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In 23rd year, East West Players’ leader honored for ‘unwavering support’ of Asian artists

Tim Dang

Tim Dang, producing artistic director of L.A.'s East West Players, has won the 2015 Zelda Fichlander Award, given for stage directors and choreographers’ contributions to regional theaters.

(Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

Tim Dang’s peers in the world of directing and choreographing plays have given him a new honor as he prepares to close his long run as producing artistic director of L.A.’s East West Players.

The New York City-based Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation announced that Dang, the Asian American theater company’s leader since 1993, has won its Zelda Fichandler Award for 2015.

The prize is $5,000 (for Dang, not the company), conferred, according to the foundation’s written announcement, to recognize directors or choreographers who are “transforming the regional arts landscape through imaginative, brave work in theater.”

Dang recently announced that he would leave East West Players in June 2016 after what will be 23 years as its leader. He’ll exit with the revival of the Harvey Fierstein-Jerry Herman musical “La Cage aux Folles,” which Dang will direct.

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Fichandler was co-founder and longtime leader of Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., one of America’s first nonprofit theater companies. The award in her name rotates year by year among artists from eastern, central and western regions.

Dang joins former California Shakespeare Theater artistic director Jonathan Moscone (2009) and Bill Rauch (2012), artistic director of the Oregon Shakepeare Festival, as western winners of the award, which the foundation launched in 2009 to broaden its reach beyond New York City.

Since the 1980s it has given awards for lifetime achievement for stage directing and choreography on Broadway, and for each season’s best work in the two categories on New York’s non-Broadway scene. James Lapine will receive this year’s Broadway laurel, known as the Mr. Abbott Award in honor of pioneering director George Abbott.

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A seven-member selection committee of theater artists from the west picked Dang and also cited veteran Los Angeles stage director Juliette Carrillo, Portland Center Stage artistic director Chris Coleman and Las Vegas-based writer-director Ruth Pe Palileo as finalists for the Fichandler award. An award ceremony will be held in Los Angeles in November.

Christopher Ashley, the La Jolla Playhouse artistic director who chaired the selection committee, said in the announcement that Dang is being recognized for “profound commitment to the Los Angeles theater community … unwavering support of Asian American artists and the extension of that work into the national theater consciousness.”

Besides Ashley, the selection committee included Moscone, who’s now with San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Seattle-based choreographer Donald Byrd and director Valerie Curtis-Newton, Idaho Shakespeare Festival managing director Mark Hofflund, Bay Area stage director Timothy Near and Damaso Rodriguez, the former Los Angeles stage director who’s now artistic director of Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland.

Dang said in the written announcement of his award that he’s “overwhelmed” to win an honor named for “a monumental leader and pioneer” such as Fichandler. “This recognition inspires me to build upon and strengthen our bond between our art and community.”

Dang, 57, oversaw East West’s transformation from a 99-seat house in Silver Lake to a 240-seat midsized company in Little Tokyo. Along the way, he’s become especially known for directing musicals by Stephen Sondheim, staged to reflect an Asian American spin or milieu.

Dang said in June that he’ll leave East West Players to open the way for new leadership, and because “I want to investigate what else there is for me to do that would be artistically satisfying. This is a chance for me to leave on a high note and see what else is out there.”

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