The Originals’ Lawrence Kao talks Kinjaz, Witches & the Pursuit of Acting

Being falsely accused and arrested for attempted murder on his 18th birthday may have been a blessing in disguise for actor/dancer Lawrence Kao—it solidified his pursuit in acting.

Born and raised in Hacienda Heights, this California native has been known in the dance scene on America’s Best Dance Crew with Kaba Modern and his time now with The Kinjaz. However, he can be seen more often pursuing his primary passion: acting. He’s appeared on shows like Hawaii 5-0, The Walking Dead, and soon—the CW’s supernatural drama The Originals. Kollaboration recently had the opportunity to sit down with him as he talked about Kinjaz, his role on The Originals, and his pursuit of the craft.


The Kinjaz were just announced to perform at Kollaboration Star next month in Los Angeles as special guest performers—How did you get involved with Kinjaz?
It all stems from me doing Kaba Modern in college. All our group of friends are dancers—Mike Song, Anthony Lee—he was on CADC—we were all friends and stuff. They’ve always wanted to create a group.

Kinjaz competed on America’s Best Dance Crew‘s comeback. What was it like sitting on the sidelines this time?
Dude, I thought it was awesome because, obviously, I had to do nothing. All I had to do was watch and support. These guys are guys I grew up with for a very long time, so it’s awesome to see them on such a big stage at the level they are at now knowing how we used to be when we were younger. It helps me appreciate it a lot and all the hard work they’re putting into it not just for themselves but for the whole team in general.

Muneer Katchi (left), Lawrence Kao (center), David Reivers (behind), & Vijaya Kumari (right) in the film CIrcle

Has your dance background helped in the development of your acting career?
It’s funny—after ABDC and after the show—I started going to auditions because the dance stuff was done now. But I had ABDC on my resume—and it was so popular at the time. At these acting auditions they were telling me to dance. So it was like “oh can you dance for us!” So then I took it off my resume. I set it aside because I felt like at that time, I didn’t want to be just known for dance. I had a really weird relationship with dance right after [ABDC.] I didn’t really enjoy doing it. I mean, I had a good time, but I didn’t really—but looking back at it now, I should have appreciated it more. But at that time, I was like “F— this shit—I want to focus my attention on doing acting” when I could have used dance to propel me toward bigger things. I feel like I had to separate it a bit, so I could go back to [dance.] So now [dance] is so cool. I still dance with Kinjaz.

What made you decide to pursue acting?
It’s a crazy story. So in Senior year [of high school], we were doing a Shakespeare play—Midsummer Night’s Dream—I was playing Lysander. We were doing previews for the English classes just so people can go and watch the show. During one of the previews, I get arrested in school. They take me to jail, and it’s my 18th birthday. I’m suppose to do this show at night, but I’m in jail for over 3 days…and what [the police] said I did was attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. So I’m trippin’ out. They’re telling me I’m going to be there for 40 years minimum. So that whole week, I was thinking: “What do I want to do with my life?”

But by the end of the week—for some reason—they let me go, and I got to go back to school. It was the closing night of my performance, and the director’s like “Hey, do you still remember your lines?” So I do the play and I’m on stage, and I’m like “Aw, man, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” Because I’ve been thinking about it that whole week. I changed my major [to drama] and went to UC Irvine. I did some main stage shows at UCI—still loved it. I knew that after I graduated, it was still something I wanted to do. Dance obviously took over for a little bit. I love dancing—it’s still a passion of mine—but it was never as strong as my passion for acting.

Did they even find the guy who committed the crime?
They didn’t even find the guy. I don’t even know what the story was; there was a couple stories as to why I was arrested. The people who got really messed up pointed me out in a yearbook. Obviously, it wasn’t me. It was definitely a blessing in disguise—it really solidified what I wanted to do. I feel like knowing that at such a young age is so powerful.

You were recently cast on the CW’s Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals as Van Nguyen. What can you tell me about your character?
I’m a witch. And something happens. And I get pissed. So far, he’s been pretty ruthless and stubborn as to what he wants to accomplish in terms of revenge. He doesn’t want to get involved with what’s going on in the quarters, but because of certain situations, he feels like he’s forced to and he has to. I feel like he’s a very passionate character—he really believes in the things he believes in.

Danielle Campbell and Lawrence Kao on the set of The Originals
Danielle Campbell and Lawrence Kao on the set of The Originals

He’s sort of like your co-star’s character, Vincent (Yusuf Gatewood), in that sense.
Yeah, he’s sort of pushed toward that direction. He has no choice but to do that. I feel like once he gets that [goal], “It’s like alright, things are good again.” But then I feel like it’ll be him having to do more things. Obviously he’s pissed. Like he wants justice for what’s been wronged to him and his people.

