Photo by Jason Lor
Emcees Terry Park and Ryan Takemiya complete each other. Since they began to co-emcee RAMA events last year, the two have deepened their bond and reached larger audiences with their act, their repartee reputed to grow funnier and edgier with each show. On Friday, September 13, at FAME (435 Broadway Street in San Francisco), the two friends will embark on their newest project: co-hosting Hyphen’s PJ Soiree Party.
Their love story did not begin with wild, instantaneous fireworks, but with Ryan crushing Terry’s acting dreams.
The two first interacted via email in 2005 in New York when Ryan, then a student-producer of events at Sarah Lawrence, booked Terry to perform his one-man play called 38th Parallels, about his multi-faceted, interrelated experiences as he arrives at his identity as a Korean American. But Ryan completely abandoned their agreement soon after and fled to Beijing to study hip hop on a Thomas Watson Fellowship, sans email, phone call, or any form of notice, and left Terry alone to deal with the crisis of his ruined aspirations. “Ryan’s flaking played a big part in changing my mind about acting,” says Terry. “I wasn’t sure where my acting and solo show were going. The only interest that I got [to produce the show] was from Sarah Lawrence. So when that fell, I was like ‘fuck this shit, it’s not worth it,’ I’ll just go to grad school.” “So the best part of the story [of our first meeting],” Ryan adds with a playful smile, “is that Terry’s failed gig at Sarah Lawrence was the last straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Five years after their failed plans, the two once again crossed paths in New York when Ryan visited and crashed at a mutual friend’s home in Astoria where Terry also happened to live (the friend was Derek Kan, member of the well-known hip hop group Magnetic North that Terry and Ryan later featured in one of their shows). And the rest, the two agree, is “one long ploy for revenge. We started hanging out as a charade, and it’s been going for four years now,” says Ryan. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” chimes in Terry.
Such mutual teasing understates their profoundly shared visions. Unbeknownst to both of them, they were both working for similar causes before they even met. Terry already helped launch the Sulu Series attended by Ryan in New York (a showcase of Asian American talent started after the heightened need for community brought on by Hurricane Katrina and a successful Boston APIA Spoken Word and Poetry Summit in 2005). Terry’s Sulu Series later became an inspiration for Ryan’s RAMA (a name that references the Hindu epic legend The Ramayana about love and journeys).
If their hosting at RAMA events is any indication, Terry and Ryan will bring down the Hyphen pajama party house. Founded by Ryan in 2009 to showcase performance artists across Asian American communities in promotion and celebration of a Pan Asian identity, RAMA holds monthly Go!Ohana shows (“Ohana” means family) at SoleSpace in Oakland, and annual Go!Style events. Past shows have included many types of performance artists, from singers, spoken word poets, and dancers to comedians and fashion designers. “Asian American artists don’t get a lot of mainstream attention so I decided to found RAMA to not only to put on shows and promote artists, but also to have fun,” says Ryan.
I first watched the two in action while attending my first Go!Ohana! event last weekend. I was blown away by the lineup of musical and spoken word performances. Terry and Ryan’s co-hosting balanced the intense, powerful performances through the levity of their banter. Even their looks and demeanor complement each other’s habit of bouncing off the other’s humor and completing each other’s sentences. Terry appears as the coolly precocious yet sensitive academic with the expressive doe-eyed face (although he tells the worst politically incorrect jokes that sometimes involve hairy white dogs), and Ryan seems the relaxed yet shrewd community organizer with the high-cheekbones and forcefully rugged features (although he likes to touch your arm gently when emphasizing certain points). There was particularly one moment when a genuine feeling of pride and gratitude to be part of a truly talented and dedicated Asian American community overwhelmed me as never before, as I watched the ukulele entertainer Ben Ahn sing about his home in Hawaii (the song made me think of my transition from my home in Manila where I grew up and my current home San Francisco, and I realized in those moments as Ben sang that rather than the loss of one home as a Filipino, I instead have gained a second, additional home as an Asian American). I decided that I would definitely be a regular attendee from then on.
After the show, I had to wait around a long time to interview them. I sent one emissary after another to pull them away from the after-party’s 90s hip hop dance floor at Somar, the bar across the street from SoleSpace where Go!Ohana is hosted. When I finally got to interview them, they were sweaty and extra-energized, excitedly ready to talk about their shared history and goals.
The bromance they share could not inspire more. “Ryan is very committed to building community, and I think that’s what drove him to start RAMA,” says Terry. He saw that there was a need for art, not just for art’s sake, but for using it as a vehicle for social change … Ryan definitely sees the connection between the two, so there’s that vision,” said Terry.
Ryan next adds, “I appreciate Terry’s view of the world, I think it’s very close to mine. He realizes that just having a theory about the world or politics is not enough, you have to implement. Terry and I share the view that we must change ourselves and at the same time we are also working to change the systems that create and work around us. Promoting artistry and creativity … is about liberating people to be themselves, to create art and express themselves fully as human beings.”
In addition to their RAMA projects, the two share close ties through their bids for Mr. Hyphen -- Ryan, who competed on behalf of National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, which works to advance social justice and equal rights, was a finalist during the 2010 pageant, and Terry, who represented the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, which raises awareness of the growing number of imprisoned API citizens, won the title following year.
Other performers at the PJ Soiree better work hard to measure up to the deft showmanship these two emcees are sure to demonstrate. I can already imagine the audience’s thrill as they see Terry and Ryan take the stage. How will the two emcees react to the dating tips to be shared by guest speaker, author and self-proclaimed womanizer Kevin Leu? What banter will they exchange about the drag troupe Rice Rockettes? How will they comment on guitar pop singers Largesse? Will they cut some serious rug and outdo themselves to the spinning of DJ VNA and SAMALA? What will they wear?? There’s one sure way to find out -- come to the Hyphen party and see them live in action.