Theater Mu Announces Its Newest Playwright Incubator Members

By Lianna McLernon





The Mu Tang Clan Vol. 2 is centered on Asian American playwrights who identify as refugees, former refugees, or as descendants of refugees.

Theater Mu and its Mellon Foundation playwright-in-residence, Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, are thrilled to announce that Twin Cities locals Cindy Koy, Mai Moua Thao, Sunny Thao, and Ehkhudah Zar are joining Duangphouxay Vongsay to be part of the Mu Tang Clan Vol. 2, the second interation of the playwright incubator she launched in 2021. 

The Mu Tang Clan was created as a place for Asian American playwrights to come together in community, but for this second iteration, Duangphouxay Vongsay has gone from a national to a local scope, from Zoom meetings to in-person gatherings, and from a focus on mid-career playwrights to playwrights of all experience levels. Most importantly, she has centered Vol. 2 on playwrights who identify as refugees, former refugees, or as descendants of refugees.

“It is necessary to create spaces to help amplify refugee-identifying playwrights and their stories so that Asian American theater and American theater are richer,” Duangphouxay Vongsay says. “According to the Visibility Report from the Asian American Performers Action Coalition, ‘Asian American playwrights, composers, librettists, and lyricists made up just 4.4% of all writers produced’ during the 2018/19 season. Within this 4.4%, refugee-identified playwrights and stories occupy even a smaller percentage.”

Ten Meetings, Four Playwrights

Participants will convene mid-December through mid-February, and meetings will include time to workshop scripts, discuss issues they face as Asian American playwrights, and work on their craft. Duangphouxay Vongsay selected the four members with a panel composed of Mu artistic director Lily Tung Crystal, literary manager Jane Peña, and Liqing Xu, who is a 2021/22 Mu Tang Clan member and will serve as one of its mentors for Vol. 2. The other mentor is playwright May Lee-Yang, who has had a long relationship with Mu, including the world premiere of her play, The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity, in 2017.

Many of the applicants wrote about the cultures they wanted to uplift, the memories they wanted to preserve, and the representation they wanted to see. 

Koy, for instance, is planning to work on a story that was sparked 20 years ago when her nephew wanted fantasy characters that looked like him. Zar has already honed in on writing plays inspired by the stories about Burma her family shared when they met weekly during the pandemic. Mai Moua Thao wants to continue exploring how her work can both love a culture and point out its faults, and how it can center real experiences without harming the people who had them. And Sunny Thao, who was a 22/23 Mu Emerging Playwrights’ Circle member, is continuing her in-progress play about what it means to be a child of refugees as well as a child who becomes a refugee.

“Part of Mu’s vision is to nurture new plays and playwrights across the Asian American diaspora,” says Tung Crystal. “This Mu Tang Clan’s focus on local playwrights who are telling refugee stories represents Mu’s commitment to voices and communities specific to Minnesota and the deepening narratives across the country about what it means to be Asian American.”

A Commitment To Expanding The American Theater Canon

While many creative cohorts do not provide stipends, Theater Mu has prioritized artist compensation as a one method of equity. Koy, Zar, Mai Moua Thao, and Sunny Thao will each receive a $1,000 stipend for their time and to help cover any resources they may need, such as WiFi, childcare, and scripts. They will also receive a yearlong membership to the Playwrights’ Center and compensated tickets to productions by the Guthrie, History Theatre, and Theatre Elision – all donated by the organizations. 

The Mu Tang Clan Vol. 2 joins the inaugural 2021/22 Mu Tang Clan (Duangphouxay Vongsay, Marlina Gonzalez, Keiko Green, Kathryn Haddad, Alex Lin Holden, and Xu) and the inaugural 2022/23 Mu Emerging Playwrights’ Circle (Philip de Sa e Silva, Emma Y. Lai, Katie Rein, and Sunny Thao, led by Peña and artistic associate Annie Jin Wang). 

Playwrights’ cohorts are part of Theater Mu’s ongoing mission to support Asian American artistry, and while Theater Mu did not plan for the Mu Tang Clan Vol. 2 to be all Southeast Asian Americans, the Mu team is excited to continue bringing these voices to the forefront, particularly in light of the Twin Cities’ vibrant Southeast Asian population. 


Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay (she/her) is a Lao American playwright. CNN’s United Shades of America host W. Kamau Bell called her work “revolutionary.” Governor Mark Dayton recognized her and others with a Lao Artists Heritage Month Proclamation. She received an Ordway Center for Performing Arts Sally Award for Initiative which “strategic leadership undertaken by an individual … that will have a significant impact on strengthening Minnesota’s artistic/cultural community.” She’s best known for plays, Kung Fu Zombies vs Cannibals (Theater Mu, 2013), Hmong/Lao Friendship Play (Lazy Hmong Woman Productions, 2015), Kung Fu Zombies vs Shaman Warrior (Smithsonian APAC, 2016), The Kung Fu Zombies Saga: Shaman Warrior & Cannibals (Theater Mu, 2023), The Snow Queen adaptation (Rosetown Playhouse, 2022), and In the Camps: A Refugee Musical (Refugenius Lab, 2023). Her work has been presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Theater Mu, Walking Shadow Theatre Company, Lower Depth Theater, Asian Improv Arts, and elsewhere. Saymoukda is currently a Bush Foundation Leadership Fellow, a second term Mellon Foundation National playwright-in-residence at Theater Mu, a Jerome Foundation Jerome Hill arts fellow in playwriting, a Center for Cultural Power fellow in narrative change, a recent writer-in-residence at Hedgebrook, and an alum resident artist at the prestigious Djerassi Program. Other honors include grants/fellowships/residencies from Playwrights’ Center, McKnight Foundation, MAP Fund, Loft Literary Center, PEN America, Intermedia Arts, Minnesota State Arts Board, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, Dramatist Guild of America, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Everwood Foundation, and dozens more. She has been a finalist for a Creative Capital grant and the Joyce Foundation Joyce Award. 

About Theater Mu

Theater Mu (pronounced MOO) is one of the largest Asian American theater companies in the nation and the largest in the Midwest. Founded in 1992, Mu sits at the intersection of arts, equity, and justice, and it tells stories from the heart of the Asian American experience. Theater Mu’s continuing goal to celebrate and empower the Asian American community through theater is achieved through mainstage productions, emerging artist support, and educational outreach programs. Theater Mu is a member of the Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists as well as a member of the Twin Cities Theatres of Color Coalition, proudly standing alongside New Native Theatre, Pangea World Theater, Penumbra Theatre, and Teatro Del Pueblo. | 


Cindy Koy (she/her) writes to give structure to the static in her head and weaves it into a tapestry that pleases her need for sense-making. She hails from a chaotic Khmer family that made the Eastside of Saint Paul home after the Khmer Rouge systematically hunted the intellectuals down. She’s always felt like an oddball, from being the only person of color in many of her English major classes at the University of Minnesota to being the girl on a date who couldn’t refrain from bringing a notebook to take notes. Cindy spent most of her high school years performing on stage and looks forward to approaching playwriting with those experiences in mind.

Mai Moua Thao (she/her) is currently exploring all the different mediums of storytelling, in her journey to becoming a screenwriter-director. She dabbles in theater/dance, photography, and literature. She is a first generation graduate of Macalester College ‘22 with a BA in media & cultural studies and theater & dance. Mai is also a JGS: Imagining America fellowship alum. She has worked with community-centered organizations such as Asian Media Access, Saint Paul Neighborhood Network, and more. Her most recent work includes Modern Shaman (producer), a series pilot funded by the MN State Arts Board, and Decision to Love (director), an official selection for Filmscore Fest 2023. Please look forward to upcoming work including Mi Tub and Reasons for Moving by connecting via Instagram @inmaidreams.

Sunny Thao (she/her) is an emerging Hmong American theatermaker and proud youth worker. She’s excited to join Mu Tang Clan Vol. 2 and grow her writing and voice alongside other amazing playwrights and mentors. She was an inaugural member of Theater Mu’s Emerging Playwright Circle and assistant director to Mu’s production, Again. Her most recent work was seen with Running Errands curated by Kurt Engh and SEA Echoes Through Rivers, a Southeast Asian street theater project led by local SEA artists and co-founded by Kaysone Syonesa and herself. Her work explores female friendships, the life of elders as youths, and the aftereffects of diasporas within the SEA collective. She holds a BA in playwriting, directing, and dramaturgy from Augsburg University.

Ehkhudah Zar (she/her) is a performance artist and the first ever Karen American playwright based in Saint Paul. She recently produced her first full-length play Muyehpen through Exposed Brick Theatre. Ehkhudah was born in Burma and identifies as Karen. She migrated to the US due to persecution in Burma. With her background story and creativity, she uses theatre to create unknown, untold, and unvoiced stories. She started acting at Bethel University, where she performed in plays including Taming of the Shrew and I Hate Hamlet. She was an assistant stage manager for Theater Mu’s The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity; later, she collaborated with Exposed Brick Theatre in a traveling social justice play for predominantly White institution (PWI) staff. She joined the Omissions playwriting program, which culminated in a staged reading. She has also been commissioned by the Through Our Eyes 20/20 Project and the Remembrance Project.

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