“Gwah Gai: Crossing the Street” (2013)

Gwah Gai: Crossing the Street, “A Musical Collage in Four Movements,” explored new possibilities for storytelling. Gwah Gai featured original music composed by Marcus Shelby for his 15-piece orchestra, with a narrative written by dramaturg Andi Wong, based on Flo Oy Wong’s “creative non-fiction” which records her husband Edward K. Wong’s memories of growing up in the segregated South.

They weren’t supposed to be friends, 19″ x 31″, mixed media -rice sack, silkscreened photo, thread, text. Photo by Bob Hsiang.

In 1993, Ed’s stories about growing up in Augusta, Georgia, inspired Flo to create her visual art installation, The Baby Jack Rice Story. In 2011, Baby Jack’s story took a new turn when Flo and Ed attended a concert by musicians Marcus Shelby and Jon Jang. Addressing the growing tensions between the African American and Chinese American communities in the Bay Area, Marcus presented a common history of people overcoming discrimination and exclusion. Flo immediately asked Marcus to compose music based on Ed’s stories, and a production team was soon assembled. On June 7-8, 2013, The Asian Pacific Cultural Center presented Gwah Gai: Crossing the Street at the ODC Theater, featuring actors Peter Macon and Tiffany Austin, with students Jason and Catherine Hou as young Flo and Ed.

Gwah Gai is a meditation on resistance and love, anchored by two coming-of-age stories – Ed’s childhood, living among African Americans in the Wrightsboro Road neighborhood of Augusta, Georgia, and Flo’s childhood in Oakland’s Chinatown. Set against an expansive timeline of cultural history – Peking opera, Othello, jump blues and a viral video – Gwah Gai explores the role of the arts in awakening social change.

In Gwah Gai, all roads to the future radiate from Augusta. Look out, world! Baby Jack, Boykin and Cush are together again, ready for more adventure.

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