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East West Players' Tim Dang wins $125,000 award*

May 21, 2009 |  8:45 pm

TimDang Tim Dang, producing artistic director of East West Players, will receive a $125,000 Leadership Award next month from the James Irvine Foundation, which is citing him for his role in making the Little Tokyo company a source of "understanding and appreciation for California's diversity," along with its mission of creating opportunities for Asian American artists.

“I’m quite thankful and thrilled,” Dang, 50, said Thursday. “On Monday my office computer crashed, so the first thing I thought was maybe to purchase a new computer.”

In fact, he said, East West plans to use a big chunk of its $100,000 share of the award for a mentorship or training program aimed at developing the company’s “next generation of leaders.”

“It’s not necessarily a passing of the torch,” he added, “because I’m not going anywhere soon.”

Dang, who joined the company in 1980 and has been its artistic leader since 1993, joins Pasadena Playhouse artistic director Sheldon Epps, who won in 2007, as the only recipients in the arts since the award was inaugurated in 2006. Five other recipients this year are involved in social services, education and community development projects in California.

The Irvine Foundation's written citation notes East West Players' role since 1965 as a nurturing ground for Asian American talent, and its standing as "the nation's oldest professional theater of color operating today."

Dang's accomplishments include the fostering of emerging playwrights and expansion from a 99-seat house to a 240-seat regional theater (tax documents show its budget was $1.1 million in 2007-08), where "diverse audiences come together for thought-provoking performances reflecting a broad spectrum of human experience," the citation said.

Winners were chosen by a nine-member panel including foundation officials, community and business leaders, the presidents of Cal State Sacramento and Claremont Graduate University and Jane Pisano, president of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Under the ground rules set by the San Francisco-based foundation, at least $100,000 of the award will support East West Players' activities, and Dang can use as much as $25,000 for his own "professional development." The awards will be given June 9 at a ceremony in Sacramento.

As for his personal share, Dang hopes to finance visits to other arts organizations around the country to take their pulse on how they’re approaching today’s economic challenges and also to see how other ethnic-specific groups are serving their communities. 

At East West, he said, wage and hiring freezes are in effect. “Knocking on wood, we have been meeting our goals for ticket sales." But because foundations and corporations that support East West Players and other arts groups expect to have less cash to donate, he added, "a lot of people are thinking the next fiscal year will be even more challenging."

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: Tim Dang. Credit: Carlos Chavez/Los Angeles Times

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