A Rare Talent/Hollywood Takes a Hike/How Hot Tix Got Hotter | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

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A Rare Talent/Hollywood Takes a Hike/How Hot Tix Got Hotter

The death of Quincy Wong silences a gentle yet penetrating voice.


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A Rare Talent

They had to clear out flowerstomake room for mourners at Quincy Wong's funeral last Saturday. People of all ages and colors--denizens of Chicago's theater scene and pillars of the Asian Pacific American community--jammed shoulder to shoulder in a narrow funeral parlor in the heart of Chinatown and spilled onto the busy sidewalk along Wentworth. Wong, 48, an actor and writer, had died suddenly of a coronary arrhythmia July 8. Now his body lay in an open coffin beneath an arch at the front of the room. A spray of scarlet flowers had been placed in the coffin, along with small strips of paper bearing encouraging words, like messages from so many fortune cookies. "Follow your dreams," they said, and "You are breaking free." It was standing room only for Wong's final appearance. It seemed as if he should rise, take center stage, and launch into one of his monologues, which were gentle and funny, like him, even when they were searing.

This being real life, he didn't. Instead his friend and collaborator, jazz bassist Tatsu Aoki, played a mournful tribute; scriptures were read in English and Cantonese; and his grieving brothers, Allen and Philip, did their best to celebrate his life. They talked about his childhood in Skokie and Evanston. The plump, shy fourth child of immigrants, he took up athletics to overcome physical and social shortcomings and then surprised everyone by growing into a six-foot, one-inch varsity football player, the only Asian on the Evanston Township High School team, and handsome enough to make a cheerleader swoon. ("Your brother is cute" was a line Philip Wong got accustomed to hearing from women, followed by "No, really cute.") Also a gifted and fanatic lifelong softball player, Wong became a chemical engineer with a degree from Northwestern and a corporate job. But in the early 1980s he landed a role in Organic Theater's Yellow Fever and was hooked. In the late 80s he left the corporate world to try his luck as a full-time actor, writer, and model. He became a top Asian-American model, appearing in hundreds of print ads and broadcast commercials. He landed some dramatic roles on network television and a principal part in the 1992 feature film Mo' Money, and he acted on local stages, including Steppenwolf's, where he was part of the recent production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. But good roles for Asian actors were nearly as scarce as the Asian role models he had searched U.S. culture for as a kid. The absence of both became a major theme of his work.

Wong was a founding member and artistic director of Angel Island Theatre Company, a professional Asian-American troupe launched in 1989, and also cofounded the comedy ensemble Stir-Friday Night! He conceived and was the lead writer of Sayonara, Ms. Saigon, a full-length musical (first produced in '99) that parodied Asian stereotypes in American theater and film. (In the director's notes he wrote that when he first started performing, the roles available were Chinese cook, martial artist, gang leader, or Japanese businessman. "Fifteen years later, there are more roles for Asian-American actors, but they are the same roles recycled over and over again.") Six years ago he teamed up with actor and writer Kim Hsieh to create Three Non-Blondes, an evolving performance piece that grapples with issues of Asian-American identity. They took it on the college circuit (where it was always followed by an audience discussion) and last summer they performed a two-person version of it as White Rice in Live Bait's Fillet of Solo festival. There, in the tiny black-box theater, before an audience of six or seven souls, Wong stood in the spotlight and recited the confessions of an "Asians Anonymous" member ("My family, they were always drinking--tea"); demonstrated real bondage on his own bare foot; and had Hop Sing, with no chance of ever meeting a Chinese woman, beg Ben Cartwright in vain to approve his marriage to an American so he could fulfill his destiny and avoid disappointing the ancestors. Wong did his own ancestors proud.

Hollywood Takes a Hike

HBO pulled out as the major sponsor of the three-year-old Chicago Outdoor Film Festival last winter, which put programming and technical control directly into local hands, says Chicago Film Office director Rich Moskal. (Corporate sponsors Target and ComEd are still on board.) As a result, the previews of commercial films that used to open the seven weekly programs have been replaced with short movies by local independent filmmakers. For most of them that means thousands more viewers than they'd normally find. Up Tuesday, July 23: Bruce Terris's Flying, recently back from Cannes and paired with Dr. Strangelove. And opening for A Hard Day's Night July 30 is The Bookless Planet by Jake Pankratz Saner, who was ten years old when he made it. Films were selected by city staffers with input from directors of other local film fests, Moskal says. Local perfectionist projectionist James Bond is now in charge of technical duties (formerly handled by HBO), which, according to festival director Cheryl Hughes, means there's no chance for a rerun of the gaffe that cut off heads and feet in last year's opening film.

How Hot Tix Got Hotter

The extraordinary performance of Hot Tix in the fiscal year that ended June 30 was mostly due to the relocation of two of its seven facilities, according to League of Chicago Theatres director Marj Halperin. The league's discount-ticket operation sold just over $2.1 million in half-price tickets last year, about 50 percent more than the previous year. The hot moves? State Street to Randolph and Evanston to Skokie. Another possible factor: a Web site launched in summer 2000, www.hottix.org, which lists shows with available tickets. The site, hosted by the Reader (which also sponsors the Randolph Street location), has been getting 80,000 hits a month.

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