PASADENA — It’s jam-packed at the Pasadena Playhouse, excellent for a Sunday matinee and one of the reasons for the great turn out is the organization Asian Pacific American Friends of the Theater.

Started by Ernest Hiroshige, he’s organized a group of over 50 theater supporters today to watch Lauren Yee’s production of The Great Leap.

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“It’s very important for theaters to realize that their bottom line is dependent on the diversity of their audiencers and by having more performers of Asian Pacific ethnicity in your plays, more people from that community will be in your audience,” said Ernest Hiroshige.

Despite being born in an internment camp housing Japanese-Americans during World War II, his mother wanted him to follow the American dream and go to college. But soon after their release from the camp, he found work as a child actor with small roles in films like The King and I with Yul Brynner and The Tea House of the August Moon with Marlon Brando.

“Our stories are American stories so productions about Asian Pacifics are just like stories about Italians or Germans or anybody else,” said Hiroshige. “We're all Americans and people should realize that that's very important to preserve our history through plays and other productions.”

Though there’s no comprehensive study for diverse performers on stage for actors in Los Angeles, the Asian American Performers Action Coalition does keep track of representation in New York.

In 2016, they found 7.3 percent of performers to be of Asian descent, but that’s primarily due to one show, Miss Saigon which hired 58 percent of all Asian actors cast on Broadway. 

“The old way to deny parts to Asian Pacific actors was to say there are no Asian parts in our play. Well, that’s ridiculous because that’s a dead end,” said Hiroshige. 

Now a judge with the Los Angeles Superior Court and known as Judge Ernie, he started APAFT with the goal to increase opportunities for Asian-American actors, playwrights, and directors…  and he’s hopeful.

“American parts should be cast by everyone of every ethnicity,” said Hiroshige.

Time to get your stories out there.