Alison Lea Bender
Alison Lea Bender is a multi-hyphenate who defies conventional categorization and refuses to be pigeonholed. Some have called her the voice of a generation, some have called her a dangerous threat to society, but most of us just call her "my friend." When not toppling regimes and berating street performers, this “Other” has most recently torn up the New York stage in Thelma and Louise: Dyke Remix and is a three-time headliner of We So Hapa. Described by cultural cognoscenti as "Marilyn Monroe Meets Hello Kitty," she lists her favorite foods as bubble tea and kimchi. A legendary 5-percent tipper, Ms. Bender will not acknowledge you in public and may not be reached on any level before 1 PM.
Matt Blank is a Tony Award-viewing writer who published over 7,000 articles as a decade-long member of the Playbill editorial team. A Bay Area native and media darling, his high school was 90 percent Asian, his friends 90 percent Caucasian and his heart 100 percent Hulkamaniac. Known industry-wide for self-indulgent style and dramatic mood swings, Matt recently returned to the stage after a 13-year retirement in a move that was described as "a huge mistake by all parties involved." He got his first tattoos in his 30s while on a visit to South Korea and, most proudly, has gradually reduced his weekly Chipotle intake from six visits to a gentlemanly two. Follow his day on Instagram and Twitter.
Alex Chester is a California gal living in NYC. She has been acting since she was a little girl. A few years ago she decided to create a blog about being hapa called MeSoHapa.com. Alex is the creator and producer of the theatre company WeSoHapa - a theatre based on diversity and inclusion.
She is a New York City based columnist for On Stage Blog and contributing writer for ManhattanDigest.com and HuffPo. She also hosts a podcast with fellow writer Melissa Slaughter, We're Not All Ninjas. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram @AlexFChester if you like food and cats. www.alexchester.com
Autumn Henry was born in Missouri, raised a Navy Brat and now calls Brooklyn home. Her career in esthetics was born out of a desire to perform humane Brazilian Waxing but quickly graduated into a full fledged career that focuses on holistic skin care and healing of the individual. Autumn is a fierce advocate for "graceful aging" vs "anti-aging" in a culture obsessed with unrealistic beauty standards. She is a proud wife, sister, daughter, cat mom and soon to be mother of an actual human.
Rebecca Lee Lerman is a New York City based writer and performer. Her plays and screenplays were featured at Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, The Midtown International Theatre Festival, Universe Multicultural Film Festival and We So Hapa, which celebrates people of mixed race. Most recently, PheLerm Productions, for which she is writer, participated in the 72 Hour Shootout competition, and their short film was selected as the top 40 out of 400 to be screened at the Asian American Film Festival. www.RebeccaSings.com
Diane Phelan was born and raised ex pat / third culture kid to an American dad and Filipino mom in Taipei. She didn't realize she wasn't Chinese until age 12. Diane now calls New York City home with her Dutch husband Rogier and their bodega-rescue cat, Merman. Diane is an actor, director and photographer and is passionate about the healing of generational trauma through the telling of human stories. She was recently on Broadway in the revival of King and I and traveled the world as Maria in West Side Story. More at www.DianePhelan.com
Kevin was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Currently he resides in the Big Apple pursuing his passion of performing. Outside of acting you may find him coaching or training people in the art of leadership. He hopes to open minds and unite them with everything he does so that he can help others create their greatest self. Simply put, he always leads with his "why." Currently, he is a Hapa touring the country in the Broadway national tour of The King and I. For more: www.kevinschuering.com
Naomi Takata Shepherd
Naomi has a bad habit of looking at something and saying, "I could do that myself." Then she does. Splitting her time between her hometown (San Jose) and Alameda, Naomi owns a small business, writes, designs, and directs film projects while also substitute teaching. Her business, 6 Degrees of Hapa, is Naomi’s way of contributing to the diverse and ever-changing Hapa community. If Naomi is not festival hopping for her biz, she's probably working on one of many projects and wondering when she'll ever take a vacation again. Find out more at 6degreesofhapa.com and visit her portfolio.
Melissa has lived in all four time zones in the contiguous United States. A former actor in Seattle, WA, Melissa now resides in NYC as a content creator. She is the producer of the We're Not All Ninjas podcast, which she also hosts with fellow Hapa Mag writer, Alex Chester. Melissa also writes for online blogs Nerdopiles and On Stage Blog. She loves sushi, crafts, and theatre, but her favorite thing in the world is "Doctor Who" and yes, she's over the moon for a female Doctor. You can find her @NotAllNinjasPod.
Sam grew up in South Florida and is an NYC-based actor and writer. He loves the sun, ocean, and Publix chicken tenders subs. His interest in other cultures, languages, and good food led him to connect with the Hapa movement, but struggling to find his identity as a Hapa performer in the entertainment industry made it even more meaningful. Sam was part of the original Broadway company of Allegiance, the musical inspired by George Takei’s experience in the Japanese Interment Camps.
Social Media Maven
Jennifer Kumiyama was born with Arthrogryposis and uses a wheelchair daily. Kumiyama received voice lessons at Long Beach City College and California State University of Long Beach. In 2000, Jennifer earned a spot on Warner Bros. reality TV show “Popstars 2” and earned national accolades from many publications including Variety Magazine and TV Guide – referring to her as “the girl in the wheelchair, who’s voice blew everyone out of the water”.
Shortly after that in 2002 – Jennifer was cast in Disney’s “Aladdin; a Musical Spectacular” at Disney California Adventure Theme Park, where she is the first performer in a wheelchair to ever be on any Disney stage in the world. She performed 4 times a day for 8,000 guests a day, who visit from every corner of the world. It was at Disney that Jennifer took on her real role as an advocate for people living with disabilities – showing the entire world that talent sees no boundaries. This motivated her to become a speaker – sharing her story with schools, social groups, and major businesses. Her new passion, in addition to singing – is being a voice for people living with disabilities by breaking attitudinal and architectural barriers. "Aladdin; a Musical Spectacular" closed on January 10, 2016.
In 2010, Jennifer was crowned Ms. Wheelchair California and Ms. Wheelchair America 2011, 1st Runner Up. During her reign she spread the message of hope through her platform “Empowering Children with Disabilities to Make Their Own Dreams Come True”. Jennifer was cast in a major role as ‘Carmen’ in Sundance Film Festival hit and Academy Award Nominated film “The Sessions”, MTV’s teen sensation “Awkward” and became the founder and owner of The Ms. Wheelchair California Foundation in 2011 and has since retired as the State Coordinator in 2016.
Jennifer was recently in ‘A Little Night Music’ (Mrs. Nordstrom) at The Colony Theatre in Burbank and ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ at The Hollywood Bowl. She currently resides in Long Beach, CA and is a Legislative Assistant for First District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez.