It’s Showtime!

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AND WE’RE OPEN! Come check out KING OF THE YEES at San Francisco Playhouse now through March 2!

KING OF THE YEES at San Francisco Playhouse

So excited to begin performances next week for my first show in the Bay Area in four years! Come through if you’re in town:

KING OF THE YEES by Lauren Yee, directed by Joshua Kahan Brody
Where: San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco, CA
When: January 22 through March 2
Starring: Francis Jue, Krystle Piamonte, Jomar Tagatac, Rinabeth Apostol, Will Dao
For nearly 20 years, playwright Lauren Yee’s father Larry has been a driving force in the Yee Family Association, a seemingly obsolescent Chinese American men’s club formed 150 years ago in the wake of the Gold Rush. But when her father goes missing, Lauren must plunge into the rabbit hole of San Francisco Chinatown and confront a world both foreign and familiar. At once bitingly hilarious and heartbreakingly honest, King of the Yees is an epic joyride across cultural, national, and familial borders that explores what it truly means to be a Yee.
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Father

My birthday falls on or around Father’s Day every year so it can be difficult celebrating life when you’re also thinking about loss. I’ve lived more years without him than with him in this realm.

All my memories of us are paused at age 15:
He walking me home from school and my friend calling him handsome;
He clutching my mom’s hands over my heart as I snuggled between them at night;
He buying me a wholesale box of candies of my choosing at Jetro;
He holding court at our family banquets in Chinatown;
He singing and sounding like a banshee;
He in the driver’s seat of our Oldsmobile (he was not a good driver);
He that had a mole on his cheek with a hair that I’d always want to pull out;
He ordering two hotdogs for us after my doctor’s appointments that’d we’d eat on the M15;
He accompanying me to visit private schools with his spotty English;
He taking time off to attend my elementary school graduation;
He proud of the new house he saved and worked so hard for;
He in his pajamas which would become his uniform after his stroke;
He without use of half his body;
He walking laps in the house as part of his physical therapy;
He on a low-sodium diet, but devouring an entire tray of a cake for which I accidentally used salt instead of sugar;
He, my father, my caretaker, the strongest man I knew, needing me to do his laundry, or empty his bed pan, or refill his water cup or check his blood pressure or hold his arm as he started walking outside again;
He the last day I saw him when we got into another fight about who-knows-what and I didn’t kiss him goodbye because I was so angry;
He in the hospital, silent, unmoving, cold, gone;
He resting peacefully as guest after guest at the funeral reminded me of what a good man he was.

He in pictures and dreams.

He whom I wish were by my side to experience every major life milestone.
He is.

He I am.

If You Think I Called You…

… and you Googled my number and ended up here, it wasn’t me!

Some sketchy telemarketing company is masking their identity by getting my phone number to appear on your Caller ID.

Sorry this is happening. I’ve called my phone provider. They’re not helpful. Hopefully there will be a resolution.

To Innocence

Years ago I was on the subway when a mom and her son got on my car. She quickly ushered him to an empty seat and told him to sit down. He was maybe three or four years old with curly black hair and the most pinchable cheeks. He wore a puffy jacket that was swallowing him. The train started to move and he was having a blast trying to balance himself as he waddled towards the seat.

“Sit down,” the mom repeated. Her voice wasn’t strict or demanding. It was an option with a strong opinion.

He continued to stand. His small hands grasped the vertical poll in a death grip as the train rocked his tiny body in all directions. He looked like he had just learned how to walk yesterday, so the sensation of movement must have been invigorating.

I understood the thrill: Standing on the train is the closest to surfing most of us New Yorkers ever got. You’re not a real straphanger until you’re able to balance on the train with a coffee in one hand and a book in the other without actually touching the “straps.” You learn to use a wider stance in a slight plié position for stability. You learn how to sway ever-slightly back and forth as the train’s momentum shifts. Short folks like me pick up this skill quickly. The grab bars were always slightly out of reach and the stanchions were hot real estate especially during rush hour. Plus, do you know how many germs are on those things? Ew.

