Courtesy of the Cornell Performing and Media Arts Department

April 15, 2021

New Student Directed Play “Asiamnesia” is Both Illuminating and Heartbreakingly Relevant

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Asiamnesia, a production that tackles stereotypes that Asian/Asian American women face in the entertainment industry, will be premiering this Thursday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m. on the Performing and Media Arts Department website. Originally written in 2008 by Asian playwright Sun Mee Chomet, the play is being directed by Sara Pistono ’21 and Duoer Jia ’21, two PMA students who feel that their stories have yet to be seen on center stage. Asiamnesia is free to watch, and will continue streaming at select showtimes through April 17. 

Asiamnesia follows the stories of historic Asian actresses as they work toward success in a  predominantly white field. “It is a show that essentially explores and looks at what it is like to be an Asian or Asian American woman within the entertainment industry in the United States,” said Pistono. While displaying realistic renditions of historic actresses’ experiences — like Anna May Wong for example — the show also takes a metaphorical look at these issues and their effect on the individual. 

For Jia and Pistono, Asiamnesia is the perfect play to bring much-needed representation of Asian women to the stage, highlighting their experiences and the racism and sexism they face in the entertainment industry. Pistono emphasized the importance of casting this show as “color conscious as opposed to color blind,” which is the PMA department’s usual policy. “We felt that we never played a role that truly represented us on stage, so we thought it would be a great idea to bring a production that tells our stories to PMA,” said Jia. In fact, the production was an uphill battle from the start — the two co-directors “had such a difficulty even being able to find a show by an Asian American artist that we wanted to stage because of the lack of published available shows that are on traditional websites,” said Pistono. Luckily, Sun Mee Chomet’s 2008 play was the perfect pick. 

Especially in light of the increase in anti-Asian sentiment and racist attacks against Asians and Asian Americans, the reproduction has taken on a renewed importance.  “We’ve kind of been in a time or in a moment that’s made this show all the more relevant or timely,” said Pistono, “so it’s sort of made the production into a space to process and reflect, and in a lot of ways celebrate Aisan joy since we are an entirely Asian-identifying cast and a mostly Asian-idenitfying crew.” And despite how the original play was written 13 years ago, “the stereotypes or the struggles people face in the play are still happening right now,” asserted Jia.  

As Asiamnesia highlights, one of these stereotypes is the hypersexualization of Asian women, which, as Pistono explained, “has sort of continued to sneak its way into pop culture in different ways” throughout history and fostering harmful stereotypes that are “truly pervasive and invasive in a lot of ways. They suggest this dominant narrative of this perpetually foreign, hypersexualized body.” Asiamnesia examines various historical figures, showing how these stereotypes have evolved and persisted throughout pop culture; Pistono hopes that the audience can track the development of these stereotypes throughout history.  

However, in light of seemingly endless adversity, Asiamnesia aims to show the unwavering strength of AAPI communities, encouraging us to see that Asian actresses “are not just the stereotypical Asian characters you see on screen, but are really vibrant, strong and powerful women,” said Jia. 

This empowering play not only highlights the triumphs of Asian American women in spite of continued discrimination, but also reflects the social climate under COVID-19 restrictions. The play was pre-recorded and filmed in the theater, with actors wearing masks unless alone in the scene. While this presented new challenges, the directors embraced this new medium and found that it added a multi-dimensional aspect. “There is one scene where instead of just having them wear clear masks and trying to visually ignore it, we lean into the mask format and design specific masks for each character,” remarked Pistono. “The masks have become an integral part of it in a way, because we were able to stylize them.”  

Beyond the integration of masks into the play, the decision to film Asiamnesia meant that they were working with students across all areas of the PMA department. While this collaboration tends not to occur too frequently, Pistono was quick to mention that “because this is a piece with dance in it, a piece with music in it, and also because of COVID it had to become a film piece, we’ve been able to interact with some really amazing creative people from all areas of the department.” Additionally, this combination of mediums and the ability to watch the play from anywhere has allowed for a wider audience, despite pandemic restrictions.      

Jia and Pistono hope that their production can serve as a platform, not only for opening discussion, but also for community strength. For the two co-directors, the production has given them a chance to reflect and cope with the current violence against Asians. “When the Atlanta attack first happened, we were privileged enough to come together as a crew, and have this space that we could physically be in together to process,” Pistono remarked. The creative team hopes that the audience can take part in those same feelings of togetherness. Concluding her remarks, Pistono left us with the following sentiment: “ultimately, we need to be able to create these spaces for moments like these that affect all BIPOC individuals.” 

To watch Asiamnesia,  reserve your free tickets here. Showings are 7:30 p.m. April 15; 5 p.m. April 16; and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. April 17.

Matthew Kassorla is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at mk928@cornell.edu.  

Emma Leynse is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at eleynse@cornellsun.com. She currently serves as an Assistant Arts Editor on The Sun’s 139th Editorial  board.