Alan Chow discusses his 40-year career bringing China to Broadway

By Zhang Yuchen Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/25 20:03:40 Last Updated: 2016/10/25 20:08:39

Alan Chow (left) attends a book signing in Beijing on October 15. Photo: Courtesy of Beijing Tiehulu Books

Alan Chow (left) attends a book signing in Beijing on October 15. Photo: Courtesy of Beijing Tiehulu Books

The name Alan Chow may be unfamiliar to many people in the Chinese mainland, but among artistic circles in Hong Kong and Taiwan, it is pretty much common knowledge that "if you want to hold an activity in New York, go find Alan Chow first."

Over the last four decades, Chinese stars and artists looking to perform at the Lincoln Center in New York have sought Chow's help. This was especially the case from the 1970s to 1990s, a time when it was still very difficult for Chinese to get on stage in the city.

Executive director of the Chinese American Arts Council in New York and a performer in his own right, Chow, now in his 60s, mainly works to arrange performances for Chinese artists in New York, introducing them to local artistic organizations and, most importantly, helping them with day-to-day affairs, which has allowed him to get to know them better off the stage.

Well-known figures such as Ang Lee, Teresa Teng, Leslie Cheung, Yo-yo Ma, Fou Ts'ong and Lang Lang have all numbered among his clients, some of them even later becoming friends.

"Thirty years ago, it was hard for Chinese people to perform in New York. Alan happened to have the resources thus giving them opportunities," artist Chen Danqing said at a book signing on October 15 for Chow's newly released work My Lustrous Life.

"Can you imagine Alan's role in that time (1970s-1990s)? When they (Chinese artists) left their homeland and had no one to rely on in a totally strange city, the one who can look after them, received them, arrange everything for them can be more important than anyone else even their families," Chen added.

Entering Hong Kong as an illegal alien, being the first to play the Monkey King in a Hong Kong film, establishing the first Chinese gay bar in New York and so on, Chow's autobiography contains tons of fascinating stories.

But two accomplishments are particularly meaningful for Chinese artists: the establishment of the council's Most Outstanding Asian Artist Award and the introduction of Chinese traditional theater performances to Broadway.

Two days after the book signing, Alan Chow sat down with the Global Times to share his views on life in New York and Chinese art.

Alan Chow (left) attends a book signing in Beijing on October 15. Photo: Courtesy of Beijing Tiehulu Books

The Chinese cover to Alan Chow's My Lustrous Life Photos: Courtesy of Beijing Tiehulu Books

Q: How was traditional Chinese opera received when you first brought it to New York?

A: At first we had some white audiences, but now all our audience consists of Chinese. This is because foreigners can't accept this type of performance. Currently we have a stable audience of around 4,000 Chinese fans.

Q: Since the 1970s, has Chinese opera made any headway in the US?

A: I have spent 40 years promoting Chinese art overseas and continue to hope that foreigners can accept it. However, I also believe they never will.

This is our culture. If government officials in China don't support our own culture, then even young Chinese will keep their distance, let alone foreigners.

Traditional Chinese opera is one of the most sophisticated performing art forms. It's a pity that in the past, China was too poor for the public to appreciate it. People are richer now, but there are more ways for people to entertain themselves today, so it (Chinese traditional theater) is getting neglected once again.

You might hear stories about some Chinese stage production causing quite a stir in New York. Well, I can tell you that's impossible. Phantom of the Opera and Cats, they were on Broadway for nearly 50 years and almost sold out every night, but never did they say they caused "quite a stir."

But then again, Chinese performers need a platform in New York. There aren't many opportunities for drama performers in China, so performing in New York can help create more market opportunities for them (in China).

Q: In your opinion, how can we get younger generations interested in Chinese opera?

A: In traditional Chinese opera, apprentices are not allowed to make any changes to the way things were done before, this doesn't make sense. If I imitate my master, then I'm just a copycat.

Costumes also need to be redesigned. Now that China's living conditions have improved, we can afford to make more charming costumes, but since they are part of tradition, no changes are allowed to be made.

How can you attract new audiences when "everything is old?"

Q: Some have questioned the impartiality of the Most Outstanding Asian Artist Award. How do you respond?

A: Definitely, all awards have shortcomings. I established this award because there was a need during that time. I noticed that Japanese people had their own award, so then why not Chinese people? As for the fairness, first, it is noncommercial. Second, I would be proud to have you look at our previous award winners. All of them were worthy of the prize.

Q: From your book I can tell it must be difficult starting in a new city. What difficulties did you encounter?

A: Everyone, of course, has a hard time in a new place, especially us first generation Chinese in New York. Trust me, no matter how good you are and how hard you've tried, you'll always be a second-class citizen in the US since you have a "Chinese face." The reason I could made my way in the US is because I'm not a troublemaker.

Newspaper headline: ‘My Lustrous Life'


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