Ping Chong (Chinese: 張家平; pinyin: Zhāng Jiāpíng; born Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1946) is an American contemporary theater director, choreographer, video and installation artist. He was born in Toronto and raised in the Chinatown section of New York City. Chong is internationally recognized as a director, writer, and multi-disciplinary artist, and is considered a seminal figure in Asian American theatre and the Asian American arts movement.
Career and works
Originally trained as a visual artist and filmmaker at the School of Visual Arts and Pratt Institute, he began his theatrical career as a member of Meredith Monk's The House Foundation. He created his first independent theatre work, Lazarus in 1972. Many of Chong's works concern the interaction of Eastern and Western cultures and/or issues of cultural diversity, and frequently draw on documentary and interview-based materials (as in Undesirable Elements and Children of War).
In 1975, Chong founded Ping Chong & Company (originally called The Fiji Theatre Company). The company's mission is "to explore the meaning of contemporary theatre and art on a national and international level," and "to create and tour innovative multi-disciplinary works of theater and art, which explore the intersections of history, race, art and technology in the modern world." The company has created and toured more than 50 works by Chong and his collaborators, which have been presented at major theatres, performing arts centres, and arts festivals around the world. In 1985 Chong directed Nosferatu and Nuit Blanche and in 1986, Kind Ness at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. In an interview with director/performer Pablo Vela and photographer Allen Frame, Chong discusses his early work: "The results [of Nosferatu] were very much in line with my own philosophy and thinking, even though it was a surprise to me the way it turned out, because the whole Nosferatu idea goes back a long way for me, even before I started to do theater, still, the results were consistent with everything I've done. If you see Nuit Blanche next to Nosferatu, which was five years later, you can still see the consistency, even though certainly there are some differences. The original ideas I was interested in are still there—the issue of man and his other. Originally, the idea was, what if a vampire were just like us. The only difference being their eating habits. What happens then? It's always this thing of the mirror—of your other, of man and his other.".
Recent productions have included several large scale puppet theatre works, Cathay: Three Tales of China (2005), Obon: Tales of Rain and Moonlight (2002), and Kwaidan (1998). Kwaidan and Obon were both based on Japanese ghost stories collected and published by Lafcadio Hearn. Cathay was set in China and used three interconnected stories to explore three eras of Chinese history: the Tang Dynasty, the Japanese invasion during World War II, and contemporary China today. Cathay was named one of the Top 10 Shows of the 2005-2006 Season by NY Theatre Wire, and was awarded three Henry Hewes awards for achievement in theatrical design.
Since 1992, Chong has created over 30 works in the Undesirable Elements project, an ongoing series of oral-history theater works exploring issues of race, culture, and identity in the lives of individuals in specific communities. The development process includes an extended residency and rehearsal period during which Ping Chong and collaborators conduct intensive interviews with potential participants from the local community. These interviews then form the basis of a script, performed by the interviewees, that covers the historical and personal narratives of individuals who are in some way living between two cultures. One of the most recent entries in the series is "Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity" which started touring in 2016. Byond Sacred is an interview-based theatre production exploring the diverse experiences of Muslim communities in the United States. The five cast members of Beyond Sacred vary in many ways, but share the common experience of coming of age in a post-9/11 New York City, at a time of increasing Islamophobia. They are young men and women that reflect a wide range of Muslim identities, including those who have converted to Islam, those who were raised Muslim, but have since left the faith, those who identify as “culturally” Muslim, and those who are observant on a daily basis. It stars Tiffany Yasmin Abdelghani, Ferdous Dehqan, Kadin Herring, Amir Khafagy and Maha Syed.
In 2014, Chong and dramaturg Talvin Wilks created "Collidescope: Adventures in Pre- and Post-Racial America" in collaboration with undergraduate and graduate designers and actors in the University of Maryland School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies. Of the work, Chong says, "In response to the recent killings of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown and the seemingly endless killings of black men and boys for unarmed offenses, we have designed Collidescope to be a collision-course view of the legacy and psyche behind this history of racial violence, racism and social injustice in America." Subsequent adaptations have performed at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Wake Forest University.
Chong is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the National Medal of Arts in 2014, the Art of Change fellowship from the Ford Foundation, five National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and two Obie Awards, including in 2000 an award for Sustained Achievement. The second of these, which he received in 2000, was for "Sustained Achievement." He was awarded the Yomiuri Prize in 1995 for Undesirable Elements. In 2006, Chong was named to the first round of USA Artist Fellows by the United States Artists Foundation .
- Frame, Allen. "Ping Chong and Pablo Vela", BOMB Magazine Spring, 1986. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- Snyder, Sarah. "TDPS’ Production of Collidescope: Adventures in Pre- and Post-Racial America Contributes to National Conversation about Race Relations". Retrieved 2015-03-30.
- "Collidescope 2.0 Brings Issues of Racism to Center Stage | UMass HFA". www.umass.edu. Retrieved 2017-11-06.
- Correspondent, Bill Cissna Special. "'Collidescope 3.0' at Wake combines sci-fi with America's race issues". Winston-Salem Journal. Retrieved 2017-11-06.
- "President Obama to Award 2014 National Medals of Arts | NEA". www.arts.gov. Retrieved 2017-11-06.
- "Ford Foundation awards 25 fellowships to US artists driving social change". Ford Foundation. Retrieved 2017-11-06.
- Ping Chong & Company official site
- Undesirable Elements, a Ping Chong & Company project
- Ping Chong Archive, 1971-2007, Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library.