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 over 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, 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.
Currently, Houston is Playwright-in-residence at The Pasadena Playhouse under the auspices of a Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Building Demand for the Performing Arts grant. She is fulfilling a commission with The Pasadena Playhouse to pen the book for a new musical about the Grammy Award-winning band Ozomatli, a commission with Los Angeles Opera as a co-librettist (with Mr. Shishir Kurup) of Another Perfect Day, a commission with Playwrights' Arena in association with Center Theatre Group to write for the collective The Hotel Play; and the first dimension of The Peace Project as part of The Women & War Project, Ryerson Theatre, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. Her new play, Little Women, an adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott novel "Little Women," reframed in a Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, South Asian, Biracial, and African American world in 1944 Los Angeles, will be presented at The Pasadena Playhouse in June 2016 in partnership with civic organizations. Her musical Cinnamon Girl (Book and Lyrics by Houston, Music by Nathan Wang) was produced by Playwrights' Arena in Los Angeles and Beijing (Zhongguancun International Musical Festival). Tea, With Music (a chamber musical with Book and Lyrics by Houston and Music by Wang) will premiere in China in 2017. Calligraphy (which premiered in 2010 at Playwrights’ Arena/Latino Theatre Company at Los Angeles Theatre Center) will be produced at TheatreWorks in 2017. Other projects include 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, premiere 2014), A Spot of Bother, and Empress Lily, a reframing of the King Lear mythology in a Japanese, Japanese American, African American, and biracial world.
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 YouthPLAYS) and Hula Heart (published by University of Texas Press). A collection of her plays, Green Tea Girl in Orange Pekoe Country: Selected Plays of Velina Hasu Houston, was published in 2014 and is available on Amazon.com.
Working internationally is important to Houston as a transnational individual. In 2015, as a Fulbright Scholar she conducted workshops at Aoyama Gakuin Daigaku and Keio 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 and Eleven Arts. 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 2017. Also in 2016, she will be in residence at Kyoto University in the fall at the Institute for Research in the Humanities.
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. In 2016, Houston was named a Distinguished Professor of the University of Southern California.
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/The Wallace 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 has written and is co-producing a live-action film short about the legendary 11th Century Japanese poetess Ono no Komachi, Path of Dreams, Producer, Eleven Arts Inc., Producer/Director: True Heart Films, Tamara Ruppart, in production in Niigata, Japan. She also is developing a documentary film with Producer Monique Yamaguchi, Rising Soul, about mixed race Japanese of African descent.
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 on the Advisory Board 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. 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 Distinguished Professor, Resident Playwright, creator and Director of the Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing, and Associate Dean of Faculty . She came to USC officially in 1991 to lead the graduate program that she had designed the previous year. 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 is one of two women Distinguished Professors at USC and one of three arts faculty, as well as the first of African-descent to be named to that category. She served seven years on the University Committee for Appointments, Promotion, and Tenure; two of those years 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. She serves as Faculty Sponsor for the student organization HapaSC, which she founded in 1991, and formerly served as Faculty Sponsor for USC Nikkei. She is a co-founder of Asian American Studies at USC, having helped to create the first Asian American curriculum there in 1992.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.