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Ovation Awards’ Treatment of Asian Actors and Theater Sparks Mass Exodus

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The Ovation Awards honor the best from local stages.

But after what one prominent Asian American company said was a disrespectful ceremony, dozens of local theaters have cut their ties with the presenting organization, leaving the show’s future in doubt.

Tuesday’s pre-recorded Ovation Awards first mispronounced the name of Jully Lee, who was nominated for best featured actress in a play (her name is pronounced like “Julie”). Then, instead of displaying a picture of Lee, the show put up a picture of fellow Asian cast member Monica Hong.

What’s more, Lee’s play, “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo,” was credited solely to the Fountain Theatre, with no mention of co-presenter East West Players, one of the country’s top Asian American theater companies. The company also wasn’t credited for a separate co-production with the Pasadena Playhouse, “The Great Leap.”

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The next day, East West revoked its membership in the Ovation Awards presenter, LA Stage Alliance, and urged other local companies to do the same. More than two dozen did, including the Center Theatre Group, the Geffen Playhouse, Deaf West Theatre and the Pasadena Playhouse.

“Every time East West Players co-produces in an effort to bring Asian American actors more visibility in L.A. theaters, only the other, predominantly white organization is listed and uplifted at the Ovation Awards,” Snehal Desai, East West’s artistic director, said in a statement posted on social media. “This is what erasure of our work and our community looks like.”

In her own social media post, Lee said she “was not the only person misidentified with a wrong photo/name mispronunciation. I was just the 1st one of the night. #DoBetter doesn’t even scratch the surface.”

In a statement, the nonprofit LA Stage Alliance apologized, adding, “[a] written apology can only do so much, especially when there are underlying issues that need to be addressed. LA Stage Alliance takes its dedication to equality and support of its diverse theatre community and representations seriously.

“With that in mind, effective immediately, LA Stage Alliance will focus on undertaking a visible and transparent transformation so it can be held accountable to the community it serves,” it said.

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