Monday, August 17, 2015

Spotlight On...Ann Starbuck

Name: Ann Starbuck

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Education: BFA (Acting) University of Colorado, Boulder

Favorite Credits: Anything Shakespeare or Williams – language is king

Why theater?: Because it’s my tribe. Because I tried to stop it and do TV, and I was miserable.

Tell us about Tiananmen Annie: Tiananmen Annie is my true, solo show depicting the hilarious and heartbreaking tale of my year in China as I search for my Chinese soul (my inner dragon) and get swept up in a revolution.  I went to China to study Mandarin, but my reality was turned upside down when I was hired by CNN to be an interpreter during the Tiananmen Square Uprising. Tiananmen Annie tells the story of China on the brink of change and the characters I create - from the voice of an old woman with bound feet to a heroic hunger striker are woven throughout the piece. Today in China there is an entire generation in the dark about the events of June 4, 1989 - it is forbidden to discuss.  In fact in the last year, a number of prominent Chinese citizens who want the government to shed more light on the events of the Tiananmen Square Uprising & Massacre, have been silenced by being thrown in prison.  With the Umbrella Revolution last fall in Hong Kong, Tiananmen Annie is as poignant a story today as it was two decades ago.

What inspired you to write Tiananmen Annie?: In 1999 at the Blue Sphere Alliance Theater Company in LA, I met Rich Embardo who was helping shape a lot of the fantastic solo shows the company was producing.  The storytelling was king: one character, multiple characters, and tales of far off-lands.  Some were autobiographical, some not.  I pitched a show about the year I lived in China and worked for CNN during the Tiananmen Square Uprising.  But how do you write a memory memoir play that is set against the backdrop of one of the most important political movements of the 20th Century?  I couldn’t figure it out at that time.  I’ve actually been writing pieces of Tiananmen Annie for 25 years.  In the Summer of 2012 I emailed Rich, “The 25th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Uprising is in a year and a half.  I have to do the show.”  Rich responded, “What took you so long?” In June 2014, Tiananmen Annie opened in LA at the Hudson Guild Theater.  What I wasn’t prepared for were the number of young native-born Chinese people who told me they were hearing about the Tiananmen Square Uprising from my show.  Chinese activists, and one of the student leaders from the square, came to the shows in LA, and have thanked me for keeping this story alive.  So I keep telling it.  I reprised the show at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (and we won two awards – The Ezra Buzzington Spirit of the Fringe Award for Best Production and Best Directing) and am thrilled to be a part of the 2015 FringeNYC.  I’m telling the stories for those who haven’t heard about the Tiananmen Square Uprising, and for those who can’t tell their own stories because they were silenced.  I’m telling the stories for the friends I lost, and for the generations to come.  Because I firmly believe when we don’t take the time to understand our history and work though it to a path of forgiveness, then we are doomed to repeat it.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Bold theater speaks to me.  Theater with great language and great storytelling.  Theater that respects the audience, and doesn’t dumb down the production. Theater with heart.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Glenn Close

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Book of Mormon

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Melissa McCarthy and it would be a Kung-Fu movie called “Moo Goo Gai Annie.”

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Kathy Bates in Frankie & Johnny In The Clarie De Lune and the original cast of Rent.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Manicure & Pedicure, with extra foot massage

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be a ____?: Post Supervisor – which is what I do in LA to pay the bills.

What’s up next?: I’m hoping Tiananmen Annie has legs past, FringeNYC – let’s see where that goes.  I’m also writing a comedic play, a female middle-aged road play about a ring, being giant fans of “The Lord of the Rings” and lost love – I think it’s called Chasing Hobbits.  And I have a distant relative, my grandmother’s first cousin who grew up in Cuba and was exiled to Miami during the 1950s.  She was part of the political movement at the time, and I recently discovered my mom has all of her journals…I know there’s a solo show in there somewhere.

For more on Tiananmen Annie, visit For more on Ann, visit


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