Rick Shiomi

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Rick Shiomi
Playwright Rick Shiomi in New York in 2011. Photo by Lia Chang.JPG
Playwright Rick Shiomi in New York in 2011.
Born Rickey Allan Shiomi
(1947-05-25) May 25, 1947 (age 69)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Pen name R. A. Shiomi
Occupation Playwright, Artistic Director, Theater Director
Nationality Canadian
Ethnicity Japanese
Education University of Toronto,
Simon Fraser University
Period 1982 - Present
Genre Theater
Subject Asian American Experience
Notable works Yellow Fever

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Rick Shiomi (born May 25, 1947)[1] is a Canadian playwright, stage director and taiko artist. He is a co-founder and was the Artistic Director of the Minneapolis, Minnesota based Asian American theater company, Mu Performing Arts, for twenty years. [2] Shiomi stepped down from the post in 2013 to pursue his freelance career.

Early life[edit]

Mr. Shiomi's parents were among the many Canadians of Japanese descent who were forced into internment camps during World War II. They had previously lived in Vancouver, British Columbia. They moved to Toronto after their release where their son, Rickey Allan Shiomi, was born in 1947. Shiomi was raised in Toronto and graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in history in 1970.[3]

After graduation he continued his education in British Columbia, receiving a teaching diploma from Simon Fraser University. He then went on to travel the world, teaching in Japan and Hong Kong for one year before returning home to Canada where he became a prominent member of the Japanese Canadian community. One of the projects he was involved with was organizing the Powell Street Festival. He also edited a film titled The First 100 Years which was based upon a slide show, and designed to teach children about Japanese Canadian history. An active member of the Japanese Canadian Citizen's Association, Shiomi was an editor of Inalienable Rice: A Chinese & Japanese Canadian Anthology.[3]

Shiomi's parents experiences in a Japanese internment camp in British Columbia are a strong theme in many of his works.

During his time in Vancouver, Shiomi met up with playwrights David Henry Hwang and Philip Kan Gotanda.[4] Gotanda read one of Shiomi's short stories about a Japanese Canadian detective and suggested he submit the story for adaptation to the stage to the Asian American Theater Workshop in San Francisco. Shiomi followed Gotanda's advice and wrote Yellow Fever.[4]



Shiomi began his theater career in San Francisco, California at the Asian American Theater Company where his first play Yellow Fever was produced in 1982, for which he received the 1982 Bay Area Theater Circle Critics Award and a “Bernie” for new play from the San Francisco Chronicle.

He later moved to New York City where the play was produced by the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre and then had a successful off-Broadway run. Pan Asian Repertory Theatre produced several of his plays, including a prequel to Yellow Fever titled Rosie's Cafe and a sequel, Once is Never Enough, co-authored with Marc Hayashi and Lane Kiyomi Nishikawa.

Mu Performing Arts[edit]

While in Minnesota as a visiting lecturer, Shiomi found an emerging Asian American community and a well-developed general theater scene. He also met his future wife Martha Johnson who, along with others, helped him co-found Theater Mu.[5]

As a playwright, Shiomi has written a number of plays for Mu Performing Arts. The first play Mask Dance, was based upon the stories of young Korean adoptees who were early participants in the company. The play involved both a traditional performance form, in this case Korean mask dance, and a contemporary American story. Other plays written in this style were Song of the Pipa and The Tale of the Dancing Crane. Shiomi works almost entirely behind the scenes, or behind a taiko drum, but with the play The Tale of the Dancing Crane, he took center stage as an actor. He shared a traditional Japanese story of losing one precious thing to find something better and combined it with his own story of discovering taiko.[6]

Shiomi co-wrote the play The Walleye Kid with Sundraya Kase, which he adapted from a traditional Japanese fable titled Peach Boy, and the play was produced in 1999. The original story tells of a Japanese child who is found inside a peach and adopted by the old couple that discovered him. In The Walleye Kid, Shiomi has moved the setting from the warmer climate of Japan to the icy winters of Minnesota where the baby emerges from a giant Walleye. In this play, he explores what Asian, specifically Korean, adoptees have experienced as they adapt to life in America.[5] Walleye Kid, The Musical, which Shiomi adapted from the play, was most recently produced in 2008 by Mu Performing Arts at the McKnight Theatre of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. In 2002, he co-authored Hmong Tiger Tales with Cha Yang, which was co-produced at the Weyerhaueser Auditorium by Mu Performing Arts and St.Paul's Steppingstone Theatre For Youth.[7]

Stage director[edit]

As a stage director, Shiomi has directed at 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, East West Players in Los Angeles, Pan Asian Repertory in New York, Theatre Esprit Asia in Denver; and internationally at Firehall Theater in Vancouver and Haisho Theatre Company and Ryuzanji Theater Company, both in Tokyo. He helmed numerous productions for Mu Performing Arts including A Little Night Music, Into the Woods, The King and I, and two by David Henry Hwang, the play Yellow Face, Hwang's revisal of Flower Drum Song by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Taiko artist and Mu Daiko[edit]

