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Posts Tagged Wu Mei Li

Flower Drum Song: Featuring Stephanie Bertumen

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As part of the cast of Flower Drum Song, Stephanie Bertumen plays Wu Mei-Li, a new immigrant from China who falls in love with Wang Ta, played by Wesley Mouri.

This was Stephanie’s answer to the question: “What is most meaningful for you about the role that you play in Flower Drum Song–whether it be your particular character role, your overall role of being part of the production, or both?”

My love of the arts largely began when I was a young girl watching Rodgers and Hammerstein (and other classic) movie musicals. As I imagined myself in the worlds of the characters, I sang, danced, and acted my little heart out; but I didn’t realize the gravity of the fact that I was always seeing primarily White actors – White actors on the small screen, on the big screen, and onstage.

 Also, as a young person, I didn’t know that I would eventually be exposed to a world where there would be people who wouldn’t see me as capable and worthy as I saw myself. As I did come to this realization, however, my dreams started to shrink back in apprehension and I began to push away the Asian part of myself — a part that I feared made me too “different” to belong. It was not until I moved to Minnesota and encountered other Asian performers that my view of the world (and my view of myself) exploded: “Wait, I can actually be myself here? Someone wants me just as I am?” And so I began to come out of hiding, so to speak. 

 If I hadn’t ever started on the journey to acknowledging and loving the Asian part of my identity (with the help and support of friends and mentors, especially my own brother Randy Reyes), I don’t think I would have really continued to blossom as an artist, or at least not in the same way; so I am so thankful to be on this road. Now, I’m having experiences that I had started to believe were impossible. It is because playwright David Henry Hwang dared to re-envision Flower Drum Song that this gorgeous, smart libretto exists! It is because of his dream that my dream has become reality. 

 I am deeply grateful that, in this case of this production, it isn’t an either/or scenario: EITHER beautiful music OR a moving story; EITHER an Asian character OR a three-dimensional character; EITHER the main character OR the Asian character. No, for each, this show gives me both. Just as I myself am both — Asian American — as well as everything else that I am. I am Asian American; I get to be front and center playing a beautifully-written, three-dimensional human being; AND, yes, I get to act and sing and dance to music written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. 

 I do belong – and I belong in a way that is more meaningful than I could have ever imagined, and I am forever thankful for that.

Stephanie Bertumen as Mei-Li and Wesley Mouri as Ta Photo by Connie Shaver

Stephanie Bertumen as Mei-Li and Wesley Mouri as Ta
Photo by Connie Shaver

 

Stephanie’s Background

Park Square Debut Representative Theatre Children’s Theatre Company: The Last Firefly; History Theatre: Complicated Fun; Backyard to Broadway Productions: Right, Wrong, or Bomb! A Dating Musical; Mu Performing Arts: Twelfth Night; Casting Spells Productions: Disenchanted!; Theatre L’Homme Dieu (produced by Bloomington Civic Theatre): The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Training B.F.A., University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater Actor Training Program

 

Flower Drum Song – Co-produced with Mu Performing Arts

Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage – January 20 to February 19

Flower Drum Song: Featuring Wesley Mouri

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As part of the cast of Flower Drum Song, Wesley Mouri plays Wang Ta, the son of a Chinese opera actor and immigrant to San Francisco named Wang Chi-Yang. Ta is in love with Chinese American showgirl Linda Low but also falling for a new immigrant from China, Wu Mei-Li.

Recently, we asked Wes, “What is most meaningful for you about the role that you play in Flower Drum Song–whether it be your particular character role, your overall role of being part of the production, or both?”

Here is his answer:

Flower Drum Song centers around Asian American theater performers fighting for representation and acceptance in a white majority society, while still desperately trying to uphold and honor the traditions of their ancestors before them. To some, it may sound like a dated plot line; but for Asian artists living in 2017, the struggle has not changed.

Representation of Asian stories, starring Asian characters, played by Asian actors is missing from the American theater. I know that might come across as a generalized and overly bold statement, but the Asian community in America has often been cited as “The Invisible Minority.” Cultural upbringing has created a “don’t speak up, don’t stand out, just put your head down and work hard” mentality for Asian Americans. Whenever an Asian person speaks up about discrimination, people respond by saying, “All of the stereotypes about Asians are positive! You’re really good at math and the girls are sexy and you know kung fu!” This only perpetuates the stereotypes of Asian characters in the media. Nerdy, de-masculinized men. Sexualized Asian schoolgirls. Mystic foreign martial arts masters. This is why a show like Flower Drum Song is so relevant and important to produce in our modern society.

Three-dimensional characters, with high stakes objectives. Romantic entanglements. Standing center stage and delivering a show stopper. These are opportunities that are taken for granted by many actors, but for the Asian performer, these opportunities often never arise. Asians can be the mysterious native (i.e., Bloody Mary in South Pacific), the sterilized simpleton (i.e., Chinese Laundrymen in Thoroughly Modern Millie), or the “Engrish”- speaking comic relief (i.e., Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles, Mrs. Swan from MadTV, The “Fa Ra Ra Ra Ra” Waiters in A Christmas Story, Mrs. Kim from Gilmore Girls, Rajesh Koothrapali from The Big Bang Theory, etc., etc., etc.) .For the Asian American performer, playing a leading role in any form of media is a huge deal. 

I’m playing a character named Wang Ta. He desperately wants to honor his father and maintain the Chinese opera traditions but also yearns to join the modern world with his “bold and brassy nightclub show.” He is head over heels in love with the unabashed Linda Low, yet also finds himself drawn to innocent and pure Mei-Li. On top of all that, he is struggling to pursue his American dream while holding on to his Chinese roots. Can someone be 100% Chinese AND 100% American? Now THAT is a challenging and interesting character for an actor to invest in.

I have been moved to tears multiple times during the rehearsal process simply by looking around the room and seeing this diverse cast of Asian American performers fully investing and pushing themselves to be more than a funny sidekick or a splash of color in the ensemble. The most meaningful part of Flower Drum Song for me is simply being a proud Asian American actor, playing an Asian American character, telling an Asian American story. It’s my first opportunity to do so, and I hope it’s not the last.

Wesley Mouri as Ta and Stephanie Bertumen as Mei Li Photo by Connie Shaver

Wesley Mouri as Ta and Stephanie Bertumen as Mei Li
Photo by Connie Shaver

WESLEY’S BACKGROUND:

Park Square Debut Representative Theatre Mu Performing Arts: A Little Night Music; Guthrie Theater: South Pacific, The Cocoanuts, The Music Man; Chanhassen Dinner Theatres: Hello Dolly!, The Little Mermaid, Bye Bye Birdie; Children’s Theatre Company: Cinderella; Ordway: Broadway Songbook: Rebels on Broadway Training B.A., Theater Arts, Bethel University

 

Flower Drum Song – Co-Produced with Mu Performing Arts

Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage – January 20 to February 19

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