Turn, bump, brake, rumble, screech. Who needs the ocean when you have metal on tracks? Standing was more fun than necessity at this point for the toddler. Each time the train threatened to overpower him, his mom reached out to protect him from falling. He had a seat available to him, but the little man was determined.

“Enjoy your childhood while you can. You won’t always have a seat,” his mother said to him after a couple more stops. She sat down, holding out one arm to catch him, the other clutching his folded up stroller. “You’ll have a lifetime ahead to stand.”

A new wave of passengers boarded and formed a semi-circle around where he stood. He looked at them, then his mom with his big, innocent eyes.

“I don’t understand why kids want to grow up so quickly these days.”

Smiles of recognition formed on the faces of strangers who heard this. We all looked at the little guy. He took his hands off the pole and put them on her lap. She lifted him up and placed him in the seat next to her. He buried his face into the side of her coat, then quickly sat back up. He stared out the window at the blurry images as the train sped ahead.

2018

I haven’t posted in more than a year, but checking in to say I’m still alive and thank you for subscribing/reading.

This blog used to be called “The Dirty Thirties” — a way to document my transition into for-real adulthood. I still have a couple of great years left in this decade, but I’ve come to realize that “age” is so limiting. Life is defined more so by experiences than a number.

How many of us have told ourselves, “I am not where I should be at this age.” Milestones — graduations, marriages, births, deaths, performances, travel, love, heartbreak, promotions, etc. — can occur at any moment. We should not be bound by societal expectations pressed upon us since birth ESPECIALLY ARTISTS. You do you, bro. (<— thanks, Kevin K.)

There’s too much to recap for the second half of 2016 through now, so I’ll just tell you what IS happening:
– I am back home in San Francisco and starting the new year cooking, exercising, reading, and creating more.
– I will be returning to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in May to begin rehearsals for the American premiere of SNOW IN MIDSUMMER (click here for more info).
– Speaking of milestones, I’m planning to put a ring on it later this year! Feel free to share your planning advice and your secrets to a long, loving marriage.

2018’s looking pretty eventful. Let’ do this!

Orlando

This is important for you to know and for me to say: I am Will Dao. I am a gay, Asian American cisgender male raised Buddhist and broke.

At home, I grew up with a lot of older brothers so it was a sausage fest from day one. While they’ve since changed, my immediate and extended family picked on me intensely for being too feminine throughout most of my childhood and teenage years. I’ve been called “gay” for as long as I can remember and definitely not always in an endearing way. Outside my house, I was verbally and physically assaulted for being Asian in my predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhood. As a a kid, I figured if I couldn’t hide my Asian-ness then god damn it, no one would ever find out that I was gay, too. If my family was that critical of me acting the way I did, what would strangers do? So I learned at a very, very young age how not to be me. I built myself a Mariah Carey-worthy walk-in closet that I could stay in forever. I became a caricature of what a kid might think a straight guy is: I learned to speak a little deeper, avoided overly “feminine” gestures, swaggered instead of strutted, nodded in agreement at how hot Paula Abdul was when my heart belonged to 4 out of the 5 New Kids on the Block. When family and friends wondered aloud if I was gay, I’d give them the answer I thought they wanted to hear: “NO.”

I learned to hide. To stay silent. To never draw attention to myself in public spaces ever for fear of getting insulted or worse, beat up or killed. I watch the news. I know what can happen.

I knew from an early age I was some sort of queer, but denied this through elementary school, through middle school, through high school, opened up a little bit in college, opened up a little bit more post-graduation, opened up a lot more when I moved to San Francisco where I met the love my life, and in what I thought was the ultimate act of self-acceptance, opened the whole fucking closet door and came out to my mom over a bowl of noodles this past Christmas at age 35. THIRTY. FIVE. You can’t be more out than that, right? Well…

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I have been with MGS for almost seven years now. He is an amazing man. He is the most generous, intelligent, and kind person I know. He’s spontaneous. He’s fun. He’s shameless. He’s loved me for who I am from Day One and has helped me become more open and honest to myself and in turn, everyone else around me. I cannot imagine life without him. I love him I love him I love him.

Just last Thursday or Friday, we were walking towards downtown Ashland, and he reached his arm out and looped it around mine. Instinctually, my whole body grew tense.