Shiomi is also an award-winning taiko artist, who began playing in 1979 as a member of Katari Taiko in Vancouver, British Columbia. In the 1980s, he studied with Grandmaster Seiichi Tanaka of the San Francisco Taiko Dojo, performing with several groups, including Soh Daiko of New York (as a guest artist) and Wasabi Taiko in Toronto. In 1997, at the behest of actors at Mu Performing Arts, he began teaching taiko, forming Mu Daiko, a taiko drumming ensemble, that same year. Under his leadership, Mu Daiko evolved into a regular troupe, performing one mainstage production a season, and over the years developed an extensive outreach and educational program with over a hundred engagements annually. In 2005, Mu Daiko performed at the mainstage performance, Taiko Jam, at the National Taiko Conference in Los Angeles. As lead player and composer for Mu Daiko for more than ten years, Shiomi garnered numerous awards including a 1998 MN State Arts Board Cultural Collaborations Award for taiko, a drumming collaboration with Ragamala Music and Dance Theater; a 2002 Paddle and Drum Composition Award for "Chrysanthemum Dawn"; and a 2004 Paddle and Drum Composition Award for "Kiyomizu Cascade". In 2010, he retired from regular participation in the Mu Daiko, which is now led by Jennifer Weir.

Recently published work[edit]

As artistic director of Mu Performing Arts, Shiomi oversaw the development of new plays including Ching Chong Chinaman by Lauren Yee, Cowboy Versus Samurai by Michael Golamco, Happy Valley by Aurorae Khoo, Bahala Na by Clarence Coo, Asiamesia by Sun Mee Chomet, and WTF by Katie Ka Vang. He is a co-editor of "Asian American Plays for a New Generation," published by Temple University Press in June 2011. In this anthology of new plays by Asian American playwrights, Mu Performing Arts developed and produced the world premiere of six of the seven featured.

Awards and honors[edit]

  • 1982: Bay Area Theater Circle Critics Award for Yellow Fever
  • 1982: “Bernie” for new play from the San Francisco Chronicle for Yellow Fever
  • 1984: Ontario Multicultural Theater Award
  • 1990: Ruby Schaar Yoshino Playwriting Award for Uncle Tadao
  • 1998: Minnesota State Arts Board Cultural Collaborations Award for taiko, a drumming collaboration with Ragamala Music and Dance Theater
  • 2000: Minnesota State Arts Board Cultural Collaborations Award with Cha Yang and St. Paul's SteppingStone Theatre for Tiger Tales: Hmong Folktales
  • 2002: Asian-Pacific Leadership Award for Excellence & Innovation in the Arts from the State of Minnesota Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans
  • 2002: Paddle and Drum Composition Award for "Chrysanthemum Dawn"
  • 2004: Paddle and Drum Composition Award for "Kiyomizu Cascade"
  • 2006: Award from the Powell Street Festival on the 30th anniversary of the Festival
  • 2007: The Sally Ordway Irvine Award for Vision
  • 2012: The Ivey Award for Lifetime Achievement
  • 2015: 2015 McKnight Distinguished Artist Award


Theater productions[edit]

Multimedia credits[edit]

Story editor and staff writer for Canadian television series E.N.G., produced by Alliance on CTV

  • Images of the First Hundred Years, Powell Street Revue, 1980 (documentary, 11 min.)
  • Dance to Remember (as writer), CBC, Inside Stories, 1991 (30 min.)



  1. ^ Biography and Genealogy Master Index. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, Cengage Learning. 1980- 2009.
  2. ^ Lemanczyk, Sarah. (2009, January). Rick Shiomi: Carving a Space. American Theatre, 26(1), 68-71.
  3. ^ a b An inventory of his papers in The Library of the University of British Columbia Special Collections Division.
  4. ^ a b Royce, Graydon. "Theater Mu fishes for bigger things; 'The Walleye Kid' represents a watershed moment for an Asian-American troupe that is growing in size and influence.(ENTERTAINMENT)." Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN) (Jan 13, 2008): 01F. General Reference Center Gold. Gale.
  5. ^ a b Lin, Lynda. “Rick Shiomi helms the fourth largest APA theater company in the U.S. in a state where ice fishing is a favorite pastime. Pacific Citizen. February 1, 2008.
  6. ^ Preston, Rohan. "Ovation; MU CRANE." Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN) (Oct 22, 1999): 21. General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Hennepin County Library. 27 May 2009
  7. ^ Boyd, Melissa D. "DIVERSIONS; TIGER TALES: OH MY!." Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN) (April 7, 2002): 11F. General Reference Center Gold. Gale.

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