For more than 40 years, Philip Kan Gotanda, has been writing plays, screenplays and opera librettos that speak to the Asian-American experience. Many of his stage plays centered on the trauma and aftermath of WWII Incarceration Camps such as ““After The War Blues” and “Sisters Matsumoto.”  Other plays such as “Yankee Dawg You Die” revealed the lack of opportunities and roles for Asian Americans in Hollywood and another play The Wash” (in which he adapted for film) focus on an old, bigoted, Japanese-American traditionalist unable to reconcile the needs of his wife and two daughters with his own conservative view on life,

With the depth and breadth of these plays, Gotanda along with his contemporary David Henry Hwang, are credited changing the landscape and carving a pathway for Asian American playwrights in American theater. Gotanda is also a professor at University of California-Berkeley and the winner of numerous fellowships such as the Guggenheim, Sundance, and Lila Wallace. More recently he received the 2021 Dramatist Guild Foundation Legacy Award, was the 2023 Inductee to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and this year received the 2024 United States Artists Fellowship Award.

Recently he wrote the libretto for “Both Eyes Open” an original opera about a farmer and his wife in 1942 after Executive Order 9066 was enacted to imprison Japanese Americans.

“BothEyesOpen” libretto by Philip Kan Gotanda. Photo: Carlos Castañeda, Jr.

“One of the things I’ve done with my career is always I’ve always wanted to both explore thematically the issues. Ah not only Asian America but in in relationship to other communities African American, Latinx. But also I’ve been interested in keeping making sure I challenge myself in terms of the form you know to go from songs to plays to movies and then finally now I wanted to try opera,” says Gotanda.

Kathy Hsieh and William Earl Ray in “Yohen” at PassinArt & Portland Playhouse. Photo by Owen Carey.

“Asian American playwrights now have arrived as they have almost everywhere in terms of the media and it isn’t just they’re here for a bit you know they’re kind of a fad. They’re here,” says Gotanda. “Asian american playwrights are kind of on at the foreground and are kind of main players in wherever American Theater.”