The trade winds historically enabled ships to more effectively cross the world’s oceans, facilitating discoveries and the expansion of cultures and ideas.
Tradewind Arts is a new organization in Kansas City devoted to doing the same in the cultural realm: illuminating and empowering the Asian American voice, concentrating in the theater arts. Later the members plan to add music, dance and visual art elements.
“The tradewinds blow from east to west and we liked the association of the wind with the Midwest,” said Andi Meyer, the group’s founder and producing director.
Meyer is working hand in hand with Erika Crane Ricketts, Tradewind Arts’ managing director, and Julian Rivera, marketing director. Also involved are local talents Vi Tran, Victor Tan, Diane Bulan, AiVy Bu and Walter Coppage, a well-known Kansas City-based actor and son of an African American father and Japanese American mother.
The group’s activities include community outreach to local Asian and Pacific Islander communities and staged readings of scripts from classic and contemporary Asian American plays, accompanied by expert panel discussions of the issues portrayed.
Meyer moved here from North Dakota to study in the theater department at UMKC. In 2000 she joined the comedy troupe of the award-winning radio show, “Right Between the Ears,” and she continues to perform with the cast. She also serves as the show’s education director, running its summer camps and other programs, and has been a teacher of the arts at Starlight and with Cornerstones of Care for years.
An Inspiration Grant from ArtsKC enabled Meyer to attend the 2014 National Asian American Theater Conference in Philadelphia, where her experiences helped solidify her vision for Tradewind Arts. She returned from the event dedicated to energizing the local Asian American/Pacific Islander arts scene by increasing representation of talent, infusing the community with knowledge and combating stereotypes. In spring of 2015 Meyer co-hosted an ArtsKC reception for theater leaders of color at the Theatre Communications Group Audience
(R)Evolution Conference here.
Currently in the works is a collaboration with playwright Lauren Yee, who came to Kansas City in April to workshop a new script with the Tradewind artists. Jeff Church of the Coterie Theatre will direct the play. “We’ve also just confirmed that Tradewind Arts will be partnering with the Coterie next year on a play called Hana’s Suitcase,” Meyer said in an email. “It’s a real life story of Fumiko Ishioka, then executive director of the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center, and how she discovered the story behind the owner of a plain old suitcase loaned to her by the Auschwitz Museum. I’ll be performing the role of Fumiko and we’ll use some of our other Tradewind artists as well.”
Tradewind Arts was recently approved to create a stage adaptation of books by Newberry Award winner Grace Lin. The group will adapt Lin’s The Ugly Vegetables and other picture books into an hour-long children’s theater piece, which will be performed in local schools. That play will encompass themes of families, healthy diet, Asian culture and Asian American culture.
Last January Meyer was a director for the One Minute Play Festival. This national event debuted in Kansas City, piloted by Heidi Van of the Fishtank Performance Studio, after she attended a highly topical short play in Ferguson, Mo. By all accounts the festival was a solid success in Kansas City and may be annual from this point forward.
Tradewind Arts has been selected as a partner in the Fishtank’s just-announced Legacy Program, which provides space to new theater companies. For Tradewind this means space to grow, plot out and activate plans.
Tradewind’s goals are many: to develop new avenues for creative works, to expand opportunities and careers for artists, to nurture new audiences and foster better intercultural understanding, and to strengthen ties with the community.
“I’ve been dreaming about doing this for what seems like forever,” Meyer said. “I’m so excited to finally be getting it off the ground. I am ready to see Asian Pacific Americans represent ourselves in mainstream Kansas City arts.”
Above: Members of Tradewind Arts gathered at the Fishtank Performance Studio in late February. Pictured (from left to right) are Maya Vasudevamurthy, Walter Coppage, Andi Meyer, Larry Yu, Erika Crane Ricketts, Un Joo Christopher (on the ladder), Kate Narbonetta, Eric Palmquist (on the floor), Dorinda Nicholson and Sean Yeung. Photo by Nathan Lang.