The Commencement of William Tan – Yale Cabaret

Screenshot 2015-09-21 11.06.41

Program Notes

Click to view the program insert

A Note from Julian Elijah Martinez, Co-Artistic Director of Yale Cabaret 2015:

In light of the controversial events regarding racism on Yale’s campus this week, we wanted to share with you the note featured in this show’s program, written by our Co-Artistic Director Julian Elijah Martinez:

As I sit here and write I find myself wishing that the themes brought up in Don Nguyen’s The Commencement of William Tan were a thing of America’s historical past. That members of our minority communities no longer face the difficulty of attempting to assimilate into a surprisingly hidden homogenous culture that we call the American “melting pot.” That students are no longer ostracized for their difference within our education system. Where even within the ivy entrenched walls of America’s oldest and most prestigious university, students of color are receiving death threats for exercising their American right to speak out against silly and immature moments of racial discrimination. That violence no longer erupts when these cultural and racial differences become inconsolable. But as we see and continue to see, America fosters an environment where violence and self-destruction continues to clash between those scrambling for that piece of the American Dream and the causalities are often the youngest among us.

Unfortunately, our community has become the latest battle ground for a feverish nation. As the facts of Saturday’s Halloween incident continue to come out, and the wave of anger passes, we are left with a simple fact, that students of color do not feel safe in the one place where they should, their schools. Though we are continuing to grow in our understanding of our collective cultural background and what it means to be American, too often in recent memory is that understanding scattered because of violence that we are exhibiting to ourselves.

Second-year actor Eston Fung and third-year dramaturg Ashley Chang proposed The Commencement ofWilliam Tan with a passion and a drive that was infectious. They came with a charge, to lead a conversation of representation of Asian artists both on stage as well as within American culture. Though this play was set in over 25 years ago and hundreds of miles away, it is now sadly timely and poignant to Yale University. However, as in William Tan there is a charge: an act of selflessness from everyone will finally force us to see each other as we are, humans living in America and bounded to a dream that we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without the tyranny of oppression. 


“Nguyen’s play gets the high school dynamic right—in part because the story is based on events from the playwright’s past—especially how insular students can be. In minding his own business, William is typical. But the racial dynamic at his school and the expectations of well-meaning females such as Ms. Chadda and Betsy force him to reconsider his friendship with Dutch and the extent to which he is implicated in slurs against Asians.”
Donald Brown, New Haven Review

Full review:

“But the play ultimately uses the trappings of 1990s teen melodramas to shift into ABC Afterschool Special TV-movie territory (the hot topic being racism), and from there to tense, visceral moments of swearing, anger and violence. The pop culture riffs turn to dramatizations of disillusionment and pain.”

“The Commencement of William Tan creates a fantasy of high school, then busts it up with unattractive intrusions from the real world. ”
New Haven Theater Jerk

Full review:


Also, here’s a playlist I made for the show, which features all of my favorite songs from that time (80s – early 90s):