What’s it like playing a supernatural character?
It’s fun. I love supernatural things. You get to use your imagination more. I feel like it’s still such a young character too—like early 20’s. I still think they think I’m pretty young, or I feel like the cast does when I’m walking around and talking about stuff. It’s such a roller coaster though. I never know how long my characters are going to last, so I’m sort of hanging on a string.

According to your social media, you’ve worked with Danielle Campbell (Davina) and Yusuf Gatewood (Vincent). How was it working with them?
They’re awesome. It’s just fun. Everyone is just super professional. Everyone’s on top of their game. It’s just fun working with a great cast and great crew. Everyone’s so nice and hospitable.

Have you watched the show?
I started watching it recently—maybe last month. I’m in the middle of the second season. I like it a lot. At first, I was like “oh man, this is going to be like a teen TV show.” But after a couple episodes, I was like “Wow, this is really good.” The actors are actually really damn good—That made me excited. Joseph Morgan is awesome. The sister (Claire Holt)—she’s awesome too.

Do you have any future projects lined up?
I’ve been asked to audition for a couple plays. There’s also a film I shot 5 years ago—it’s in post right now finally. I just ADR’d it maybe two months ago. It’s taken a while. But it’s a cool little movie. It’s a romantic comedy with me and some girl. I’m just waiting for it to come out.

You also had a strong YouTube background too. Can you tell me about that and are you still making online content?
Yeah, like 2 years ago when I was not booking anything—I was like, oh I got to make my own original content. I have a lot of dancer friends that choreograph a lot, and they’re always able to show what they can do [online]. I had a strong desire for people to see my storytelling capabilities and just me being able to act. That was fun. It lasted for about a year. I used to put stuff up constantly, and then I got busy, which is cool. But I still want to go back to YouTube doing stuff and creating content. But right now it’s just focusing on other things that are in the way or are happening right now.


For more of Lawrence Kao, follow him at @iamlawrencekao on Twitter and Instagram.

Also, be sure to catch his debut as Van the witch on The Originals this Thursday, October 15 at 9pm ET/8pm CT on the CW.


Photos Courtesy of Lawrence Kao

Dr. Ken Recap 1.02 – “The Seminar”

Growing up as an Asian-American, I never understood why my parents barely gave me any positive reinforcement, but as I got older and learned more about my parents and my culture, I was able to slowly connect the dots. You see, Vietnamese parents don’t usually praise their children’s achievements because don’t want their kids to stop being humble and striving to do better. Instead, they show their support by providing shelter, food, clothes, college tuition, and everything else to ensure that I could keep achieving. This cultural “clash” with my “American” upbringing was the source of many a conflict with my parents, which is why I was glad to see that last Friday’s episode of Dr. Ken was all about perceptions and misunderstanding (that old sitcom standby), with a slight Asian twist.

Dr. Ken’s parents are in town, which is an event dreaded by the whole family, especially his wife Allison. Ken’s promise to be a buffer between her and his emotionless parents are dashed as his non-reaction to friend and co-worker Clark’s announcement of becoming a registered nurse led to a series of event that accidentally resulted in Ken being forced to attend “Physician Sensitivity Training,” (or “DMV for doctors”). Fortunately, Ken eventually realizes during the seminar how Clark must have felt when he didn’t receive any recognition for his achievement and immediately apologized to his “work husband.”

While everything was going down at the hospital, Allison was facing her own “Korean Mt. Rushmore.” Throughout her marriage with Ken, she always believed that his parents didn’t think she was good enough for their “golden boy, the successful doctor”. However, after she finally confronts them, she learns that they actually do like her and that although Ken might be a doctor, his humility needs some work. In fact, sometimes they actually think that Ken might not be good enough for her.

This episode’s plot had two parallel lines. With Ken and his parents on one side, withholding their emotions, and Clark and Allison on the other, not knowing how to process that. Like with my own experiences, Allison’s American upbringing clashed with Ken’s parent’s Asian point of view, and she was not able to understand her in-laws true feelings toward her. But when everything is put out into the open, Ken’s parents finally understood why their daughter in-law always acts awkward around them, and become more open with her. Ken, once again, showed us that he was capable of learning from his mistakes, and Clark learns that while Ken might not give praises freely, he does, in fact, respect him.

I think we can all agree that relationships are the most important things in life, regardless of our ethnicities. Without proper communication, misunderstandings are bound to rise. If each individual can yield a little to one another, be more patient, and be honest to one another when there is an issue, relationships don’t have to be so hard. “The Seminar” portrayed this perfectly.


