HENRY ONG // artist profile
Photo by Peter Konerko

All Photos by Peter Konerko for @ This Stage Magazine

What energizes you as an artist?

Ideas, visuals, story, language. I love theater. Imbibing everything about live theater that makes it exciting and immediate. I especially like new works, imaginative productions, mercurial actors, and audacious, truthful writing.  

What’s been inspiring you lately?

Friends who help make things happen.

My friend and actress Jossara Jinaro, in particular. In a matter of weeks, she resurrected one of my plays, The Blade of Jealousy, which had been languishing in a flash drive. Thanks to her indefatigable enthusiasm, interest in the play has been revived; there will be a staged reading of it at The Odyssey. Come! Monday, August 29, 7 p.m. And Denise Blasor, who directs this reading. Jon Lawrence Rivera, who commissioned it a year ago… and so many others involved in this reading (musician Melisa McGregor, stage manager Jennifer Palumbo)!

Memories of a treasured event that took place last fall at the Huntington Library & Gardens. Excerpts of my six-hour play, Dream of the Red Chamber were presented in the Chinese Garden. This has inspired me to try to realize Dream as a full production, despite — or perhaps because of — of its running time.

“If I wasn’t an artist…”

I’d be miserable. How much happier am I today, now that I can just create art and not have to be too concerned about finances.

“As a child, I was…”

Always creating silly dances for my neighborhood friends. We’d laugh and have so much fun. At seven, I was asked what I would like to be when I grow up. I said I wanted to be a writer, which caused my mother to cry — in despair, not happiness. That put an end to my expressing any overt ambitions in the arts.

Who are your artist allies?

My husband and my sister, who, although not directly involved in the arts, provide whole-hearted support. Myself (I don’t give myself credit most of the time). My community, theater friends and companies… Interact Theatre Company (my artistic home), Playwrights’ Arena, Jon Lawrence Rivera, Kevin Cochran, Cate Caplin, Diana Wyenn, Laura Steinroeder, Charline Su, Alan Naggar, Michele Naggar. And actors… a slew of them who have been so helpful to me throughout the years in my artistic endeavors…

Who are your artistic heroes?

Every theater artist in LA. Must make special mention of playwrights! They’re the ones who first face the “blank page.” The Asian pioneer playwrights — most notably Philip Kan Gotanda, David Henry Hwang, Chay Yew. My friends Elizabeth Wong, Damon Chua, Lucy Wang, Prince Gomolvilas, Phil Chung. Among others, the new generation playwrights: Carla Ching, Madhuri Shekar, Bekkah Brunsetter, Sarah Gubbins, Tim McNeil, Jason Grote — all of whom I had the pleasure of getting to know in a Center Theatre Group workshop. Tennessee Williams, of course. Oscar Wilde. Harold Pinter. Tony Kushner. Among novelists: Anthony Trollope. Cao Xuequin (author of Dream of the Red Chamber, the 17th century Chinese classic). Haha, yes, dead writers.

What’s your favorite (or go-to) LA “spot?”

Anyone who knows me knows that I love to eat. But the number of restaurants I can frequent has been limited since I turned vegan. Lately, Bulan Thai (in Silver Lake) has become my go-to meeting place, whether for business-related meetings or to simply share a meal with friends. Oh, and another place, Daw Yee — a Burmese restaurant that just opened in Silver Lake. I would like it to survive, so I recommend it whenever I can. Sadly, it’s not currently set up for lunch yet.

Okay. Define art. Go!

Self-expression. The act of aesthetic creation, and the reception to that creation. Art is what pleases — whether it horrifies, astonishes, or amuses — an audience. Art is visual, moving, and inspiring. Art is language which creates the myriad permutations of conveying — and receiving — emotion.

What are you currently working on?

At least five works-in-progress (plays). The most immediate is The Blade of Jealousy because the staged reading at the Odyssey is imminent. I’ve just completed a workshop production at the Pico Playhouse of my adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s Nina Balatka, which I also directed.

After Blade, I will return to hone Nina Balatka through an online dialogue/workshop process that I’ve started with members of the Anthony Trollope Society, most of whom reside outside of California, even internationally.

What’s your creative goal for the next year?

Besides Blade and Nina, I would like to work to get the other works-in-progress further into development or production: Dream of the Red Chamber; Ascent (about a Chinese rocket scientist falsely accused of being a Communist during the McCarthy Era); The Masseur; and Rachel Ray. It may be too premature to go into more detail about the varying degrees of development of each of these. Nothing can be predicted for sure; you never know what might happen — a revival of one of my plays that’s already been produced, or commission of a new one? Thinking about writing two new works that are percolating in my head. I’m ready for whatever the universe may offer.


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