The official website of Velina Hasu Houston with information regarding her literary career and events.
"Tea, With Music," Photo by Michael Lamont
Tea, With Music, Book and Lyrics by Velina Hasu Houston and Music by Nathan Wang, is based upon Houston's play, Tea, a story about five Japanese international brides that preceded The Joy Luck Club by several years and also inspired it. The play was written in 1981, had a Rockefeller Workshop Production in 1984, and premiered Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club in 1987. The musical opened in 2012 at East West Players, directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera. Produced and studied internationally, Tea is the most presented play about the Japanese female experience in the United States and beyond. The book for Tea, With Music was a 2013 L.A. Stage Alliance Ovation Awards nominee for Best Book of an Original Musical.
B I O G R A P H Y
"Tea is not quiet, but turbulent... the eye of the hurricane."From Velina Hasu Houston's Tea
Internationally acclaimed playwright Velina Hasu Houston has written over thirty plays including 20 commissions in a career that began Off-Broadway with her play Tea at Manhattan Theatre Club and American Dreams at Negro Ensemble Company. Her plays have been produced at important theatres globally including Manhattan Theatre Club, Negro Ensemble Company, the Old Globe Theatre, George Street Playhouse, Pittsburgh Public Theatre, Smithsonian Institution, Whole Theatre (Olympia Dukakis, producer), NHK (Japan nationwide), Pasadena Playhouse, Syracuse Stage, Los Angeles Theatre Center, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, A Contemporary Theatre, Playwrights’ Arena, and others including in the People’s Republic of China, Japan, Singapore, Australia, and Malaysia. Houston also writes opera, musical theatre, television, and film and is a published poet and essayist. She has completed a novel, Tea, based upon her play Tea. She is the only U.S. playwright to amass a body of work that explores the U.S.-Japan relationship through a bilateral, global view of identity.
Recent world premieres of her plays include Cinnamon Girl (Playwrights' Arena at Greenway Court Theatre; Zhongguancun International Musical Festival [Beijing, China], a musical with music composed by Nathan Wang), Tea, With Music (a chamber musical with Book and Lyrics by Houston and music by Wang; East West Players, a 2013 nominee for Best Book of an Original Musical, L.A. Stage Alliance Ovation Awards), Calligraphy (Playwrights’ Arena/Latino Theatre Company at Los Angeles Theatre Center), The DNA Trail (Silk Road Theatre Project/Silk Road Rising with the Goodman Theatre), The Intuition of Iphigenia (multinational commission [US-UK-Canada-Greece-Croatia] with Timberlake Wertenbaker andJudith Thompson (Athens and Vlichos, Greece). In opera, Jonah and the Whale (Los Angeles Opera, Composer: Jack Perla, Libretto: Velina Hasu Houston) premiered in March 2014. Current projects include a commission from The Pasadena Playhouse to pen a new musical about the Grammy Award-winning band Ozomotli and a commission from Los Angeles Opera, Another Perfect Day (Composer: Double G, Libretto: Velina Hasu Houston and Shishir Kurup). She also is working on The Intuition of Iphigenia (Composer: Wang, Libretto: Velina Hasu Houston; workshopped it in Toronto, Canada (2012 and 2015); Los Angeles Opera workshop April 2014, directed by Peggy Shannon). Her plays The American Women and Turbulence were featured at The Pasadena Playhouse’s Hothouse (2015 and 2012). Houston is developing the following works: the musicals Aloha O'e and Girl in the Ring, Book by Houston, Music by Wang; Like the Flow of a River, Hum the Bee, Hymn to the Price of Love, The Mexican Friendship Circle at Border Field, Rainfire, and Ramen. Her play, Cause Célèbre, a farce inspired by Valor, agravio y mujer, Ana Caro's play from Spain's Golden Age, was presented by Playwrights' Arena as part of the "Golden Tongues" and Spanish Golden Age festivals at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles, June 2013, and at the University of Southern California, February 2014. Playwrights' Arena has commissioned her to write for the collective The Hotel Play. A Spot of Bother was featured in a reading at The Road Theatre Company, North Hollywood, California, directed by Stewart Zully.
