MEI ANN TEO
MUSICAL THEATRE FACTORY’S NEW PRODUCING ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
By Sophia Hsu
Photos by Michael Kushner and Sophia Hsu
As I walked into the meet-and-greet reception at Town Stages, I initially had to do a double take to see if I had the right address. The former location of White Street Restaurant and Bar, Town Stages is home to a performance and event venue in Tribeca and host to the Musical Theatre Factory’s (MTF) meet-and-greet. Robin Sokoloff, Executive Director of Town Stages and Vice President of the Board of MTF, greeted everyone warmly to the space as well as the event. Bypassing the full bar and heading straight for the main stage space, I spy MTF’s new Producing Artistic Director, Mei Ann Teo, busy mixing and mingling with supporters and creators alike, welcoming everyone with open arms. Every time she sees a familiar face, her own face would widen to a smile from ear to ear, let out a shriek of joy, then rush to hug the newcomer, all in quick succession. Getting a foot, let alone a toe, into the theater world in New York City is already difficult enough, especially without connections. This is the type of person one would hope to see in the role of Producing Artistic Director, a connector who is warm, charming, and immediately puts everyone at ease.
Years ago, a playwright friend who was, at the time, visiting from San Francisco, introduced Mei Ann and me. We discussed food, then my travels to Malaysia and Singapore and her growing up there. Eventually, we made it to the topics of languages spoken at home and the entirety of our backgrounds, including all of the places we called home. MTF’s new Producing Artistic Director possesses the gift for making everyone feel like old friends just catching up over new stories.
Blessings and a land acknowledgment were bestowed on the space and event by indigenous artist Ty Defoe and the First Nation Theatre Guild. After introductions and proverbial torch passed from the Founding Artistic Director Shakina Nayfack, Mei Ann took to the stage to kick off performance previews new for the season. She opened her remarks with the charge that Sherrie Rabinowitz, artist and co-founder of Electronic Cafe International, made in 1984, “Artists need to create at the same scale that society has the capacity to destroy.” This was both meant as a challenge to the audience and the direction of Mei Ann’s vision for MTF. She promised to bring the same energy, but with new direction and a new vision to the organization. “I’m here to make great art WITH you,” she pledged to the crowd. As performers were introduced during the evening, each possessed a multi-hyphenate title containing any and every combination of singer, composer, writer, pianist, playwright, dramaturg, director, etc. To continue nurturing and providing opportunities to achieve critical and commercial success free from the pressures of the traditional commercial process, MTF has a number of new initiatives this season such as MTF Makers – “a cohort of six teams that will receive 18 months of dedicated development resources and platforms to share their work.”
MTF supports early-career musical theatre creatives interested in innovative ways to create new musicals in New York City including readings, concerts, roundtables, workshops, and public performances. To learn more about donating, participating, and/or attending shows and events, visit mtf.nyc, and follow the organization on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.