Article By Wan Zhao
Photo credit Gerry Francisco

On Monday Evening, March 24, the Ma-Yi Theater Company celebrated a landmark for their 25th Anniversary at the Hudson Theater in New York City.

The evening celebrated the 25th Anniversary of Ma-Yi, a Drama Desk and Obie Award-winning not-for-profit organization, whose primary mission is to develop and produce new and innovative plays by Asian American writers. Since its founding, Ma-Yi has distinguished itself as one of the country’s leading incubators of new work shaping the national discourse about what it means to be Asian American today.

The Gala Benefit featured a presentation of awards to honorees Bessie Badilla, Ernest Escaler, and Cao K. O in their fields; as well as a performance directed by Ralph B. Peña entitled “A Tribute to David Merrick,” which commemorated the prolific Tony Award-winning producer of Broadway hits such as “42nd Street,” “Hello, Dolly,” and “Oliver.”

Bessie Badilla and her two daughters

Bessie Badilla, filmmaker and musician, was awarded for Excellence in the Arts. She is the recipient of The Outstanding Filipino American – NY (TOFA-NY) for Arts and Culture. She was named one of the 100 Most Influential Filipina Women in the World.  She was honored and ecstatic in receiving this recognition. She showed her great appreciation to Ma-Yi Theater Company for giving the award.

Cao K. O

Cao K. O was awarded for Excellence in Community Service as the co-founder and former executive director of the Asian American Federation of New York.

Ernest Escaler, chairman of the Asian Cultural Council – Philippines, was honored for Excellence in Advocacy for the Arts though he was not able to make it, but had his friend give an inspiring speech.

Headlining the evening included performances of musical numbers from 42nd ST, GYPSY, OLIVER! and HELLO, DOLLY! – by Lee Roy Reams, the actor/director long-associated with Mr. Merrick’s work; the beloved singer Klea Blackhurst; award-winning Filipino-American actress Ching Valdes Aran; performer Deborah S. Craig; and Ralph Pena.

According to Ralph B. Pena, artistic director, and Jorge Z. Ortoll, executive director, Ma-Yi Theater Company, through their actions, expressed thoughts on the brilliant awardees, where they are now, and what their dreams for the next 25 years are.

“Like Bessie, we want to keep reinforcing, to ourselves and to our artists, that sweat, challenge, imagination and tenacity bring us to new artistic levels. Like Ernest, we want to always be aware that business can be a natural ally of art, not its opponent, and to constantly remind ourselves and those around us that art is the caretaker of the soul. Like Cao, we want to continue serving our communities and elevate their profiles in this incredible landscape that is New York City, that is New York State, that is the United States of America. That’s where our start from today onwards-keeping our heroes close to our hearts and intentions. We hereby recognize that our dreams are necessary, that our work is vital, and that our responsibilities are never-ending.”

Happy birthday Ma-Yi, what a beautiful and meaningful night!

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