Houston also writes theatre for young audiences including The Matsuyama Mirror (Kennedy Center New Visions/New Voices, Singapore Youth Festival, Honolulu Theatre for Youth, published by Smith and Kraus) and Hula Heart. A collection of her plays, Green Tea Girl in Orange Pekoe Country: Selected Plays of Velina Hasu Houston, was published in 2015.
Working internationally is important to Houston as a transnational individual. In 2015, as a Fulbright Scholar she will conduct workshops at Aoyama Gakuin Daigaku. She is in progress with a play and film about Sadako Sasaki and post-nuclear societal impact (Like the Flow of a River) with True Heart Films. She is working on a new musical, The Tale of Yingtai, with composer Wang that is a collaboration between the U.S. and China and includes the two critical studies scholars and artists Dr. Meiling Cheng (Los Angeles) and Dr. Qing Liu (Shanghai). As noted, Houston, in concert with Jon Lawrence Rivera, Wang, and the Playwrights' Arena production of Cinnamon Girl, participated in the 2014 a musical theatre festival in Beijing, China. She also is working on a trans-Atlantic arts/science theatre project with director Julia Welch, Wales. Houston has been invited on a speaking tour to several Chinese universities, which she will undertake in 2016. Also in 2016, she will be in residence at Kyoto University in the fall.
In October 2014, Houston was featured in The Provost's Writers' Series at the University of Southern California that included readings from her work and a conversation led by the scholar and historian Dr. Nayan B. Shah.
Houston has been awarded fellowships from Japan Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation (twice), California Arts Council, Aurora Foundation, Sidney F. Brody Foundation, and others; as well as being honored by Sidney Poitier and American Film Institute, the Pinter Review Prize for Drama (Silver Medal), Susan Smith Blackburn Prize (finalist), Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics New Play Award (finalist), Women in Theatre’s Red Carpet Award, East West Players’ Made In America Visionary Award, Loving Prize (Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival, New York Foundation for Arts), Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival Rainbow Award, and others including the Women’s International Center’s Living Legacy Award and the Lee Melville Award for Outstanding Contributions to Los Angeles Theatre. Tea, With Music was critics' "Pick of the Week" with LA Weekly in 2012. Houston has received grants from the James Zumberge Research and Innovation Fund (thrice), USC Visions and Voices Arts and Humanities Initiative (twice), New Directions in Feminist Research Fellowship, Durfee Foundation, Lila Wallace-Readers’ Digest Foundation, and others.
Her publications are with Dramatists Play Service, Smith and Kraus, Vintage Books/Random House, Akashi Shoten (Tokyo), Temple University Press, Dramatic Publishing, University of Massachusetts Press, University of Texas Press, Murasaki Books, Alexander Street Press, Applause Books, Routledge, and others. She has written journalistically for the Los Angeles Times, American Theatre, The Rafu Shimpo, Pacific Citizen, and the Kansas City Star. Houston has written for film and television including for Columbia Pictures, PBS, and several independent producers. She co-produced the documentary Desert Dreamers with narration by Peter Fonda and served as Multicultural Consultant for Walt Disney Productions for Hayao Miyazaki’s film Kiki’s Delivery Service. Currently, she is writing and co-producing a live-action film short about the legendary 11th Century Japanese poetess Ono no Komachi, Path of Dreams, Producer/Director: True Heart Films, Tamara Ruppart: http://pathofdreamsfilm.com. She also is developing a documentary film with producer Monique Yamaguchi, Rising Soul, about Japanese and African American mixed race individuals.
Houston served as a Commissioner on the US Department of State's US-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange, Japan-US Friendship Commission, and Japan-US Bridging Foundation for six years (2007-2013), federal agencies of the US Department of State. She served as Research Advisor for Contemporary British, Irish, and American Poetic Drama and Theatre, Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo, Japan, for two years. She is an Associate Artist of Playwrights’ Arena, Los Angeles, and a member of Dramatists’ Guild, Writers Guild of America-West, League of Professional Theatre Women, and the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights. She supports the Los Angeles Female Playwrights’ Initiative. She serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies and is a member of Multiracial Americans of Southern California.