Featured Photo: Nicole Wilder / ABC

Grace Lee Taught Us – Inspirational Quotes to Remember Grace Lee Boggs 1915-2015

Earlier this week, Grace Lee Boggs, activist, philosopher, and civil rights icon known for her work in Detroit’s communities, passed away at the age of 100. Members of the activist and Asian American communities all across the nation came together to celebrate and remember her life as one of the earliest Asian American activists in the civil rights movement, including President Obama. Throughout her life, she’s been the subject of countless interviews and media, including a documentary you can stream on pbs, and as a result has amassed a figurative library of inspirational and thought-provoking quotes. Here are a few that resonated with us:

On personal responsibility

“You don’t choose the times you live in, but you do choose who you want to be. And you do choose how you think.”

On social responsibility

“You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it, and responsible for changing it.”

On treating activism as a way of life

“activism can be the journey rather than the arrival;”

On rebelling with a purpose

“Rebellions tend to be negative, to denounce and expose the enemy without providing a positive vision of a new future…A revolution is not just for the purpose of correcting past injustices, a revolution involves a projection of man/woman into the future…It begins with projecting the notion of a more human human being, i.e. a human being who is more advanced in the specific qualities which only human beings have – creativity, consciousness and self-consciousness, a sense of political and social responsibility.”

On love

“Love isn’t about what we did yesterday; it’s about what we do today and tomorrow and the day after”

Rest in Power Grace Lee Boggs 1915 – 2015. Follow the hashtag #GraceLeeTaughtMe to see how she impacted other members of out community


Fresh off the Boat Recap 2.03 – “Shaquille O’Neal Motors”

For those who may not know, buying a car is serious business in an Asian family. One must go into the dealership with their game face on, ready to take advantage of all the deals and not get taken advantage of in the process. Mentally, it’s like entering the Hunger Games, only not life-threatening (and less blood). This week’s episode of Fresh off the Boat explores high stakes adventure through the eyes of the heads of the Huang household.

In honor of their 12th wedding anniversary, Louis recreates the day he and Jessica got married by bringing her to a car dealership, Shaquille O’Neal Motors specifically, to pick out a second car (which they desperately need). Despite the thoughtful gesture, Jessica is uneasy about buying a new car; not so much out of frugality, but because as a proud, top notch bargainer, her confidence was shaken when they bought their first car and she accidently missed out on a deal for free floor mats. Luckily, Louis brings Jessica back to her senses and she regains her mojo to finally go back and get a good deal on a new car. Their coordinated tactics through the gauntlet of “top managers” sent to negotiate with them is eventually rewarded with a face to face with the dealership’s real top manager, the eponymous Shaq himself.

Meanwhile, Eddie and his brothers have their eyes on a waterslide that’s shaped like a hot dog (appropriately called the Hot Dogger) but they can’t afford to buy it themselves. After learning from his neighbors that his brother Evan’s limited edition Beanie Babies are worth some real cash, dollar signs appear in his eyes as he decides to use this new development to buy the waterslide. Although he may have missed a crucial step in the process and is later met with negative consequences when Evan finds out what he’s done.

This is the first episode of my memory where it was really about the relationship between Louis and Jessica. Their personalities may be anything but alike, but this episode showed how they really are on the same team. Randall Park and Constance Wu have such great chemistry together, their comedic timing and acting are on point as they naturally bounce off each other, especially in the negotiation scenes at the dealership.

This was also the first time where we see the Huang brothers together throughout a whole episode. It was nice to see all three of them in a storyline for once. Similar to Park and Wu’s performance, their scenes in this episode gave me a good look at how Hudson Yang, Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen perform together and I have to say, they really do a convincing job as onscreen brothers.

Finally, I really liked O’Neal’s guest appearance as himself and I thought how he was incorporated into the storyline as the manager of his own car dealership was very clever. While he is not the first NBA star to appear on Fresh off the Boat, he still made a big impression (pun intended) in the two scenes he appeared in with a distinctive camera presence and impeccable comic timing. Also, this might be stating the obvious but I have to say: That computer Shaq was typing at looked tiny compared to him. My awareness for just how tall this man is popped out even more when he and Jessica stood up to shake hands on the car deal. I swear she looked like a small girl from the back of her head compared to him.

Another great outing for this show, until next week!



Feature Image Credit: ABC 

Keeping it Local: Hanging Out at the East Meets West Bookstore Block Party

With the chronic lack of diversity in mainstream entertainment, it’s easy to look to the few prominent figures in the industry and throw our support behind known names like Ken Jeong, George Takei, Lucy Liu, and the Far East Movement. The downside is as a result, sometimes up-and-coming local artists get forgotten. That’s why it’s important that events like the block party thrown fundraiser by the East Meets West Bookstore exists to help empower artists. 

