Jeanne Sakata and Aaron Takahashi. All photos by Kurt Kanazawa and Timothy Patterson.

In 2019 I had an incredible summer surprise: East West Players, where I began both my acting and playwriting career, honored the wonderful actor Aaron Takahashi and me with their 2019 Trailblazer Awards at their signature EWP Night Market event on Saturday, September 14—a delightful evening , where we were surrounded by beloved family and friends, fed scrumptious food by local chefs, and entertained with a powerful, and touching evening of wonderful AAPI performers, all proceeds going to support EWP’s artistic and educational programs.

From Artistic Director Snehal Desai! “For this year’s EWP Night Market, East West Players would like to celebrate the trailblazing achievements of Jeanne Sakata and Aaron Takahashi. As we usher in our 54th Anniversary Season, We Are The Ones We Are Waiting For, it felt fitting to honor these two remarkable artists who are also figures of inspiration locally and nationally. They have been prolific in their respective careers and also generous and respected leaders in our community. They have through their artistry lifted the visibility of Asian Americans nationally and done so with the utmost kindness, generosity and humility. We look forward to celebrating them and also ushering in our 54th season.”

Here is my Facebook post about the event!

“I feel so incredibly blessed to have had an unforgettable evening such as East West Players Night Market last night, surrounded on a balmy LA summer night with so many people I love, admire, respect and are inspired by. My heart swells with love and pride for you all when I look at the photos Tim and I managed to grab – not nearly enough, there are too many of you that got away before I could nab you! – but enough to make me realize how outrageously fortunate I am to have all of you in my life as friends, brothers and sisters, teachers, mentors. Thank you, East West Players my husband, my family for coming down from the Bay Area, all of you, my dear friends, old and new. Thanks to all of you supporters and advocates and artists of EWP and our ever-expanding, awesome Asian American performing arts community. All of you outrageously talented, actors, singers, improv artists, comics, musicians and writers,who gave us such a powerful and hilarious and moving show. And each and every volunteer, and audience member who attended, or sent their kind words and good wishes.

Emily Kuroda, Jeanne Sakata and Gedde Watanabe

Here is the speech I gave in accepting the award!

When I first encountered East West Players in the 1970’s, it was a magical and life-changing moment. I was an undergrad at UCLA, on my way to a career in Library and Information Science, when I saw a flyer for Wakako Yamauchi’s gorgeous play, AND THE SOUL SHALL DANCE. Intrigued, I went down to see it– and it unexpectedly changed my life. I had no idea there were plays about families like mine, Japanese American farming families. I had no idea there was such a thing as Asian American theatre. And yet here was a play that shared the hope, humor, and heartbreak of the struggles of Issei like my immigrant grandparents Kyusaburo and Tomiye, and Nisei like my father and mother Tommy and Lily–struggles that, despite this country’s harsh and racist treatment of them, nevertheless did not diminish their dream to be recognized and accepted as true Americans.

Emily Kuroda, Jeanne Sakata and Gedde Watanabe

Over the years, East West Players has given so many of us life-changing moments like that. It gave me my start as an actor in the 1980’s. And over 20 years later, it gave me another beginning. When I first discovered Gordon Hirabayashi’s amazing story of his defiance and legal challenge of a racist curfew and Executive Order 9066, it became an obsession and a personal quest, which turned into a play, and that play ended up having its world premiere with my dear friends Jessica Kubzansky and Ryun Yu here on this stage in 2007, which has since gone on to productions across the country.

So thank you, East West Players. And thanks to all of you over the years for your friendship and support and love and encouragement. To Snehal Desai, to Tim Dang, to the memory of Nobu McCarthy and Mako. To Daniel Mayeda, Randy Tamura and all of you on the Board. To my husband Tim, my sister Cindy and brother-in-law Dave, and all my dear friends who are here tonight. We salute you, East West Players. We know that here on this stage, we are not limited, but limitless in our humanity. We know that those of you who keep this theatre going are also fighting the larger battle of representation onstage, onscreen, every day. We know that here, we have a family that will always ensure our Asian American stories are told with passion and fire and heart — and in so doing, say to the world, we are here.

And we are here to stay.

Jeanne Sakata and Aaron Takahashi