Brenda Wong Aoki and Mark Izu

Playwrights and storytellers

Brenda Wong Aoki is a playwright, producer, and America’s first Asian Pacific storyteller. Her multidisciplinary performance work explores the fundamental hybridity of U.S. culture and draws from her family’s 126-year history in San Francisco, Kabuki legends, ghost stories, and personal experience. Her sensei is Living Treasure Nomura Mansaku, a Kyogen master. Her work has been awarded Hollywood-Dramalogue, Critics Circle, Dramatist Guild, ASCAP and INDIE Awards, and fellowships from the NEA and the Japanese Government. She helped found Stanford’s Institute for Diversity in the Arts and started the first Asian American affinity groups with WAA (Western Arts Alliance) and APAP (Association of Performing Artist Professionals). As Co-Director/Founder of First Voice, Aoki worked with WOCA (Women of Color in the Arts) and the API Council to build the Stop Asian Hate Campaign. She is currently writing a music drama The Soul of San Francisco, commissioned for the Hewlett 50 Playwright Award.

Composer, producer, and bandleader Mark Izu fuses traditional Asian music with African American improvisation using acoustic bass, sheng (Chinese multi-reed instrument) and sho (Japanese multi-reed instrument). As Artistic Director of the Asian American Jazz Festival for 20 years, he is a founder of Asian American Jazz (Grove Dictionary of Music). His score Bolinao 52 earned him a 2009 Emmy Award; other scores include Steven Okazaki’s Academy Award-winning Days of Waiting; and Emmy-winning documentary Return to the Valley. His theater scores have been performed at Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, and Sundance. He received a Dramalogue Award and two Indie Awards. As co-director/founder of First Voice, Izu served as a representative for the Japantown Culture District. He is also engaged in ongoing collaboration with the interfaith Black coalition We Are One in the Western Addition. His recent work, Songs for J-Town, premiered at the Presidio Theater in San Francisco in April 2022.