This has happened before. He would hold my hand or kiss me or say “I love you” out in the open and I would get nervous, look straight ahead, pull away, or walk as quickly as possible to our destination. Only when I’m sure we’re not being watched or when we’re walking in the dark or when we’re surrounded by close friends would I ever dare to show any sign of affection to him in public. But I had never spoken to him about my anxiety. I had never told him, “I don’t want to be judged. I don’t want to be insulted. I don’t want to get beat up. I don’t want to die for loving you.”

Instead this time, I brushed him off and told him, “Honey – I don’t like PDA.”

He wears his heart on his sleeve. I saw what those words did to him.

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Two days ago we learned about Orlando and the unraveling story of shooter Omar Mateen, a potentially closeted, gay man who purchased a ginormous, dangerous, lethal weapon COMPLETELY legally, and who targeted a gay Latino nightclub and its patrons to slaughter. For the next day and a half after the incident, I felt an overwhelming sense of melancholy. Was it the sheer number of people killed? Was it because they were gay? Was it because they were so tragically murdered in a location that’s supposed to be a safe space for LGBTQ of color?

I decided to attend a vigil organized by my amazing colleagues at OSF. MGS, my friend and cast mate PT, and I walked over together from a fried chicken dinner we all attended. It takes a lot for me to walk away from fried chicken and booze, but I needed to be around other LGBTQ and allies at that moment. There was a large crowd assembled on the Bricks around the Green Show stage. As we settled in our spots for the tail end of CHY’s moving cover of “Man in the Mirror,” I scanned the crowd. Lots of hugging, lots of holding hands. I stood with my hands in my pockets and put on my hat. I didn’t want to be noticed.

TB took to the stage. He opened with a story about a train ride he took where he spotted a straight, cisgendered couple doing what straight, cisgendered people do without a second thought: publicly flaunt the privilege of public affection. In contrast were two males sitting across from him, staring straight ahead, with a bag between them. Nothing special except that beneath the bag, they were holding one another’s hands clandestinely.

That was the trigger. The story hit me hard. Tears poured out. As much as I didn’t want us to be, we had become that couple. This melancholia I was feeling was actually a deep feeling of shame, even as an “out” gay man. It was a feeling of regret for not walking down the street proudly with MGS in my arms. It was the pain of his reaction when I brushed him aside.It was guilt for the awful things I said and did as a closeted man because I hated myself so much that I treated others like jerks. It was the burden of fearing that at any moment, some asshole who doesn’t give a fuck about me, who only sees a faggot homosexual, can kill me because of one piece of my identity that he — and it’s most often and likely HE — dislikes. It was feeling like I wasn’t doing enough for the LGBTQ community, not being as vocal for them as I have been for the APA community, not speaking out against all the hate crimes that have been targeted at us, especially as of late.

It’s said we are most apathetic when we don’t have a personal investment in a situation that will incite us into action. I am writing this entry in a very public forum so you know who I really am and to get you personally invested.

Orlando has been San Francisco has been New York could be anywhere could be MGS could be me. If you love me, help me. I need my family and friends to stand with me so that I am not alone because I am so so so tired and scared and angry. So please help me. I’m especially addressing you straight, cisgendered people, especially if you’re white, who have it so fucking easy you don’t even know:

Speak out against homophobia and against racism, write your representatives to enact stricter gun control laws NOW, love your kids, family, and friends for who they are, teach your children not to be assholes. Help me build a world where my nieces and nephews, your kids, and my children don’t have to live with hate, fear, shame, and repression. It sucks. Whatever beautiful beings they grow into, I want them to be happy about who they are and live openly without worry about being hated or harmed for whatever insane reason.

Help me, PLEASE. Help me, NOW.

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The vigil continued with more poetry, a candle lighting ceremony, and ended with CHY and CC singing, “True Colors.”

And I’ll see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Like a rainbow

The song ended and the crowd blew out their candles. We all turned to hug our neighbors. I felt a release. Love is a strong antidote and even stronger ammunition. MGS and I walked home, my hand in his out in the open.