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Alice Tuan is a U.S. playwright, teacher and performer. Her first works were of an Asian American nature, attempting to make sense of being raised with eastern values while schooled in U.S. thought. The plays following, whether experimental or traditionally non-ethnic, have always attempted to juxtapose and commingle contradiction, and also articulate a female sensibility at the core of the work.
In the year 2000, Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum honored her with the Richard E. Sherwood Award in June, while New York’s Downtown Arts Project awarded her the Colbert Award for Excellence that fall. She was also given a New Voices Playwriting Award from East West Players and awarded a slot at Seattle’s ACT/Hedgebrook Playwriting Festival that year as well.
Two years prior, Tuan was endowed with the NEA/TCG Residency Program for Playwrights through Los Angeles’ East West Players (1998–2000) while also given a Playwright in Residence grant through the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs/California Arts Council at the Los Angeles Theatre Center (1998–1999).
Upon graduating from Brown University with an MFA in Creative Writing in 1997 (having been endowed with the Binecke Playwright Fellowship from 1995–1997), Tuan was the winner of the Perishable Theater 5th Annual Woman’s Playwriting Festival. She was also awarded the Drama-Logue Award for Best Play that year for scribing Ikebana, a play telling the relations of a 3-generation Chinese family, each scene having been written based on a Japanese flower arrangement.
Tuan has had over a dozen works produced, including Last of the Suns, Ajax (por nobody), Coastline, The Roaring Girle, and BATCH, one-act plays Some Asians and Manilova, 9 short plays and a self-scribed hypertext performance as part of En Garde Arts’ final production, the site specific Secret History of the Lower East Side.
The best known of these plays, Ajax (por nobody), had a year run at New York’s Flea Theater and traveled to the Melbourne Fringe Festival in September 2001. It is also archived in the Billy Rose Collection of the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center. Thomas E. Jenkins notes ‘Tuan’s Ajax is less a direct adaptation of a Greek tragedy than an exploration of what “tragedy” means in the context of American theatre, and even American social context. Tuan’s clever use of classical allusions and stage techniques, however, roots the play in the most ancient of performance traditions even as it pushes the boundaries of contemporary sensibilities concerning sex and sexuality.’. In 2012, Canadian director Zack Russell directed the first fully staged production of this explicit work in Toronto's SummerWorks Festival to rambunctious reviews and sold out houses.
Last of the Suns, her first play, tells of a Chinese Nationalist army general shriveling away under the harsh California sun as his failed and defecting ice-skating granddaughter comes to visit him on his 100th birthday. It premiered at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and was later produced by New York's Ma-Yi Theater Company. Matthew Murray begins his review ‘The world of Alice Tuan's Last of the Suns is one that, as in many great plays, exists somewhere between the real and the fantastic. Real people seem fictional, imaginary creatures are among the most human characters, and absolutely nothing is as it seems at first glance.’
More recent works include the Virtual Hypertext Play Coastline, which traveled to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2005, and BATCH: An American Bachelor/ette Party Spectacle,' directed by Whit MacLaughlin and in collaboration with New Paradise Laboratories. Commissioned by the Actors Theatre of Louisville, BATCH had its world premiere at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in March 2007. In writing about BATCH in The Feminist Spectator, Jill Dolan states: "Alice Tuan’s plays stretch the proprieties of American morality. She stares in the face of all our taboos and preconceptions, and insists that we take a very close look along with her, staging a gaze so intense that everything we thought we knew begins to melt from its heat."
HIT, originally commissioned by New York's Public Theater, opened at the Los Angeles Theater Center in May 2014, produced by the Latino Theater Company and directed by Laurel Ollstein. In a Stage Raw review, Steven Leigh Morris writes 'HIT isn't so much a drama as a comic-despondent point of view on what it means to be alive here, in our perverse sliver of history.'
Tuan has facilitated playwright workshops at all levels throughout the United States, including MFA candidates at both the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas, Austin, and the California Institute of the Arts. Before becoming a playwright, Tuan taught English as a Second Language (ESL) in China and Los Angeles.