Artist Profile: Playwright Aileen Kyoko

The Planet Connections Festivity is a socially-conscious arts festival in it's tenth year. Each show highlights a cause close to the artist, raising awareness for an organization/topic of their own selection.

In partnership with the Planet Connections, Hapa Mag is highlighting some of the mixed-race artists of Asian descent participating in this year's Festivity. 

Artist Profile: Planet Connections 2018

Play: The Year of the Solar Eclipse

Playwright: Aileen Kyoko

Show Dates: Friday July 13th-Saturday August 4th

Photo Credit: Fred Lam

Photo Credit: Fred Lam

What makes you Hapa? How do you feel about the word? Is it how you identify?

I am Hapa because I am half-Japanese and half-Irish-American. I think the experience is different for everyone but for me—it’s one that is complicated, beautiful and has made me who I am. I’m proud to be Japanese and I hold a special place in my heart for Asia. My mother is Japanese and I grew up in the Philippines so I’ve always been very immersed in Asian culture. For example I grew up on lots of yummy authentic Asian food (Japanese, Thai, Sri Lankan, Indonesian, Korean, Indian, etc).



What was it like for you growing up half-Asian? Do you think this has had any sort of influence on your identity?

I am sure if I grew up in America, my experience would have been different. I went to an International school in Manila so most [of the] kids were from all over the world: mixed-race and used to living overseas. This experience was such a gift and shaped who I am and gave me life long friendships.

At the same time, this upbringing led to a struggle to find a sense of belonging and cultural identity. Especially when I moved to America when I was 18. People would see me as Asian here, and in Asia I was seen as white American. And growing up in Manila and not being Filipino—you didn’t always fit into the local culture.  So when people ask me “where are you from?”’s not a simple answer.

But, at the end of the day, I know I was lucky to have grown up exposed to various cultures. You naturally become open, accepting, and down to try new things. Plus, I have little tolerance for discrimination of any kind and I need to live in a city that celebrates diversity.


Since you were born in Manila and you’ve lived in multiple cities and countries, do you consider yourself a third culture? If so, how has that influenced you? Where else have you lived and which place was your favorite?

Yes! I was born in Manila and lived there for 18 years. I lived in the following places (ranging from 6 months to 4 years)—Switzerland, Portugal, Washington DC and Wilmington, North Carolina before I moved to New York City. I definitely grew up as a third-culture kid who was seeking more out of life.

Photo Credit: Edward Haugh

Photo Credit: Edward Haugh

After I left Manila, I followed my curiosity to explore living in different places and meeting new people. I loved soaking up new cultures and I spent many years in a transient state. I think this has contributed to the part of me that is open, adventurous and can easily go with the flow.  

At a certain point, I needed to find some stability and I was ready to commit to one place. There was no doubt in my mind that place would be New York City. The city was always like a long distance lover I had never met, but knew I wanted to.

In terms of favorite places to live, Manila has a special place in my heart of course., Portugal was life-changing (I was forced to mature a lot being alone in a foreign country at 19). Wilmington was where I connected back to my creative roots (I met an amazing creative community) but New York City is now home.


Do you feel being a mixed-race artist has shaped the way you approach theatre?

Absolutely. It was a priority for me to cast The Year of the Solar Eclipse with diversity in mind. As a minority writer and director, I knew this was my opportunity to finally have some control over that. I love theatre because it can be much more inclusive than film. We are able to ask the audience to suspend reality more.

Matthew Tyler (Artistic Director), Aileen Kyoko (Playwright, Director and Producer), Ezra Bynum (Actor and Producer). Photo Credit: Fred Lam

Matthew Tyler (Artistic Director), Aileen Kyoko (Playwright, Director and Producer), Ezra Bynum (Actor and Producer). Photo Credit: Fred Lam


What you made decide to get into the theatre arts?

I’ve been involved in theatre since I was a little kid. My middle school and high school drama teachers can confirm how obsessed I was with it! It all started off with my love for acting and performing.

When I moved to New York City, I got involved with creating my own work with friends I met through acting classes. Then, a few years ago, I fell into opportunities to write, direct and produce. Originally, when I was faced with the task to write a script I had no idea how to do that. But then when I needed to express intense emotions and experiences, I found playwriting and theatre to be a really rewarding way to do it. It somehow felt so natural and fun to step into the other side of acting.

Photo credit: Fred Lam and Poster Design by Matthew Tyler

Photo credit: Fred Lam and Poster Design by Matthew Tyler

Tell us about your play The Year of the Solar Eclipse?

The Year of the Solar Eclipse is a dramedy about modern day relationships, friendships and the secrets we hide to protect ourselves and others. It’s going to make you laugh and cry! I don’t want to give too much away so here’s a general synopsis:

When three friends gather to watch the solar eclipse, they have no idea how their lives are about to enter their own cycles of light and dark.

What follows, is a year of love lost, love found, and self-discovery. Step into this dramedy about the bright and dark sides of relationships and all the brilliant shades in between.


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Tickets for the year of the solar eclipse are on sale now.