Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword
Play our latest news quiz
Download our new app on iOS/Android!

Lighting up stories of Asian joy: Reflections on "King of the Yees" from its lighting designer and cast

Credits: Emily Miller / The Daily Princetonian

There is a group of seniors that produces not one, but two theses. These are the intrepid students who are pursuing certificates in the arts. I sat down with Angelica Qin ’23 to learn more about theater theses, lighting design, and her reflections on Asian-American theater at Princeton and beyond. 

Qin explained that a thesis for an arts certificate entails a component of independent work, namely a theater project. Theater thesis projects are pitched during junior year and are not limited to just acting or directing. Qin, who is a stage manager and lighting designer, did hers in lighting. Qin pursued a thesis in theater, separate from the thesis for her home department of sociology. She saw it as a great opportunity to propose a project to student theater groups, in which she could manage the lighting for it in her own right. 


Qin articulated how the prominence of students advocating for on-campus opportunities for Asian artists in theater ignited her interest in pursuing theater at Princeton. However, she felt the theater shows constantly spotlighted Asian people through a dramatic lens that mainly focused on Asian suffering or racism — topics she admitted were important to give attention to, but concurrently overshadowed pride in the Asian identity. 

She described many of the shows she watched or participated in focused on lamenting “miserable lives as Asian people,” a theme she felt was overused and tiring to experience as a member of the Asian community — especially night after night as someone involved with a production. Qin asserted how she “really wanted to put on something that was for an Asian community and that celebrated Asian joy instead of Asian suffering.” 

As the lighting designer, Qin viewed her role as integral in portraying the play in a fun manner. Furthermore, she enjoys the creative freedom she has in creating the settings of the different acts through the lighting. 

Qin believes that lighting design for theater is like telling the story of the play itself. Enhancing the specific storyline or appropriate mood throughout the different acts in the play is “more so than making things look cool.”

I chatted with Zach Lopez ’23, a friend and fellow Forbes RCA who is playing one of the main leads, Larry Yee, in “King of Yees,” the show Qin is working on.

Lopez intended his performance in the show to not only be a comedy for the audience to enjoy but also to make an impact on the Asian-American community on campus and beyond. Equally, he wanted his performance to be emotionally riveting, so people would be able to appreciate its significance. 


Qin said that not only she hopes the audience enjoys the entertaining show but she hopes that they can walk away from the show reflecting on its themes, such as Asian-American identity and relationship with loved ones from different backgrounds. She especially anticipates that the production will be something that resonates profoundly with Asian-Americans, especially children of immigrants.

Lopez commented on how it's important to show other people, particularly those in the nearby communities, that Princeton is celebrating Asian-American culture. He sees this event as a milestone in spreading awareness, on the greater community level, of the University’s efforts to honor Asian-Americans. Additionally, he wanted the show to stir a greater appreciation among people for the work of lighting in theater production.

Qin remarked that though there has been much progress made in the number of Asian-American stories being told over the years, she would like to expand the diversity in the types of Asian stories that are being told. She discussed how works like “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once” highlighted the joy, family, and uplifting stories of being Asian, which she appreciated and would like to see more of in the mainstream. 

Lopez agreed, and he hopes the same thing could be applied to the actor level. He mentioned how their director, long-time professional actor Bi Jean Ngo, often shares the difficulties of being an Asian actor. Ngo recounted how, especially on Broadway, there are harmful stereotypes that people want actors to fit when auditioning for a role, and if you don't fit that stereotype then they can’t easily cast you. Many actors are unfortunately forced into these stereotypes in order to make a living, Ngo said.

Get the best of ‘the Prince’ delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe now »

With the recent surge of more role opportunities for Asian actors, Lopez thinks it's important for the entertainment industry to get rid of stereotypes for actors. This way there is not just diversity in the stories being told, but also diversity in where Asian actors can perform.

King of the Yees is running April 7–8 and 13–15 at 8 p.m. at McCarter’s Berlind Theater. This spring, several other students’ theses across the arts will be happening. Check out the full schedule here.

Emily Miller is a PhD student originally from western Colorado. When she is not writing and reading for her dissertation or The Prospect, you can probably find her at Dillon, Forbes, or exploring New Jersey.