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Alumni Interview – Naisa Wong

by APU Life Staff

Naisa Wong, who earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in Music Theory Composition and in English, is a Los Angeles-based director and producer, recently wrapped production of the play Crooked Road (written by Erin Gaw ’04), and began as a new adjunct professor in APU’s Department of Theater, Film, and Television this fall.

APU LIFE: What sets Streetlamp Studio apart from other Los Angeles theater companies?

WONG: Streetlamp Studio is a group of young, believing artists located in South Central and South L.A. committed to engaging the community in a conversation about life, hope, and faith, and sharing their stories through the creative arts. In the last few years, we’ve involved developing and professional artists within the greater Los Angeles area on various projects in partnership with our community members.

APU LIFE: You make a concerted effort to give back to APU. What are some ways you’ve integrated APU students and alumni into your professional career?

WONG: I have assisted several alumni in acquiring industry jobs within television, film, and theater over the past nine years. One way I’ve helped APU students transition from their academic to professional careers was by bringing them into the Streetlamp community to partner alongside us, providing a place to further develop and hone their artistic crafts in a professional setting. For example, in Crooked Road we wanted to hire outside playwrights to collaborate with us, so I contacted Erin Gaw ’04 whom I had worked with before, and she turned out to be perfect for the job. Erik Snodgrass ’07 became one of our lead actors, and Corissa (Pacillas ’06) Smith, a supporting cast member. Also, Mikael Taylor ’10 served as an associate producer and Danielle Luchetenburg ’08 as my production stage manager. By the time we completed our two iterations of Crooked Road, many alumni, as well as current students, served backstage, in front of house, and on production crews.

APU LIFE: How did your education at APU prepare you for working with this community?

WONG: I learned so much more about God’s grace in my life as well as the grace I needed to have for others. Spending so much time now working within one of this country’s most stigmatized communities, I have to challenge myself daily if I truly believe that God is love and that His Son came to seek and save the lost. Who are we to determine who exactly is lost? That judgment gets thrown out the window when you’re working in the communities where I serve. In order to gain their trust so they listen and actually hear you, you have to honestly and genuinely care. They sense judgment from miles away— especially the kids.

APU LIFE: You only learned about APU as a senior in high school. What led you to attend?

WONG: At the end of my junior year at Berkeley High School, I became quite ill and had to prepare myself for the reality of staying at home and attending Cal State San Francisco while my health slowly improved. I was praying diligently about that when a woman my mom knew mentioned APU while beaming about her daughter’s latest choral concert. When I stepped on campus the first time, it was like coming home. I felt a distinct peace. After everything that I had been through, it was one of those blessed moments where God meets you in this strange threshold between His power and His gentle, comforting hand.

APU LIFE: When did Hollywood come calling?

WONG: While finishing my final semester, I was on staff at APU as the artist in residence, leading worship in Munson Chapel and working in the Office of Chapel Programs. I count that experience as the first year of my professional life, and it transitioned me into my nearly 10-year career in Hollywood that included working as a production manager and associate director for several television shows, including Everybody Loves Raymond, Becker, and Girlfriends.

Additionally, Wong’s professional credits include company manager for the Pasadena Playhouse and literary manager and dramaturg for Ebony Repertory Theatre. She was an invited director and lecturer for Lincoln Center’s Director’s Lab in 2005 and a panelist for the American Pavilion of Cannes Film Festival in 2007. Last year, Wong produced a documentary with Blair Underwood in association with Associated Television International (ATI). She has been a member of the Directors Guild of America since 2005 and an associate member of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society since 2010.

APU LIFE: What’s next for you and Streetlamp Studio?

WONG: We’re restructuring the group’s original business model to give it more staying power. My husband and I have been mentoring this group now for the last three years, and it’s been difficult to split our energies artistically and administratively. Crooked Road was my fifth and final show with the group—at least for a while—as resident director. Now, we can focus our attention on leading this group as proper advisory board members so that we can concentrate on funding, developing our company membership, and finding the right artistic trajectory for the group as a whole for the next phase of its life span.

Originally published in the Winter '11 issue of APU Life. Download the full issue (PDF).