Over 5 years ago, I embarked on a journey that continues to this day. What started as the South East Asian Collective became Refugee Nation, co-created with my partner in life and art Ova Saopeng. This project took us to cities across the country looking for Laotian refugees in the U.S. We spent time in each city collecting stories. It started out with formal interviews, but we found it was much more fruitful to spend our time sharing a meal at the temple, local restaurant or at peoples homes. As a result, our residencies and performances have provided opportunities for community building that last to this day.
As touring artists we travel for business but we are not your typical business traveler. We are more like migrant workers carrying costumes and props in our luggage. We the work is except we go by plane and often end up in taxis where the driver as our guide turns out to be a traveler, or migrant, or refugee as well. The stories we heard form the backseat of these cabs, tuk tuks and shuttles have launched this new exploration.
What inspired me from this journey was that while we were deeply imbedded in this small often overlooked community, the stories we heard about the transnational refugee experience was echoed in other communities. From Somalian refugees in Minneapolis, to Cubans women in Alaska, to Nepalese youth in Portland who were amazed that the issues of cultural assimilation they were currently facing were being depicted on stage. This sharing across cultures and with recent refugee communities is what is inspiring my new work. I long to see my work break down the barriers of language, occupation and race. To reexamine what the “American Experience” really is through the eyes of transnational citizens. To create a work that travels treacherously between these worlds and navigates between recent immigrants and 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants. There is no better way to do this that through the eyes of taxi drivers.
Leilani Chan recently received a partial commission from the Center for Cultural Innovation to create Global Taxi Driver, a transnational community-based ensemble performance exploring immigration and mobility in the 21st century. She and her partner Ova Saopeng, are co-creators of Refugee Nation, a nationally touring play about Laotian refugees in the U.S. which was commissioned through a MAP Fund and an NPN Creation Fund. As member of the Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists, TeAda co-hosted the 3rd National Asian American Theater Conference & Festival in L.A. Leilani Chan received the 2009 Rainbow Award from the Los Angeles Women’s Theater Festival. Leilani was selected to participate in Atlantic Center for the Arts residency program as an associate artist with Liz Lerman. She also was invited to UCLA’s World Arts and Culture HOTHOUSE and TCG/Center Theater Group’s Solo Performance Workshop led by Roger G. Smith. Her performance installation “Life as a Dashboard Hula Dancer” has been presented as part of Guillermo Gomez-Peña’s La Pocha Nostra at LACMA and FITLA. Ms. Chan’s solo work E Nana I Ke Kumu also received a NPN Creation Fund with the help of New WORLD Theater’s New Works for a New World. In addition Ms. Chan’s work has been presented at Japan America Theater, Grand Performances, Getty Center Museum, New WORLD Theater, Great Leap, and at many other performance venues across the country. She was an Artist in Residence for City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs Artist In Residence 5 times and the California Arts Council 3 times. Born and raised in Hawai’i, Leilani attended Hampshire College and obtained her M.F.A. from U.C.I.
Leilani is the Founding Artistic Director of TeAda Productions. For over ten years, TeAda Productions’ cross-disciplinary performances have addressed health, education, and social justice issues of communities of color. TeAda Productions is a non-profit theater company whose primary mission is to empower underserved communities through the development and presentation of interdisciplinary theatrical performance pieces by, for and about people of color.