East Meets West Bookstore was founded in 1999 by Professors Wen Kong and his wife Jin Au Kong to be a safe space for the Chinese immigrant community in Cambridge. In 2004, the bookstore was taken over and expanded by their son David Sun Kong. With help from community organizers, Kong revived the bookstore to be a space for the local AAPI community. According to their website, “East Meets West served as a hub of art and activism and the home of Boston Progress Arts Collective, which organized what is now the longest running APIA open mic on the east coast, East Meets Words.”

A week and a half ago on September 26, 2015, East Meets West hosted a block party fundraiser, bringing in artists from all around the country to talk and perform throughout the day. The invited artists included local Boston area groups like the all-women Japanese taiko drumming group the Genki Spark, international beatboxing champion Gene Shinozaki, and Kollaboration Boston finalist band Juice from Boston College. Bigger names from outside the area were also in attendance like Tony Award winning spoken word artist Beau Sia, hip-hip group Magnetic North and Taiyo Na, and alternative rapper DANakaDAN. A small brewery, Aeronaut, hosted the day events and the evening concert took place a few doors down at Brooklyn Boulders, a rock climbing gym.


Brooklyn Boulders was probably the most original concert venue I’ve ever been in. With a small stage, towering rock walls on every side, and bright and triply projections on the towering rock walls— it made for a great venue where the audience could get close to the stage and connect with the artists during their performances.

There was an accepting and welcoming atmosphere at the block party that carried on throughout the day. The afternoon East Meets Words open mic featured entirely local performers who were just as supported by the audience as the bigger names. All of the guest performers and speakers were also close friends and supporters of the bookstore. Beau Sia, Magnetic North and Taiyo Na, and DANakaDAN all remembered performing at the bookstore during its early days and were happy to be there to help East Meets West with its fundraiser.


While happy to support a good cause, I was also glad to be able to discover new artists to follow after seeing them perform such amazing sets at the East Meets West block party. , including New York’s The Beatbox House, drummer Madame Gandhi, and Gene Shinozaki. Concerts and fundraisers like the block party help give local artists a chance to get their names out there, and a platform like East Meets West Bookstore is vital to keeping the small art scene in Boston alive and empowered. Because then one day when all these small artists make it, you’ll have a few stories to tell about how you knew them when.


All photos credited to David Sun Kong at EMW Bookstore

What’s in a Name? Asian-American Identity in From Dusk Till Dawn

Rich in action and featuring snake-like vampires, From Dusk Till Dawn may be one of the more racially nuanced series in television. Wait a minute—Did I say From Dusk Till Dawn? As in the series based on the 1996 Quentin Tarantino-Robert Rodriguez b-horror action film? Yes, you read that right!

From Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network, From Dusk Till Dawn is a supernatural crime series about two wanted criminals, brothers Seth and Richie Gecko (played with magnificent chemistry by DJ Cotrona and Zane Holtz) who kidnap the Fuller family and use their RV to help them escape into Mexico. Chaos ensues as they are hunted down by local law enforcer Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia) and are manipulated by the supernatural forces tied to the Mexican cartel.

With a strong number of Latino creatives in front and behind the camera, From Dusk Till Dawn has proven itself as one of the more racially nuanced shows in mainstream media. The television landscape is getting more diverse, and while that landscape is not perfect, it is progressively better. After all, Viola Davis became the first black woman to win Best Actress in a Drama Series in all of Emmy’s 67-year history. Shows like FOX’s Empire and CW’s Jane the Virgin, both dominated by a strong Black and Latino cast respectively, are earning nominations and awards. Meanwhile, ABC Network has 18 Asian series regulars this season and where three of their shows—Fresh Off the Boat, Dr. Ken, and Quantico—have one or more Asian lead.

Robert Patrick as Pastor Jacob Fuller, Madison Davenport as Kate Fuller, Brandon Soo Hoo as Scott Fuller From the El Rey Network Original "From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series" Photography: Robert Rodriguez Photo Courtesy El Rey Network (c) 2014 Dusk Productions LLC. All rights reserved.
Robert Patrick as Pastor Jacob Fuller, Madison Davenport as Kate Fuller, Brandon Soo Hoo as Scott Fuller From the El Rey Network Original “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series” Photography: Robert Rodriguez. Photo Courtesy El Rey Network (c) 2014 Dusk Productions LLC. All rights reserved.

As a Vietnamese-American, I cling to every occurrence of Asian-American representation I see. I yearn to see more diverse faces in mainstream media because, like Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez said in the Washington Post, “that lack of visibility, that lack of relatability, really made me feel kind of alone in this world. It really made me feel a certain way about myself, about beauty, what I could and could not be.” It’s why I appreciate shows like From Dusk Till Dawn having such a diverse cast. But more importantly, I appreciate the fact these characters aren’t fully defined by their race or ethnicity. As From Dusk Till Dawn director Joe Menendez told Nerd Reactor, their stories are universal, but it’s the specific elements that make their perspectives unique.

