America. We are interested in working with anyone who shares our mission of creating a stronger America by advocating for the values of equal liberty and justice for all.
This will be a fun afternoon with author, playwright, and acoustic punk raconteur, Alvin Eng and myself. Alvin and I haven’t lived in Chinatown, but my late dad was born & raised there. I feel blessed to introduce Illegal to my dad’s hometown, alongside his cousin, Alvin!
Alvin will read from his new memoir, Our Laundry, Our Town, and I will perform a few songs from Illegal: A New Musical. We may have a little surprise to share as well. Come join us!
Celebrate Immigrant Heritage: AAPI History And Storytelling With Illegal: A New Musical
During this live event, Composers Skyler Chin and Sita Sunil will give a presentation about Asian American history, how historical anti-Asian bias and racism have shaped today’s society, and how we can use storytelling to respond to pandemic-era anti-Asian hate, combat prejudice, instigate justice, and inspire empathy. To demonstrate the power of storytelling in action, a few songs from Illegal will be performed; and the presentation will conclude with a Q&A with the musical’s creative team. This event will be presented twice, on 4/21 and 4/28, at 6:30-7:30pm.
We were invited to perform at Bronx High School of Science recently and had a blast presenting a selection of songs from Illegal and answering questions from the Bx Sci community in a Q&A after the show. Thanks to Brian Tong, Bonnie, Ahona, Eric, Ms. Parness, Mr. Lam, The Lunar New Years Productions Club, Asian American Association, Drama Department, and the Parents’ Association for your support.
Our cast for this performance: Anna Stacy as Kee Lin Sita Sunil as Interpreter Carter Lee Treston Codrington as Fat Pork Subin Kara Ahn as Lai Wah Miguel Sutedjo as PB Jones Skyler Chin as Slim Chin
BROADWAY WORLD by Student Blogger: Rosanna Gao Co-written by Iris Liu March 16, 2022
On March 12th at eight in the evening, the Munsey Park Auditorium hosted a musical performance named Illegal: A New Musical by theater graduates of Yale University. With Skyler Chin as its writer, Olivia Facini as its producer, Sita Sunil as its co-composer, Iris Liu as the student producer, and Annissa Gao as the photographer. The show gathered more than 1,000 audience members from 3/11 to 3/12 and received an uproaring reaction from its audience who gave standing ovations for both days of the performance.
Congresswoman Grace Meng also attended the performance on March 12th with her family and awarded Skyler Chin’s outstanding performance with the nomination of 3/12 as “Skyler Chin Day”. She said, “It touches me that young Chinese American students are making a production based on our culture. They are trying to teach America Chinese-American history, and that is so important.”
Illegal: A New Musical is a historical fiction, rap-rock musical that utilizes a humorous approach to portray the story of the first “Illegal” Chinese-American citizens during the era of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Inspired by the 1923 detainment and interrogation of Skyler’s grandfather on Angel Island, Illegal confronts the history of anti-Asian prejudice that Chinese Americans experienced during the Chinese Exclusion era and that many still face a century later.
“History always repeats itself. Looking around us, the hatred, violence, and rejection towards Chinese Americans are still ongoing. I hope this musical will draw attention to the unfair treatment that Chinese Americans have been subjected to, especially during this age when such injustices are still predominant in our daily lives. This is the reason why I wanted to bring Illegal to the spotlight.” Iris reflected at the beginning of the performance.
The Chinese American community continues to remain an “outsider” to many. To prevent the history of prejudice and violence from repeating, we need to remember our history, to actively speak out against bias and brutality. Only by speaking out can the American society begin to pay attention to the needs and rights of the Asian American community
If you are interested in supporting the timely message behind this musical, please visit the production’s website. If you are interested in hosting this musical in your community, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Skyler through the information listed on the website.
How To Fight Against Stereotypes in Theatre: Skyler Chin’s “Illegal” Dream Come True
Dramatics Magazine By Rosanna Gao and Brayden Chein February 28, 2022
Yale graduate Skyler Chin has taken the fight against stereotypes in theatre personally. Inspired by his internship experiences at Angel Island, Skyler wrote Illegal, a creative and powerful rap-rock musical about the history of Asian-American immigrants. He hopes Illegal helps shine the light of understanding on the often untold history of Asian immigrants. The expressive lyrics and dynamic score of Illegal does what theatre does best: educate while entertaining!
Skyler was initially inspired by his grandparents’ stories of immigrating to the U.S. during the Chinese Exclusion era in the late 1800s and early 1900s. (Discover more about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882). Plus, his late father had a deep kung fu practice that influenced him, so Skyler combined these experiences with his self-taught musical skills to create Illegal. The final impetus to the musical’s creation was Skyler’s experiences at Angel Island combined with his passion to fight against stereotypes in theatre. Skyler’s historical-fiction narrative on immigrants detained on Angel Island has come into the world at an ideal and critical time.