Director and Professor Dr. Peggy Shannon wrote in Houston's collection of plays, "The interesting parallels between Houston’s life and that of visual artist and architect Isamu Noguchi, who also is of mixed race Japanese and American parentage, are raised. Like Noguchi, in the arts Houston finds expression that is truly without borders. The former Honorable Consul General of Japan of Los Angeles Kazuo Kodama observed the parallels between the artists’ lives, paralleling Houston’s work in drama to the work of Noguchi in fine art. Of Houston’s work, Kodama remarked that she has a 'unique lens… as a Japanese American of mixed parentage' that is 'an asset to Japan-U.S. relations at all levels' because 'people can come to see a connection between our two nations that not only exists in documents and organizations, but which is a living, organic relationship, exemplified by and embodied in individuals like… [Houston].'”
On the personal front, Velina Hasu Houston is of Japanese, Blackfoot Pikuni Native American Indian, African American, and Cuban heritage with historical ties to India and China. Her multicultural family includes these ethnicities as well as Hawaiian, English, German, and Scottish ethnicities. She was born on a military ship on international waters enroute from Japan to the United States; her birth is registered at the first post-occupation U.S. base at which her father was assigned. She is the second daughter of Setsuko Okazaki Takechi, a native of Matsuyama (Japan) and Lemo Houston, a native of Alabama. She has one sister, Dr. H. Rika Houston, and one brother, George Adam Houston. Houston was reared in Junction City, Kansas, a small town adjacent to Fort Riley, a once-thriving Army installation. The town and fort have been chronicled by the BBC, Mainichi Hoso, and The New York Times. The community in which she was reared consisted of approximately 700 immigrant Japanese women, their American husbands of various ethnicities, and their multicultural mixed race children. The community also included immigrant European women who had married Americans after World War II [Germans, Austrians, British, Spanish, French, and Italians; hence Houston's global education in the kitchens and hearts of immigrant women from around the world]. Houston remained in Kansas for her undergraduate studies to aid her widowed mother. When her mother remarried, Houston moved to California to attend graduate school at UCLA and then at USC. She is married to Peter H. Jones of Manchester, England. She has two biological children and two stepsons. She resides in Los Angeles. Her cultural homes are Hawaii and Kyoto. Raised with Shintoism and Buddhism, she practices a polytheistic faith. She is an animal lover, and has four pets: two dogs (Shiba Inu) and two cats.
At the University of Southern California School of Dramatic Arts she is Professor of Theatre, Resident Playwright, creator and Director of the Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing, and Associate Dean of Faculty Recognition & Development. She came to USC officially in 1991 to lead the graduate program that she had designed. She was one of six faculty (and the only female) chosen to serve on the USC Presidential Search Advisory Committee that selected USC’s eleventh president, President C.L. Max Nikias. She has served six years on the University Committee for Appointments, Promotion, and Tenure; and now serves as Chair of its arts and humanities panel. In the past, she has served on the faculties of the University of California at Los Angeles (screenwriting master class) and Kyoto’s Doshisha University (Visiting International Faculty); and been invited as a guest artist or to teach master writing workshops at several universities across the US and in Japan. She has served as an evaluator for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Joyce Foundation, and Oregon Literary Fellowships. Her works are archived in The Library of Congress, Washington DC (Curator: Ms. Reme Grefalda) and in The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California (Curator: Ms. Sara Sue Hodson). A smaller collection of her work exists at the University of California, Santa Barbara; and in New World Theatre's Asian American Theater Collection at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. At USC, she is an Associated Faculty Member of the USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture; and on the Affiliated Faculties of East Asian Studies, Gender Studies, and American Studies & Ethnicity. In the past, she has served as Faculty Sponsor for two student organizations, HapaSC, which she founded in 1991, and USC Nikkei. Hapa SC was revived in 2014 and she again is serving as its Faculty Sponsor.
Houston is featured as one of nine world-class faculty in the University of Southern California's "Meet USC" brochure and also is featured in the University's admissions film shown to prospective students.
Theatre Agent: Mr. Bruce Ostler, Bret Adams Ltd., 448 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036, (212) 765-5630, email@example.com. Entertainment Attorney: Michael C. Donaldson, Donaldson & Callif, 400 South Beverly Drive, Suite 400, Beverly Hills, California 90212, (310) 277-8394.
Ichigo ichie... each encounter in life happens only once.