With From Dusk Till Dawn, I can’t help but pay particular attention to Scott Fuller, the only Asian-American character in the main cast. Who, much to my surprise, resonated with me much more than I initially realized.

In the series, Scott (played by Brandon Soo Hoo) is the teenage son to Jacob Fuller (Robert Patrick) and the younger brother to Kate Fuller (Madison Davenport), having been adopted into the family at the age of seven from China. However, Scott is not simply a prop for the other characters, and the show is not afraid to delve into his specific experiences as an Asian-American transracial adoptee.

Warning: Minor spoilers for From Dusk Till Dawn season 2, episode 5 ‘Bondage.’

Brandon Soo Hoo as Scott Fuller From the El Rey Network Original "From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series" Photography: Robert Rodriguez  Photo Courtesy El Rey Network (c) 2014 Dusk Productions LLC. All rights reserved.
Brandon Soo Hoo as Scott Fuller From the El Rey Network Original “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series” Photography: Robert Rodriguez. Photo Courtesy El Rey Network (c) 2014 Dusk Productions LLC. All rights reserved.

Season 2, episode 5 marked a major development with Scott. In an emotional moment to reconnect with him, Kate confesses she resented him when he joined their family, and the heartbreaking truth that Kate’s resentment was rooted in his foreign-ness. She even admits that she was the reason everyone called him Scott instead of his birth name: Jian Jun. But it’s not that she couldn’t pronounce his name—she didn’t want to learn how to pronounce his name.

This aspect of Scott’s story resonated strongly with me, reminding me much of The Improper Bostonian’s interview with Orange is the New Black actress Uzo Aduba who as a child “asked [her] mother if [she] could be called Zoe” because “nobody ever knew how to pronounce [her] name.” The story is a rarity to see and hear on American television. From Dusk Till Dawn may be a fun supernatural action show, but this pivotal moment between Kate and Scott, took me multiple days to emotionally unload.

I was born with a Western name, while my Vietnamese surname is easy to read and pronounce. My surname isn’t Western, but it is simple and ambiguous enough that I’m rarely confronted about the foreign-ness of it. However my Vietnam-born refugee mother did give me a Vietnamese name: Thục Yên. Unlike my surname, it’s not as easy on the Western tongue, but I respond to its call just as quickly as if it was on my birth certificate. My western name was chosen for me by my mom, and the thought doesn’t escape me that she did so because it would be easier for me to assimilate in the New World.

This is why  I’m further enraptured by the show’s awareness. It doesn’t necessarily smear Kate as the antagonist of their relationship, but instead dives into the complexities of it. For Kate, her brother’s birth name was too different—he was too different, and that was bad. So she changed his name. As author David S. Slawson stated, “names are an important key to what society values. Anthropologists recognize naming as ‘one of the chief methods for imposing order on perception.” Even though Kate was a child (and she’s aware that she was), she’s directly confronting her mistakes by acknowledging the consequences of her actions and how it affected her brother.

We cater to the Western ear, and rarely is it the other way around. As Uzo Aduba’s mother once told her: “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn how to say Uzoamaka.” Learning how to pronounce someone’s name is the simplest form of respect and acknowledgement.

So it’s powerfully symbolic when Kate calls Scott by his birth name, Jian Jun, and tells him she loves him. In the words of philosopher Henry David Thoreau, it’s her “recognition of the individual to whom it belongs.” It’s like she’s giving back what she stripped of him—his identity—and truly accepting him for who and what Scott is and everything else that comes with it.

In the framework of From Dusk Till Dawn, names have a lot of power. They represent who we are, they are tools to help empower, and they are weapons to control. The name Scott rids Jian Jun of his foreign-ness just as the name Jesica was given to me to preemptively cater to the Canadians and American around us. Names are the core of our identity, defining our relationships to ourselves, to the people and the world around us, because as Thoreau wrote, “he [or she] who can pronounce my name aright, he [or she] can call me, and is entitled to my love and service.”


Featured Image: Brandon Soo Hoo as Scott Fuller From the El Rey Network Original “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series” Photography: Robert Rodriguez. Photo Courtesy El Rey Network (c) 2014 Dusk Productions LLC. All rights reserved.

Gif Set: Courtesy of

In the Key of A Minor(ity): Connie’s Adventures in Music Part 1 – Getting Lucky

I absolutely love meeting well established musicians who say things like “I got really lucky to be able to work with so-and-so,” or “I lucked out when so-and-so heard my music and reached out to produce my next record,” or  “Our band is super lucky because after Spotify added our music to a playlist, we garnered over a million streams in one week.”