USING IMMIGRANTS’ OWN WORDS TO FIGHT AGAINST STEREOTYPES IN THEATRE
During his internship with the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF) in San Francisco, Skyler read the book Island by Judy Yung (1980, University of Washington Press). Island is a compilation of poetry originally found carved into the walls at Angel Island by Chinese immigrants detained there to try and uphold U.S. exclusion laws. Skyler says, “The poems had such moving and emotional lyrics, but what stood out to me was that they weren’t limited to sadness and grieving. These immigrant poets also expressed determination, perseverance, and even the furious desire to exact revenge and burn the immigration station down. Their words conveyed a fighting spirit that I was never taught about in American history. I was moved to write them into a song, which became the opener of the musical.
“Illegal is based on just one family’s story, but I hope to tell a piece of Asian-American history through songs that capture the spirit and resolve of those who went through Angel Island. Given the anti-Asian hate we’ve experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope shows like Illegal can help humanize us, instill empathy, and help to dismantle the perpetual foreigner myth as well as the model minority myth that fuel the attacks.
“I also want to inspire other kids to tell their stories. I met a class of 3rd-grade students in Oakland’s Chinatown who performed our uplifting song “Keep Dreaming” as part of their Martin Luther King Jr. Day festival. I was so touched by their rendition! I told them I hope they are inspired to keep dreaming, to write shows of their own, and to tell their stories.”
TAKING ACTION WHEN HISTORY REPEATED ITSELF
“I originally wrote Illegal at Yale in 2019, in response to the previous federal administration’s family separations, Muslim ban, border wall, attempts to repeal birthright citizenship…the list goes on. These policies echoed the anti-Asian immigration laws from 140 years ago, especially the Chinese Exclusion Act. For instance, my grandfather was separated from his parents at age 10 years, despite being a legal immigrant. He was detained in bad conditions on Angel Island for months during 1923. I saw these kinds of detentions happening again to immigrants in 2019. I felt like history was repeating itself!
“Maybe part of why this was happening again was because people weren’t taught about these same kinds of events in our country’s past? I wanted to help educate others by telling my family’s story. And even now in 2022, we’re seeing states banning real history education and critical race theory, both of which I needed to understand to write this musical.”
CHARACTERS DRAWN FROM REAL LIFE
“I relate most to the ‘paper son’ character Slim Chin,” Skyler says. “He’s inspired by one of my grandfathers, who was an illegal immigrant living in NYC Chinatown under the paper name Wong. Originally, he did not want my last name to be his real name Chin because he thought it would endanger our family. Writing the character Slim Chin helped me reclaim that history and shine light on my grandfather’s life and secret identity.
“I also really relate to the Chinese American interpreter, Carter Lee, as she struggles with her identity being pegged as a perpetual foreigner even though she was born in America. And there’s our heroine Kee Lin who loves kung fu and is always fighting for what she believes in. Her rap style is influenced by Wing Chun, and I identify with her the most musically.”
WHAT’S NEXT & HOW READERS CAN HELP
“My collaborators, Olivia Facini and Sita Sunil, and I are rehearsing with a professional all-AAPI cast to tour high schools and organizations in the NYC area and around the nation to perform Illegal. So far, we’re planning visits to Manhasset School District, Flushing Town Hall, Angel Island, The Chinese Historical Society of America, Queens Public Library, and more! We were named semi-finalists for the Eugene O’Neill National Musical Theater Conference, and have been working with our community partners, the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF) and Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) to plan exciting educational programming this year.
“We are building interest and raising funds for a professional production in 2022 of Illegal in recognition of the 140th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. We deeply appreciate any help with fundraising, performance opportunities, donations, connections to organizations and/or people who would be interested in getting involved. Please reach out to us with the contact information below!” ♦
Rosanna Gao is a 2022 International Thespian Officer and a passionate advocate of BIPOC representation within the arts. She is currently a rising senior at Great Neck South High School and is excited by the prospect of combining her passions for musical theatre, social impact, civic engagement, and entrepreneurship through opportunities within the performing arts industry. Connect with Rosanna.
Brayden Chein, is currently a junior at Great Neck South High. He loves being a part of theatre at his school and has performed in A Chorus Line (Richie Walters), Grease (Roger), and is part of the production of Così fan tutte (Guglielmo). In his free time, he explores data science and manages the ChamberDischord server. Connect with Brayden at firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re excited to announce the first of our 2022 live performances!
