In January of 2011, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Amy Chua, the esteemed Yale law professor and author who penned the memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” Entitled, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” Chua spelled out what that meant. Among other things, no instrument may be played other than the piano or violin, no play dates or sleepovers, no school plays and nothing less than an A in subjects other than gym or drama. An A-minus perhaps? Only if her daughters were looking for a one-way ticket to Slackerville.
With these demands, as well as stories of marathon piano sessions without dinner and the rejection of her four-year-old daughter’s special birthday card which featured a profoundly insufficient happy face, Chua set off a firestorm of outrage over parenting techniques from two distinct civilizations. In this article, as well as another piece in “The Guardian,” Chua pulled no punches ain regards to how she feels about the West’s obsession with self-esteem, and the fact that calling your kid “fat” is not a horrible thing.
While many found Chua’s techniques appalling at best and abusive at worst, she is the first to say that many of her fellow Chinese parents didn’t bat an eye when reading her memoir (many believed this was a how-to book which added to the consternation).
One of those who corroborated those feelings was Angela Chan, an accomplished musical theatre veteran who has worked on some of the biggest shows in Las Vegas as a keyboardist. To Chan, reading the book was an enjoyable experience, and not something that would make “Mommie Dearest” blush.
“I thought it was interesting, the reaction a lot of people had to the book, and how a lot of them were very negative,” said Chan. “For someone that grew up in that type of household, it all seemed very normal to me, so I didn’t see what the big deal was.”
It was Chan’s own experiences that led her and Michael Manley to create the new musical “Legacy of the Tiger Mother,” which opens Friday, Sept. 7th as an official entry into the San Francisco Fringe Festival. The show, which is not based on Chua’s book, is the story of a first-generation Chinese mother Lily (Satomi Hofmann), her daughter Mei (Lynn Craig) and their battle for piano perfection. The battle comes to a head at Mei’s piano recital, forcing a harsh examination of what it takes to reach the pinnacle of success, and at what cost.
The show was not created based on any experience, but for more noble reasons. Historically, musical theatre has not been the best showcase for Asian-Americans, with only a handful of roles, according to Chan, that do not involve stereotypes like concubines or prostitutes. So while working with theatre director Lysander Abadia on an Asian heritage month theatre project, a discussion ensued.
“From there, I thought it would be great to create a show that featured two strong female Asian characters, regular people that could be easily relatable to” said Chan. “We had all heard about the Tiger Mother book, but none of us had read it, and when we all started sharing about our childhoods growing up, we realized that they were very similar.”
The show has had premieres in both Las Vegas and New York City, and is a homecoming for Hofmann, who grew up in San Anselmo and received her degree in Theatre Arts from University of California, Los Angeles. For Hofmann, who is currently a part of the Broadway company of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” an opportunity to continue the development of such personal material was a great opportunity.
“It touched a part of my spirit when I read the play,” said Hofmann, whose father is European and mother is first-generation Japanese. “What I found fascinating is that across the board, my Asian friends, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, could all relate to the play and this style of mothering.”
However, a tiger mother, while seemingly totalitarian, is also steeped in a deep and passionate love for the child and their potential.
“At their core, mothers are fiercely in love with their children,” said Hofmann. “I will tell you my mom pushed and pushed me. And when I was ready, I finally ended up picking up the push and pushed myself.”
The issue of love and a desire for success at the highest level did get lost when society pulled back the curtain to view this parenting style. The deep love, the desire to bestow earned greatness upon a child is at the heart of a tiger mother specifically, and any determined parent in general. The show is a golden opportunity to provide a truer insight that cannot be captured in a simple sound bite, an ambition not lost on its creator.
“This show is about family as well as being a parent and finding that balance between discipline and happiness”, said Chan. “We are hoping that people can take away from it a more positive angle into this type of parenting and less of the more negatively stereotypical one that has been casting its shadow over society.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
The San Francisco Fringe Festival Presents “Legacy of the Tiger Mother”
Written by Angela Chan and Michael Manley
Directed by Lysander Abadia
The Exit Theatre
156 Eddy Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
All tickets are $10 at the door, and $12.99 if purchased online.
Through Sept. 15th
For showtimes, click here.