jakub | May 16, 2024

AMERICAN THEATRE | Lily Tung Crystal Departs Theater Mu to Lead East West Players


Lily Tung Crystal. (Photo by by Dani Werner)

LOS ANGELES: East West Players has appointed Lily Tung Crystal to be its next artistic director. Tung Crystal, the current artistic director of Theater Mu in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, succeeds Snehal Desai in the position, who departed the company in 2023 to become the artistic director of Center Theatre Group. She will become the fifth artistic director and the second female leader in the organization’s history, working alongside managing director Eugene J. Hutchins in a new co-leadership model. Tung Crystal will stay on to program Mu’s 2024-25 season before relocating to L.A., and the theatre’s board plans to work with the staff to choose her successor.

“The East West Players board is excited to introduce Lily to the East West Players community and to welcome her back to L.A., her first hometown,” said EWP board chair Rose Chan Loui in a statement. “The search committee was gratified to see how many qualified candidates applied for the artistic director position, as it demonstrated how much progress we have made as a community in developing AAPI talent. We were particularly pleased to see the number of outstanding Asian American women among the applicants. Out of this impressive field of candidates, Lily stood out for her impressive portfolio of artistic work, her cohesive vision for EWP, and her strong leadership and management skills. We know she will be greatly missed by Theater Mu and the Minnesota community, but we are thrilled for EWP to be her new artistic home.”

A Chinese American native of the South Bay, Tung Crystal co-founded Ferocious Lotus Theatre Company in the Bay Area prior to her five-year tenure at Theater Mu. A longtime stage director and actor, she was also a writer and producer for film and television, working on everything from nonfiction programming for the Discovery Channel to the movie Steve Jobs. She worked as a freelance journalist in Shanghai, where she launched the city’s first English-language magazine, Shanghai Talk, as well as performing in a singer in a Chinese blues band called Hot Tofu.

“I’m grateful to both East West Players and Theater Mu for believing in me,” said Tung Crystal in a statement. “This is a bittersweet moment because of my deep love for Mu and the Minnesotan theatre and Asian American communities. My heart is both happy and breaking. Mu has allowed me to do this work in a deep and joyful way with a group of truly incredible staff, board, theatremakers, and supporters. I’m thankful to them for giving me such a significant artistic and spiritual home.”

During her time at Theater Mu, the company was named a Regional Cultural Treasure by the Ford and McKnight Foundations, doubled the size of its staff, and doubled its budget from $650,000 to $1.3 million. Tung Crystal also led the revitalization of the Mu Training Institute, created Mu’s fellowship program to invest in the next generation of BIPOC artists, and provided a space for new playwright cohorts. She led the organization through the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, producing at least three virtual events each week from late March through May 2020.

“I’m humbled and honored to be given the opportunity to lead the nation’s largest Asian American theatre company and longest-running theatre of color,” continued Tung Crystal. “My life’s work has centered on the intersection of art and social justice; increasing representation of Asian American and other marginalized artists onstage and in TV and film, and telling more Asian American stories. I’m looking forward to working with East West Players’ managing director, Eugene J. Hutchins, and its talented, committed, and welcoming staff, board, and artists to continue that work nationally in collaboration with artists and organizations across the country, including Theater Mu.”

Theater Mu is the largest Asian American theatre company in the Midwest, seeking to tell stories from the heart of the Asian American experience, and to celebrate and empower the Asian American community through mainstage productions, emerging artist support, and educational outreach programs. As of 2022, the theatre had an approximate budget of $1.3 million.

East West Players is one of the nation’s oldest theatres of color and the largest producer of Asian American theatrical works. East West Players is committed to raising the visibility of the Asian American experience by presenting inventive world-class theatrical productions, developing artists of color, and providing impactful youth education programs. As of 2022, the theatre had an approximate budget of $1.9 million.

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