The reason why my heart stretches a big smile whenever I hear them attribute their successes to luck is because I understand that there is a hidden truth to this whole “luck” thing (apparently Abraham Lincoln knew this too…) :

Luck = opportunity + preparation

I’ve been a working musician for years now, and I’ve encountered lady luck quite a few times. Some of these times I was completely ready for the opportunity at hand. Other times, though, I wasn’t ready for her (even though I may have thought I was!). For example, I met some A&R representatives from major labels when I had no idea what my sound or voice was yet. I was even placed on the first season of The Voice when I was still figuring out my strengths and weaknesses as a singer. Needless to say, the meetings with A&R didn’t lead to record deals, and my time on The Voice didn’t lead to the 100K prize (that would have been nice, eh?). I wasn’t ready, and lady luck and I could not fully… consummate.  

You may think, wow, what a bummer! She got landed some great opportunities, which didn’t lead to anything! If I chose to look at it like that I might as well just hang up the towel. However, I must say that those “missed” opportunities actually did help me tremendously: they made me look straight on towards my weak spots, and motivated me to keep improving myself. The meetings with A&R execs got my mind thinking about my identity as an artist, and my intentions. My time on The Voice helped me understand the commodification of artistry, and to learn how to play the game without compromising my identity.

Key was to not judge myself, and to keep pushing forward, because the right opportunity would come when I became ripe for it. So I prepared my skills as much as I could in order to have all pistols firing if… no- when- the opportunity hit.  And indeed, lady luck has hit a few times.  

Photo of me singing at the local music festival
Photo of me singing at the local music festival

After graduating Berkeley I moved to Los Angeles and started gigging at least twice a week, to hone my performance craft. Through playing live shows on a weekly basis, I got connected with a band that eventually introduced me to a beach street fair. The street fair  would pay me a bit of money to set up my instruments, and play two and half hours straight  for tips on the street. I would have to sing covers, they said, and just make sure to entertain the crowd.  

The gig would challenge me to play two and half hours of music straight (which I didn’t yet have down), and to learn new cover songs to entertain strangers.  At that period of time I prefered playing just originals- partially because I didn’t know too many covers, and partially because I was young, and adamant that my songwriting would be the only way declare my  identity. However, the wiser side of me knew that if something scared me, it most likely would have something to teach me. So I agreed to play on the side of the street. My bandmates (bless those boys) and I lugged our gear, and proceeded to play for hours.  Yes, it definitely wasn’t playing to a sold out crowd at Coachella, but I ended up having a blast regardless. I had an email list that we passed around so I could send people a free song. I sold some CDs, and left with a full tip jar. It was hard work, and I learned a ton of new music for the gig. We packed up, and went home. All in all, a success.

Fast forward one year later, I get an email from a prominent songwriter, who heard about me through his realtor, who had walked by as I was singing on the streetside in Hermosa.  He invites me to his studio to write. Turns out he’s written a few gold records. No big deal, right? We wrote a couple songs, and I even got my first opportunity to write a song for network television. We developed a good rapport, and have kept in touch ever since!

photo of me recording with Pam Sheyne, cowriter of “Genie in a Bottle”

Fast forward two years after that, the same songwriter asks me to come into the studio to sing a song he cowrote with one of Christina Aguilera’s songwriters. I was floored that my side street gig had led to me an opportunity to work with Pam Sheyne, world renowned songwriter who I had looked up to since my early years. In fact, that the very first demo I had ever recorded in the 9th grade (may that recording never resurface lol) was one of her songs, “Genie in a Bottle.” Who knew that it would land me some songwriting opportunities with my heroes?! By this time I had 3 years of recording and touring experience under my belt.  Thank goodness I walked into Pam’s studio feeling… yes… prepared.

Point is, there is no way of being able to tell if one opportunity is going to lead to meeting world renowned songwriters. I wasn’t doing the street gig to land some dream deal. I was doing this because I wanted to work. To learn. The focus was not success, but growth. The street side gig was going to push me to be better than I was before. I was going to learn more material, and push myself to perform for 2 hours straight.  Lady luck came without me aiming for it.  

By the way if I ever meet any of you in person in the future, I hope you tell me you got lucky (musically, of course!), cause then I’ll smile, knowing  I’ve met yet another humble, hard-working hustler.


Feature Photo: Connie Lim

Cinnabon Monster Recaps: East West Players’ CHINGLISH

Since this is my first time writing anything for Kollaboration, allow me to introduce myself! Edward Hong is my name, the Cinnabon Monster is my nickname. I’m gonna start right off the bat that before I begin the recap of the most recent East West Players production Chinglish, I would say that this was perhaps not only one of the best EWP productions I’ve ever seen but also one of the best plays I’ve seen this year. From the directing, acting, and presentation, Chinglish managed to hit all the marks in a sharp fashion in such a way that I would highly recommend this to not just my Asian folks because they should support Asian theatre but to my non-Asian & Asian folks alike because it’s good theatre period. I say all this because when it comes to Asian American entertainment, I can be rather harsh and this play was able to satisfy all my critical demands and more.

