Biography

 

Alvin Eng was born on May 24, the same day as Bob Dylan––albeit some 21years after Bob was born––in Flushing, Queens, NYC. The fifth of five children, his parents emigrated from Toisan, Guangzhou Province, China, and ran a Chinese Hand Laundry. Eng lived most of his life in Flushing, but has also lived in Jersey City, N.J. and currently lives very happily in Manhattan with his girlfriend, Wendy. And yes, he was named after the Chipmunk cartoon character.

In the late ‘80s, he began writing for the stage and screen with The 20thAnniversary Reunion Concert of Big Character Poster (BCP, a mock documentary chronicling the rise and fall of a fictitious Chinese rock band that gets caught in the crossfire of the 1960s in China’s Culturual Revolution and America cum The West’s Pop Culture revolution. As a one-act play it was performed, with the author in the cast, at the Medicine Show Theatre, N.Y.C. in 1989. That same year, a film adaptation of BCP, made in collaboration with Melissa Cahill, premiered at the Asian American International Film Festival and has played at festivals throughout North America and Japan. (He still hasn’t seen the subtitled print, but would love to.) The Village Voice called it a "Chinese Spinal Tap."

His first full length play, The Goong Hay Kid, is about an early ‘90s Chinatown rapper’s personality crises that also featured rock and rap songs by Eng. This play with songs won the 1990 Multicultural Playwrights Festival in Seattle, WA in 1990. In 1994, the play was also presented by Theatre Mu in Minneapolis, MN and by The Nuyorican Poets Cafe who published the play in their anthology, ACTION (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1997).

"Rock Me Goong Hay," a song from this play, was made into a music video (featuring the author as "The Kid") by director Sheldon Ito. The song's lyric was published in the Nuyrorican’s poetry anthology ALOUD (Holt, 1994) and in AMERICAN THEATER MAGAZINE, 1991. In 1992, Eng and Melissa Cahill received a developmental Grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for The Goong Hay Kid.

In the early 90s, Eng also began writing and performing monologue plays/solo performance pieces. Over The Counter Culture, a series of vignettes that mourn and mock the commercialization of anything subversive, was presented by the venerable Franklin Furnace as part of their In Exile series at the equally venerable Judson Memorial Church, NYC, 1991. (Those who were active in the early ‘90s remember that FF was "in exile" due to the conservative crackdown on arts funding centered around "the NEA 4" and a certain President with homes in Texas and Maine… some things never change…but will!)

More Stories from the Pagan Pagoda, a series of portraits of male Asian American archetypes, premiered at La MaMa on Chinese New Year’s 1992 and was subsequently performed at venues throughout the Northeastern corridor of the U.S. (If you're wondering what the "more" in the play's title refers to, "The Goong Hay Kid" takes place in a Chinatown restaurant named The Pagan Pagoda.)
 

In the early-mid '90s, Alvin also appeared in a number of independent films including: My Americanized Wife, directed by renowned Hong Kong actor-writer-director, Anthony Chan Yau; Combination Platter directed by Tony Chan  and Scenes From the New World directed by Heather Johnston & Gordon Ericksen.

After earning his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Musical Theatre Writing from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1993, naturally, a series of Musical Theatre works followed, The Last Hand Laundry In Chinatown (A Requiem For American Independents) a musical written in collaboration with songwriter John Dunbar was written in response to the downsizing early '90s and ongoing corporate mergers cum marginalization of independent businesses and people. The musical is also an homage to the struggles of the pioneering NYC Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance and work force of which my parents were two. This musical was presented at La MaMa in 1996.

The Last Hand Laundry In Chinatown was awarded a 1996 Artists Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and a screenplay adaptation of this musical was a finalist in The Chesterfield Film Company’s Annual National Writer's Film Project in1998.

Mao Zedong: Jealous Son
, an opera written with Israeli composer Yoav Gal, is a multi-media abstract portrait of four stages of the Chairman having concurrent and solo aria manifesto power struggles. An excerpt from this opera received a live "cybercast" over the world wide web via the Franklin Furnace/Pseudo Networks channel in1998, and a full production at La MaMa  N.Y.C. 1999

The new millennium started with a hometown production wherein he performed his memoir monologue play, The Flushing Cycle, at Queens Theatre in the Park in Flushing-Meadows Corona Park in Queens. "The  Cycle" chronicles Eng’s odd odyssey of growing up as one of the only Chinese kids in Flushing to then being one of the few Chinese citizens who does not speak Chinese in what has become NYC's second Chinatown. The presentation was part of an ongoing "Hal and Al Show" collaboration with then Poet Laureate of Queens, Hal Sirowitz.

Excerpts from The Flushing Cycle have been published in Performing Arts Journal (MIT Press, 2003) and in The Second Word Thursdays Anthology (Bright Hill Press, 1999).


2000 also saw the publication of Tokens? The NYC Asian American Experience On Stage a play anthology and oral history compiled and edited by Eng and published by Temple University Press/Asian American Writers' Workshop. For this book, Eng curated 10 play and performance art scripts from David Henry Hwang, Jessica Hagedorn, Ping Chong & Muna Tseng, Han Ong, Aasif Mandvi, Ralph Pe
na, SLANT Chiori Miyagawa,  and Peeling the Banana interviewed numerous playwrights, producers, performers, theatre scholars and observers to create an Oral History/ Verbal Mural portrait of the Asian American and NYC off-Broadway experience from the 1970s to the ‘90s. The book also includes the play script of  "The Last Hand Laundry in Chinatown."

That same year he wrote a play with songs by him and his brother, L.A.-based musician and producer Herman Eng entitled A Beautiful Thing, an absurd meditation on race from the point of view of an Asian American bigot. The play was presented at  Immigrants' Theatre Project "American Dreams" series, NYC, 2000

In that same series two years later, Eng explored similar themes in a two-character play The "N Word’ that is not about the word you think…at least not on the surface. In 2002, Eng also participated in the first of a number of A Train Plays, an exhilarating 24-hour play festival series featuring short plays written during one 90-minute ride aboard the A Train, then performed, in a full production, the very next night at The Neighborhood Playhouse in NYC.

Around this time, Alvin also started teaching Playwriting, Creative Writing and the Art of Public Speaking with, among others: CUNY/Borough of Manhattan Community College and John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Fordham University, SUNY Old Westbury, New School University/Parsons School of Design, Teachers & Writers, Theatre For a New Audience, Gotham Writers' Workshop, and the Roundabout Theatre.
 

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If the name sounds familiar from an entirely different angle, you may have first seen it as a byline in music and arts publications as he started out as a rock & roll journalist and publicist (although he is now a publicist in remission). From 1985-92 he wrote a regular column for Tower Records Pulse! Magazine, and has also published articles in The Village Voice, Newsday and a bunch of other newspapers and magazines that have since bitten the dust. He also had two stints as editor in chief of the "late" L.I./Queens music and arts entertainment bi -weekly newspaper, The Island Ear, and was a founding member of the NY chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association.

Although he is still a publicist in remission, he is very proud of having been the first staff Publicist for AsianCineVision, the then Chinatown-based presenter of the American International Film Festival, the position that started his lifelong involvement with the Asian American media/arts community.

He is currently working on a number of plays and screenplays and completing a memoir/non-fiction book entitled NYC Fault Line: 13 Stories of an American Family on the Verge
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