As a stage director, Rick Shiomi has discovered remarkable new plays and re-imagined classics in the context of the Asian American experience. He has staged over forty productions for theater companies across North America. He directed the world premiere of Caught, by Christopher Chen, at InterAct Theatre for which he received a Barrymore Award Nomination for Outstanding Direction and the play received the Outstanding New Play Award. (Caught went on to many other productions across the country, winning several awards. Chen won a 2017 Obie Playwriting Award for Caught for its NYC production.) Shiomi’s re-imagining of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, reset in Edwardian England, attracted considerable national interest and press coverage, with Asian American actors playing many English lead characters, wiping out all the problematic Asian stereotypes. He will re-stage Caught for Full Circle Theater at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio in May/June 2019.
Shiomi began to develop his unique directorial approach during his first decade as artistic director of Mu Performing Arts when he directed several new, experimental works derived from deep personal narratives of the Asian American experience that were combined with traditional dance, music, or theater methods from related root Asian cultures. He used this unique directing approach with such original works as Mask Dance (1993), combining personal stories of Korean adoptees in America with traditional Korean mask dance; or in Song of the Pipa (2000), combining master Chinese pipa player Gao Hong’s wrenching immigrant story with her magnificent live performance as a musician.
This work as stage director at Mu moved forward when Shiomi expanded this approach with his re-imagining of classic western works from an Asian American perspective. This began in 2006 with his acclaimed re-envisioning of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in 19th Century Japan and featuring a mostly Asian American cast. For the production all characters in the fairy world performed in Korean mask dance style, wearing traditional Korean costume.
Shiomi has continued with this innovative approach of re-envisioning western classics from an Asian American perspective. In 2012 he directed Sondheim’s musical Into The Woods setting it in Japanese, Korean, Hmong, and Filipino magical folk tale worlds. In 2013 he directed a revolutionary version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado (co-produced by Skylark Opera), setting it in Edwardian England instead of Japan, and casting Asian American actors (as English men/women) in most of the lead roles, turning the racist depiction of Japanese on its head and receiving national coverage. In 2014 he directed Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, using color conscious casting to reframe the musical with an Asian American cast. And he has directed two David Henry Hwang plays, Yellow Face and Hwang’s revision of Flower Drum Song by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Since leaving Mu Performing Arts in 2014, Shiomi has continued his important work as a director: In 2014 he directed the world premiere of Caught by Christopher Chen, at InterAct Theatre, Philadelphia, for which he received the Philadelphia Barrymore Award Nomination for Outstanding Direction. In 2015/16, Shiomi directed Theater: A Sacred Passage for the new theater company he has co-founded, Full Circle Theater. This original/devised performance piece presents the powerful personal narratives of five racially diverse Full Circle theater artists and how they discovered their passion to pursue theater as a profession. In 2017 Shiomi directed: You For Me For You by Mia Chung, at InterAct Theatre, Philadelphia. In 2017 he co-directed 365 Days/365 Plays by Suzan Lori Parks for Full Circle, which received year-end accolades from several media reviewers.
Shiomi directed 17 main stage productions while at Mu Performing Arts, and has also directed at Park Square Theater (St. Paul), Skylark Opera (St. Paul), the Asian American Theater Company in San Francisco, InterAct Theatre in Philadelphia, The Bloomington Civic Theatre in Minnesota, St. Paul's SteppingStone Theatre for Youth, and Theatre Esprit Asia in Denver.
Photo by Lia Chang