 (L-R) Leann Lei as Prosecutor Li, Joy Yao as translator Zhao, Ewan Chung as Judge Xu Geming, Kara Wang s Vice Minister Xi Yan, and Mattew Jaeger as Daniel Cavanaugh in East West Players production of David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish.
(L-R) Leann Lei as Prosecutor Li, Joy Yao as translator Zhao, Ewan Chung as Judge Xu Geming, Kara Wang s Vice Minister Xi Yan, and Mattew Jaeger as Daniel Cavanaugh in East West Players production of David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish.

So what IS Chinglish all about?

Written by David Henry Hwang (author of the Tony Award-winning M. Butterfly) & directed by Jeff Liu, Chinglish tells the story of “an American businessman who is desperately looking to score a lucrative contract for his family’s firm travels to China only to learn how much he doesn’t understand: his translators are unreliable, his consultant may be a fraud, and he is captivated by Xi, the beautiful, seemingly supportive government official who talks the talk – but what is she saying, anyway?” The cast is comprised of Kara Wang as Xi Yan, Matthew Jaeger as Daniel Cavanaugh, Jeff Locker as Peter Timms, Ben Wang as Cai Guolang, Leann Lei as Miss Qian and Prosecutor Li, Ewan Chung as Bing and Judge Xu Geming, and Joy Yao as Zhao.

If you’re fan of David Henry Hwang, fast witty comedy with a political bite, or just good Los Angeles theatre in general (those can be hard to find), I highly recommend you watch this play. For a play that heavily relies on subtitles, the set design was created in such an effective and stylish way so that non-Mandarin speaking audience members can also understand the mis-translations. It is perhaps one of the most effective and innovative means and I must give a lot of credit to the set designer Hana Sooyeon Kim with masterful stage management by Sylvia Trinh to put it all together.

(L-R) Jeff Locker as British ex-pat Peter Timms and Ben Wang as Minister of Culture Cai Guoliang in East West Players production of David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish.
(L-R) Jeff Locker as British ex-pat Peter Timms and Ben Wang as Minister of Culture Cai Guoliang in East West Players production of David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish.


For those who have concerns that this Asian themed play with a white guy as the main character rely on any stereotypes, fear not! The central concept of how the main character’s “foreign” western ideals are taken advantage of in Xi’s political game runs very strong with all performances revealing incredibly fleshed out characters. The actors were all terrific but my standout would be Jeff Locker who played a rather difficult role in portraying a character you want to root for but then you realize the complexities that create the confused man that he is. Not only that but he is also fluent in Mandarin and he utilizes that unique skill set to its fullest advantage as he banters back and forth with his Chinese costars. It’s also worthy of note that this was the first production ever done for Chinglish that was directed by a Chinese American so it definitely plays a factor in how the direction was done for this East West Players rendition.


Featured Photo: Xi Yan, Vice Minister of Culture, played by Kara Wang, explains a situation to American businessman Daniel Cavanaugh, played by Matthew Jaeger in East West Players production of David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish.

For more information on the theater or the production, visit

Dr. Ken Recap 1.01 – “Pilot”

The series premiere of Dr. Ken opens with a patient disagreeing with Dr. Kendrick Park (Ken Jeong) with his recommendation for a colonoscopy, insisting that “it’s hemorrhoids” based on his own research on WebMD. Dr. Park’s resulting sarcastic mocking causes the patient to angrily storm out of the clinic, setting the stage for ABC’s new family comedy.

Dr. Ken is the second family sitcom this season, and third show overall, featuring an all Asian-American family on American network television. It is filmed in multi-camera with a laugh track as opposed to Fresh Off the Boat’s single camera show, and is in many ways a more traditional family sitcom. Friday night’s premiere offered light-hearted humor, allowing the audience to recognize the show’s intention in portraying its characters as a normal sitcom family.

There were some familiar comedic faces on-screen, such as Tisha Campbell-Martin (Martin, My Wife and Kids, Rita Rocks), and Suzy Nakamura (Go On, The Goldbergs), as well as new ones, both of which are a delight to watch.

The “Pilot” featured a classic sitcom plot of an overprotective father overreacting to a child’s newfound freedom, but the real goal of this episode was to introduce us to the Park family and their relationship dynamics.

Dr. Park, as we met above, is the father of the family. Played with his trademark manic energy, Jeong’s character expressed a wide spectrum of human behavior throughout the pilot. Although initially depicted as an arrogant and narcissistic doctor, he eventually showed that he was capable of remorse, generosity, and humility by the end.

