In the iconic commemorative photograph taken at Promontory Summit to record and celebrate the completion of the massive construction project that was the world's first Transcontinental Railroad, there are many men present. But not one Chinese face is seen. 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's an actor who has performed extensively on Broadway and Off-Broadway stages, in regional theaters, and in many international venues. Jason is the ASCAP Foundation’s 2017 recipient of the Cole Porter Award for his work as a composer/lyricist and the 2021 recipient of the Harold Adamson Award for his work as a lyricist. He wrote the book, music and lyrics for GOLD MOUNTAIN, which received its world premiere production in the fall of 2021, presented by the Utah Shakespeare Festival . The Utah State Legislature awarded a special citation to the production, honoring “its portrayal of the dreams and daily lives of the Chinese railroad workers…” and "increasing the appreciation of what it means to be American.” GOLD MOUNTAIN was also performed as a key commemorative event for Utah's 2019 Spike 150 anniversary celebrations, presented in a 2017 concert at The Times Center in New York City by the National Asian Artists Project in partnership with Prospect Theater Company, and selected for the 2016 ASCAP/ DreamWorks Musical Theatre Workshop in Los Angeles. Recently, Jason wrote original music for Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s critically acclaimed production of TWELFTH NIGHT, creating songs and sounds based on the cultural, racial, and ethnic identities of the performing company. He's currently working on music and lyrics for a new, original musical BROKEN GROUND with librettist/co-lyricist Christine Toy Johnson, a work commissioned by Village Theatre, now in development.
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 on the left is my mom and dad with me at Yosemite National Park in the western Sierra Nevada.
When I was 13, after rounds of hotly contested competition, I was crowned math champion of my school. My father, an aerospace electrical engineer, must have been over the moon (forgive the pun). 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 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, and a lifetime in the theater began.
Photo at right: math genius turned theater geek.
It's a common tale often told: Ex-math-champ-reborn-creature-of-the-theatre no longer feels at home when they're at home; so eventually, they find their way to their natural habitat in New York City, where fellow "creatures" reside. 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 a Broadway theater, 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 him 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 feel so lucky to have had this time working on something that I love, and even better, that intersects with so many issues that I care about deeply. I've found that these characters are really good company, and I'm grateful that people have gotten to meet them, and find them to be good company, too. We're looking forward to what's coming next...