Stuck Elevator

by Aaron Jafferis & Byron Au Yong
directed by Chay Yew
originally produced at American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco, CA.
April 4, 2013 through April 28, 2013

About the Premiere Production:

Stuck Elevator is a Chinese American hip-hop opera based on the true story of a Chinese food deliveryman who was trapped in a Bronx elevator for 81 hours. Sounding the alarm will open the doors to freedom, but calling for help also means calling for attention—with dire consequences for this undocumented immigrant. This sung-through hybrid of musical theatre, opera, and solo performance tells the story of Guang’s struggle for freedom from debt, human smugglers, untrustworthy coworkers, and the temptations of General Tso, as Guang’s escape attempts become increasingly fantastic. A scrap-metal percussionist, violinist, and cellist create a mongrel sound that reflects the shifting world in which Guang lives: part American, part Chinese, part Bronx, part shipping container, part heart, part elevator. Through found noise, lyrical melodies, and metallic screams, the production melds classical forms of Chinese theater and opera and folk music with the sounds and turmoil of a modern-day urban reality. Suspended between the upward mobility of the American dream and the downward plunge into an empty abyss, Stuck Elevator travels between refuge and prison, freedom and safety, voice and silence.

Artistic Statement

Carey Perloff, Artistic Director:I first encountered Aaron Jafferis and Byron Au Yong’s remarkable Stuck Elevator when I was a creative advisor to the Sundance Playwrights’ Lab in April 2011. I had no idea what to expect when I went to the presentation of the work: on the page the script is a wild array of Mandarin dialogue, hip hop poetry, hallucination and fantasy. But from the moment the piece began, I was utterly captivated. You know when you are in the presence of something genuinely original, heartfelt and path-breaking, and Stuck Elevator is all of that and more. Perhaps because the story at its heart is so specific and so true, the creators have been able to widen the lens on the Chinese immigrant experience to encompass the longings, humiliations, fantasies and horrors of each and every stranger in a strange land. Guang, the Chinese deliveryman entrapped in a Bronx elevator for 81 hours, experiences emotions from terror to longing to ecstasy to despair as he tries to survive his punishing ordeal. The structure of the piece, bounded by the four metal walls of the silent elevator, allows for both intimacy and explosive imagination, as Guang travels back in his mind to his wife and young son in China, relives the agonizing physical pain of being smuggled into America in a cargo box, and spars with his nemesis Puerto Rican delivery boy and the hostile owner of his Chinese restaurant. Aaron Jafferis has a wicked sense of humor as well as a gorgeous lyrical sense of inner life that cracks open Guang’s experience, and Byron Au Yong’s vividly original score uses both Chinese and Western musical traditions to constantly surprise and move the listener. The team has been so beautifully guided by Chay Yew, one of the finest dramaturgical directors I know: Chay has encouraged the creators to go deeper into the psychological depths of their characters while retaining the anarchic, muscular frame of their opera. Chay will team up with his brilliant longtime set design collaborator Daniel Ostling, a resident artist at A.C.T., as well as sound designer Mikhail Fiksel and costume designer Myung Hee Cho, to realize the piece for the Geary stage.

I chose Stuck Elevator because it is my 20th anniversary season at A.C.T., and the piece represents everything that I care most about in the theater. It is hugely imaginative, it blends disparate art forms into a coherent and moving whole, it addresses ideas that are very trenchant to the Bay Area and our world here in San Francisco, and it is helmed by one of my long term and beloved colleagues, Chay Yew. In honor of our remarkable new Mayor Ed Lee, I was anxious to continue our exploration of Asian-American work by focusing on something specifically Chinese-American, as well as honoring my audience of twenty years who has gone with me on such avant-garde musical adventures as Tom Waits’ The Black Rider and David Lang’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field. Stuck Elevator is not an easy piece, nor is it a musical with “commercial appeal”; it is a genuinely new and inspiring work of art that a major regional theater should launch. I feel very proud to be able to bring Jafferis and Au Yong’s idiosyncratic artistry into the repertoire, and am grateful to the Edgerton Foundation for supporting the kind of extraordinary young artists whose work is rarely seen on the stages of major LORT theaters.

Grant Statement

Carey Perloff, Artistic Director: The Edgerton Foundation’s participation will allow us to add an additional week of rehearsal time prior to the first preview. The play will benefit tremendously from the additional week, with all of the creative artists as well as orchestra members working together in the same space. With a musical of this scale and artistic scope, it is imperative to see the production on its feet and watch its flow, discover how the characters are unfolding, and understand whether the song sequence is successfully telling the story. In particular with a score of this complexity, it will take time for the ensemble to learn the nuances of the orchestration and the additional week of rehearsal will be critical to ensuring that the music is more deeply integrated into the show as a whole.

Director: Chay Yew
Set Design: Daniel Ostling
Lighting Design: Alexander V. Nichols
Sound Design: Mikhail Fiksel
Costume Design: Myung Hee Cho
Music: Byron Au Yong
Projection Design: Kate Freer
Cast: Julius Ahn (Guang), Marie-France Arcilla (Ming), Joseph Anthony Foronda (Zhong Yi), Raymond J. Lee (Wang Yue), and Joel Perez (Marco)

Additional Funders:

National Endowment for the Arts, ARTWorks, Creative Capital

News

‘Stuck Elevator’ is astute musical look at immigration
Mill Valley Herald
April 22, 2013
Jafferis’ “Stuck Elevator” Headed To Sundance
Breaking Arts
February 17, 2011

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