Suzy Nakamura plays Dr. Allison Park, wife of Ken Park and a psychiatrist. She plays the understanding mom who is open to giving her teenage daughter, Molly Park (Krista Marie Yu), more freedom as she is growing up, signified by passing her driver’s test. Her parenting style contrasts with Ken’s although they both eventually meet in the middle as a team, because “it’s got to be us against them!”

Molly spent the episode playing against her father, who, unlike his wife, is terrified now that she has a driver’s license. His overprotectiveness ends up getting him in trouble, as she proves herself to be more responsible than he turns out to be.

Finally, Albert Tsai (Trophy Wife) plays Dave Park, who was seen confidently practicing his mime performance for the school’s talent show, despite how much his dad tells him that it was a terrible idea. His youthful enthusiasm, quirkiness, and confidence is something every young kid should learn and keep throughout their life.

As for the quality of the premiere itself, the comedic lines came off typical and the plot might have been a bit predictable, but it was still entertaining to watch. For one thing, it is one of the few shows representing Asian-Americans that stray away from overt stereotypes. When watching it, it feels like you’re watching characters that you normally see on any other television sitcom, without focusing too much on their ethnicity and culture. It’s rather refreshing!


Featured Photo: ABC

Fresh off the Boat Recap 2.02 – “Boy II Man”

It’s no secret that Fresh off the Boat wears it’s 90’s setting on its sleeve, trading equally on sharply written jokes and nostalgia; such as trips to the local Blockbuster, Eddie’s love for the Notorious BIG, and at the end of last week’s episode, one of his friends even arrives at school dressed as The Mask. In this week’s episode, “Boy II Man,” 90’s pop culture is taken even further when the music of quintessential R&B group Boyz II Men take center stage… sort of.

In attempt to get out of piccolo class his mom Jessica is forcing him to take at school, Eddie decides to serve as a tutor for his crush Nicole (when in reality, they just spend the class period, listening to Boyz II Men). Unsurprisingly, Jessica doesn’t approve of this arrangement. Unfortunately, her attempts to get Eddie to go back to band practice fails due to him manifesting the early signs of teenage rebellion, resulting her first encounter with a flat out “no!” However, by getting inside the head of his faculty adviser, who has an Asian fetish without shame, with a made up story about a Chinese philosopher, Jessica arranges a perfect counter to Eddie’s scheme. Although as a result, any hope of him winning Nicole’s affection is dashed when an older boy, who shows up for his tutoring, wins her over with Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes and Butthead imitations.

Meanwhile, Eddie’s dad Louis is in a funk of his own when he pleads to Jessica that they try having a daughter, only for Jessica to tell him twice, “This shop is closed.” His desire for a daughter scares brothers Emery and Evan, out of fear of what that could mean for them in the long run.

Despite my memory being fuzzy on what pop culture was like in the 90’s (likely due to the fact that I was born in the 90’s), I am very aware of who Boyz II Men are and how popular they were then and now. From my impression of the title for the episode, I thought we’d be treated to a sampling of some of their hits, which is why it surprised me that the only song heard by them was their heartstrings-tugging “End of the Road.” While Eddie’s introduction to the group appropriately came right when he was about to go down in the dumps, how come their songs weren’t utilized at other parts of the episode, like when Nicole was watching them on MTV (good opportunity for the “Motownphilly” music video) or when she and Eddie hung out in tutoring (appropriate timing for their cover of “In the Still of the Night”)? Boyz II Men has a plethora of hit songs under their name, and if “End of the Road” was the only song by them that we were going to hear, then the episode may as well been named “Fresh off the Love Boat.”

On the other hand, I do like how Eddie’s storyline wound up in the episode. I feel that we are beginning to see him make the transition from childhood to adolescence, and that really showed through when he goes through his first heartbreak. Having feelings for someone can be hard, especially if it’s one-sided, and it’s even harder when one is experiencing it for the first time. I was glad to see how, despite being difficult with him all episode, Jessica- with assistance from her friend Honey- was able to become more of a confidant rather than a parent when comforting Eddie by recounting her experience of getting dumped in college and how there are other girls out there who he has yet to meet (cue the girl in the band room, playing Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” on her flute).

Finally, I’m curious as to where the show is going to go with the faculty adviser with the Asian fetish. That scene where he and Jessica interact was funny yet pivotal, just to show how yes, Asian fetish is a thing; a creepy, degrading, racist thing might I add. I wonder if that character will be an one-off “creepy, Asian-obsessed white guy” joke, or if there will a story built around him in the coming episodes?


Feature Image Credit: ABC via Angry Asian Man