In the iconic commemorative photograph taken at Promontory Summit to record and celebrate the completion of the massive construction project that was the Central Pacific Railroad, there are many men present. None of them are Chinese. They were left out of the picture. Gold Mountain is my attempt to reframe, refocus and widen this particular shot of history. Sometimes, you have to take your own picture.
Jason Ma (馬智培) is the son of an immigrant family and a grateful descendant of a long line of those who were able to persist, overcome and succeed on their way to becoming Americans. In addition to writing, he is an actor who has performed extensively on Broadway and Off-Broadway stages, in regional theaters and many international venues. Jason is the ASCAP Foundation’s 2017 recipient of the Cole Porter Award for his work as a composer/lyricist. He wrote the music, book and lyrics for GOLD MOUNTAIN, which was performed as a key commemorative event for Utah's Spike 150 anniversary celebrations in 2019. GOLD MOUNTAIN was also presented in a 2017 concert at TheTimesCenter in New York City by the National Asian Artists Project in partnership with Prospect Theater Company, as well as selected for the 2016 ASCAP/ DreamWorks Musical Theatre Workshop in Los Angeles, chosen for development by Apples & Oranges Studios in their 2017 THEatre ACCELERATOR, for a staged reading at San Francisco LaborFest 2016 in The Aurora Theatre, and for a 2017 eStudio grant for a developmental workshop at The Masie Center. With librettist/co-lyricist Christine Toy Johnson, Jason wrote music and lyrics for the full-length musical BARCELONA, which was subsequently selected for Village Theatre’s 2015 Festival of New Musicals and currently, they are writing and developing the new original musical BROKEN GROUND, a commissioned work for Village Theatre.
I am the son of immigrants, members of the last generation of Chinese raised in the pre-Communist era, in a traditional culture of Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist values. My parents very much wanted us to excel in school, while also trying to assimilate themselves and us into American culture as we were growing up in Southern California. To this end, while closely monitoring our grades and homework, we were taken to museums, concerts and movies, and ferried about on family vacations to American monuments and national parks. This photo is my Mom and Dad with me at Yosemite National Park in the western Sierra Nevada.
When I was 13, after several rounds of hotly contested competition, I was crowned math champion of my school . My aerospace electrical engineer father must have been very pleased. However, shortly after that, my parents decided to up our exposure to American culture and took us to see our first show, the national tour of A CHORUS LINE. As I watched, all the electrical activity in my left brain must have rushed over to the right hemisphere, and then, I emerged from the theater completely rewired. Soon after that, troubles in math classes started and stayed with me for the rest of my schooling. Thus, a theater artist was born. Photo: portrait of the math nerd.
It's a common tale often told: Ex-math-champ-reborn-creature-of-the-theatre no longer feels at home when he's at home; so eventually, he finds his way to his natural habitat in New York with his fellow "creatures." Decades passed, and I eventually found a way to be at home on both coasts, spending time in my natural habitat in New York and with my family in Los Angeles as a son, husband, brother and uncle. The genesis for Gold Mountain happened while I was an actor in the middle of a long-running show in New York. It was summer and I was in the basement of the Broadway Theatre on 52nd Street and Broadway, waiting between scenes, when my thoughts were suddenly overtaken by two young people. I couldn't stop imagining them. They were on a green hillside, one of them, a young man, comparing the silhouette of the mountains in America to the mountains of home in China, and how that made them homesick for their own familiar countryside and culture. The duet "Your Eyes" was written first, and then the play seemed to write itself, from the middle of the story outward to the beginning, and then to the end. I spent the entire summer walking around Manhattan in an obsessive daze, alternating between bouts of writing and changing location, only to write again... in cafes, on park benches, sitting on boulders in Central Park, on expanses of grass by the Hudson River and once, in a phone booth. (Gross, but inspiration doesn't always wait until you find a sanitary location.) I am grateful to have had the time working on something that I love. These characters are really good company, and I hope that someday, people will get to meet them. And if you're still reading at this point, thank you so much for making it all the way to...