Join us on March 11 & 12 at 8pm for free, live and in-person concert performances of ILLEGAL in Manhasset, Long Island. With a professional AAPI New York cast, colorful characters, rap, song, comedy and drama, ILLEGAL entertains as it shines a light on a dark chapter in history and on the fighting spirit of those who dared to become American. This production is supported by the Manhasset School District and Yaya Kids Theater. Location: Munsey Park Auditorium, 1 Hunt Lane, Manhasset, NY.
Subin Kara Ahn – Lai Wah, Sam Mom, Poet 1 Skyler Chin – Slim Chin Nicholas Leung – Wong Fat Pork Anna Stacy – Sam Kee Lin Sita Sunil – Interpreter Carter Lee Miguel Sutedjo – PB Jones, Hong Kong Colonial Cop, Sam Dad
Jonah Casey – Sound Designer, Board Operator Anna Stougiannou – Lighting Designer, Board Operator Mitchell Jung – Manhasset Student Producer Iris Liu – Manhasset Student Producer Deng Sam – Promotional Lead, YAYA Kids Theater Representative
“Jook songs” — a wordplay on jook-sing, a Cantonese term for Chinese Americans — is the first song in the musical “Illegal” and a hybrid word that encapsulates what it means to be Chinese and American. Last summer, Skyler Chin ’19 was inspired to write a jook song of his own after reading poetry by Angel Island detainees. What was a single song has since bloomed into a fully fledged passion project, a 26-song musical about Chinese immigrants during the Chinese Exclusion Act.
The musical “Illegal,” is directed by Olivia Facini ’19 and features a talented seven-person cast: Skyler Chin ’19, Sophia Dai ’20, Jason Kim ’21, Kathy Min ’21, Ananya Parthasarathy ’20, Jisu Sheen ’20 and Daniel Flesch ’19. It is a musical blending rap and spoken word, an original combination of genres that parallels the theme of dual identity throughout the play. “Illegal,” inspired by the real experiences of Chin’s grandparents, follows the immigration journey of several young Chinese immigrants attempting to enter San Francisco through Angel Island at the height of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1923. The script is a balance of lighted-hearted humor and powerful emotion, and is always heavy with meaning: “Illegal” asks the timely and timeless question, ‘What does it take to be(come) American?’”
Illuminating Ellis Island’s lesser known West Coast counterpart, Angel Island, Chin tells history with his own twist. By writing and performing “Illegal,” Chin seeks to “carve out a space for untold stories and diverse performers to shine.” He takes Chinese stories into his own hands, blurring the line between history and fiction. Though the characters are fictitious, they were inspired by Chin’s family as well as the countless immigrants who were detained, dehumanized and deported at Angel Island, but who were never properly recorded in history.
Laced within the story are shocking details of experiences at Angel Island. The musical portrays the lengths that immigrants went through to pass inspections that were rigged against them: detainees endured violating physicals, “paper sons” who borrowed identities memorized coaching books filled with details of other people’s lives and the few women who attempted to immigrate were all assumed to be prostitutes. Each disturbing “fun fact” is delivered through enthusiastic song; the musical entertains nonstop, all while serving biting criticism of the inhumane methods employed at Angel Island to push out Chinese immigrants.
In addition to strong messages imparted in rhymes, the implications of this musical’s very existence cannot be lost. The entire conception of “Illegal,” from its inspiration by Chin’s grandparents in 1923 to its performance at Yale in 2019, is a unique product of the Asian diaspora, and in particular, the Chinese diaspora. Central elements of the musical, including its setting on the West Coast and references to the invention of boba, nod to both historical and contemporary Asian diasporic culture. Chin tells a story of Chinese immigrants in English — with rap and spoken word, no less. This crossover of cultures would not have been possible without decades of cultural development within the Asian diaspora.
Chin’s blending of Chinese and American identities in “Illegal” is remarkably bold. Common principles in Chinese culture, from filial piety to honor, both clash and mesh with American values of freedom and allegiance. The most complex character in the play, the Chinese-American translator for Angel Island inspections, experiences an identity crisis when confronted with the moral dilemma of his cruel job, and his split loyalties to his country and his people.
A goosebump-inducing scene near the end of the musical alludes to the poetry that inspired Chin to write “Illegal” — a Cantonese voice-over melds with the voices of the cast as they recite translated verses that real immigrants had carved onto the walls of Angel Island detainment centers, the weight of each word they spoke striking along with the beat of the drums. “Now the history is mine to write,” says Chin’s character, a line that seems to refer to his own writing of history in the form of the musical. As the program notes, “Illegal” may be your introduction to this history, but do not let this be the end of your exploration.”
Catch “Illegal” this weekend on Friday, April 19 at 8 pm or Saturday, April 20 at 2 pm or 8 pm.