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Philip Kan Gotanda

Name Philip Kan Gotanda
Born December 17 1951
Birth Location Stockton, CA
Generational Identifier

Sansei

Playwright and independent filmmaker. Philip Kan Gotanda (1951-) is a Sansei , whose theatrical work focuses on the Asian American experience. His best-known plays include The Wash , The Ballad of Yachiyo and Yankee Dawg You Die .

Early Years

He was born on December 17, 1951, in Stockton, California, to Wilfred Itsuta and Catherine Mitsuye Gotanda and is the youngest of three sons. His father, who was born in Kauai, studied medicine at the University of Arkansas, then moved to California to serve a large Japanese American population in Stockton, Catherine's hometown. During World War II, Gotanda's parents were incarcerated first at the temporary American concentration camp at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds in Stockton, before they were moved to Rohwer , Arkansas. Upon release, his parents returned to Stockton where they started their family. As a teenager, Gotanda was passionately interested in music and focused on becoming a singer/songwriter, playing in bands, and composing songs. He enrolled at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1969 and studied psychology. In his junior year, he went to Japan, where he spent a year studying pottery with artist Hiroshi Seto. After returning to California, he attended the University of Santa Barbara where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Japanese Art Studies. After graduation, he moved to San Francisco, where he studied at Hastings University and graduated with a Juris Doctorate degree in law in 1978. During law school, he began writing and performing songs exploring the experience of being Japanese American through songs such as "The Ballad of the Issei," which recounts the history of Issei immigrants; "The Asian American Dream," which describes the Japanese American model minority myth; and "All American Asian Punk" which recounts teenage angst. He later helped co-found the Asian American Music Organization with Peter Horikoshi and others to produce and promote the new voices of Asian American songwriter-performers. While working at the North Beach-Chinatown Legal Aid Society in San Francisco, Gotanda wrote his first play, a musical titled The Avocado Kid, or Zen in the Art of Guacamole, based on a classic Japanese children's tale, which was directed by actor Mako and premiered at East West Players in 1978. Its success encouraged him to write more plays for Asian American theater companies.

Career in Theater, Performance and Filmmaking

Gotanda is a playwright, librettist, director, and performer, who works in a range of styles and mediums ranging from jazz to spoken word, dance to opera. He is widely acclaimed for his cross-cultural collaborative work. His plays explore a wide variety of themes including interracial marriage ( Yohen ), generational conflicts of mixed-race children ( The Wash ), historic intersections between African American and Asian American communities ( After The War ), closeted gay Asian American performers in Hollywood ( Yankee Dawg You Die ), violence against women ( A Fist Of Roses ), and transnationalism ( I Dream of Chang and Eng and Love in American Times ). Two of his productions, After the War , which premiered at the American Conservatory Theatre in March 2007 and Manzanar: An American Story , which debuted at Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall in May 2005, draw upon the World War II experience of the Japanese American mass incarceration. After the War chronicles Japanese Americans returning from the World War II American concentration camps to San Francisco's Japantown in the late 1940s, only to discover a flourishing African American jazz scene. Gotanda wrote the libretto and directed the production with renowned conductor Kent Nagano of Nagano's Manzanar: An American Story , an original symphonic work with narration. Maestro Nagano himself is a Sansei whose parents were incarcerated during the war. Gotanda's play Sisters Matsumoto , takes place immediately after the war and explores the lives of three sisters who have returned to their family farm in California to assess the past, in order to rebuild their lives. Gotanda's published anthologies include No More Cherry Blossoms and Fish Soup and Other Plays . His plays, The Wash , The Dream of Kitamura , Day Standing on its Head , Yohen , The Wind Calls Mary , Yankee Dawg You Die , Ballad of Yachiyo , and in the dominon of night have also been published. The Wash , A Song For A Nisei Fisherman , Sisters Matsumoto , and Yohen have been translated in Japanese and Yankee Dawg You Die has been translated in Chinese. His radio plays include adaptations of his work, Sisters Matsumoto , and The Ballad of Yachiyo .

Gotanda has played in various music groups, including "Bamboo" with David Henry Hwang, Sam Takemoto and Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo, and "joe ozu and the new orientals," his retro-jazz, spoken word performance ensemble with Dan Kuramoto, Danny Yamamoto and Taiji Miyagawa. In 2019, he began a collaboration with opera singer John Duykers and composer Max Gitech Duykers on an original opera with the working title, "The Potato King of Hiroshima, California/Apricots of Andujar," among other new projects.

Gotanda is also an independent filmmaker whose work has been screened at film festivals around the world. His debut feature film, Life Tastes Good (1999), screened at the American Spectrum series at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, and was released theatrically and on cable. His other films include the shorts The Kiss and Drinking Tea , both of which have won numerous awards and aired nationally on PBS. In 1988, an adaptation of his original play, The Wash , was made into a feature film starring Mako and Nobu McCarthy, directed by Michael Toshiyuki Uno, and produced by American Playhouse and Lumiere Films/Cal Skaggs. Gotanda also wrote the screenplay for the film.

Awards and Honors

Gotanda's awards and honors include the Guggenheim Fellowship, 2 Year Pew Charitable Trust Award, 3 Year Reader's Digest Lila Wallace Award, Los Angeles Music Center Award, The Joseph Kesselring Prize for the National Arts Club, PEN Center West, Dramatists Guild's Flora Roberts Award for Distinguished Work in Theater, East West Players Visionary Award, Asian American Theater Company Life Time Achievement and Le Conte Du Nouy for Theater. He also received awards from the San Francisco Film Festival Golden Gate Award, Japan Society of Northern California, City of Stockton Arts Award, City of Los Angeles Theater, Goldman Honor, Japanese American Community and Cultural Center of Northern California National Japanese American Historical Society, Contemporary Asian Theater Scene, The Jefferson Award, Theater Bay Area Org, and other awards. He has an Honorary Master of Fine Arts in Acting from the American Conservatory Theater.

Grants received include the Pew Charitable Trust, Rockefeller, National Endowment for the Arts, California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, MAP Fund, Creative Work Fund, Gerbode Foundation, the Edgerton Foundation, New Music USA Organization, and the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund, and fellowships include the National Endowment for the Arts-Theater Communications Directing Fellow, Sundance Theater Fellow, Sundance Film Fellow, Sundance Film Producer Fellow, Granada Arts Fellow in Writing and Theater, Sundance UCROSS Fellow and McKnight Fellow.

The Philip Kan Gotanda Archives has been established at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

He is a professor at the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and resides in Berkeley with his novelist-producer wife, Diane Emiko Takei.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

Philip Kan Gotanda artist website. www.philipkangotanda.com

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Asian American Theater class interview with Gotanda. http://aatheatre.web.unc.edu/category/philip-kan-gotanda/ .

Kaplan, Randy Barbara. "Philip Kan Gotanda". In Asian American Playwrights: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook , Miles Xian Liu, ed. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002, 69-88.

Last updated Nov. 13, 2020, 6:46 p.m..