This weekend Mu Performing Arts co-founder and artistic director Rick Shiomi is stepping down from his leadership role. But he’s by no means retiring.
In a recent conversation, Shiomi said he plans to spend more time writing plays and is looking forward to directing shows at other Twin Cities theaters.
“Basically I’m going to go back to being a freelance artist. I feel like in the years I worked at Mu I actually learned how to direct. It took 20 years,” Shiomi laughed, “but in the last five or six years in particular I’ve been able to develop some really interesting projects through Mu, and learn a lot about directing.”
Shiomi has a lot to be proud of . When he first started Mu Performing Arts, he faced a formidable challenge. While the company’s mission was to produce plays about the Asian American experience, there were hardly any Asian American actors in town with which to work, and there were very few plays that explored their lives.
Now the Twin Cities features a cast of talented Asian American performers.
“Twenty years ago there would be a production that needed Asian actors and they might say ‘oh well, there are no Asian actors'” mused Shiomi. “They can’t say that here anymore.”
In addition to fostering a new generation of Asian American actors, under Shiomi’s direction Mu Performing Arts has also commissioned or premiered more than forty new plays featuring Asian American stories and characters.
“We really wanted to focus on that, rather than falling back on the tried and true,” said Shiomi. “Of course as a smaller company you can take more risks. The bigger the company gets, the less risk you can afford to take, because there’s so much money involved. We were a new company and we wanted to focus on developing new work.”
As the United States demographics continue to diversify, Shiomi hopes that this body of work will become even more valued at theaters across the country as they seek to reach out to new audiences.
As he described his plans for the future, it became clear that while he’s leaving Mu Performing Arts, he still has the mission and well-being of the company – and its performers – in mind.
“I’m hoping to get work at different companies, and I’m hoping to bring that kind of sensibility of involving Asian American actors in productions at maybe Mixed Blood or Park Square or the History Theater or other places like that,” explained Shiomi. “Mu actors have started to be involved in other companies, which is great, but I think that can be extended, so that many more Asian American actors can be seen working regularly at different companies.”
Shiomi’s last day is tomorrow. He is succeeded by longtime company member and noted Twin Cities actor Randy Reyes.