Interview: Theatre Life with Marcus Yi

The well rounded and extremly driven artist on his latest commission for The Kennedy Center and more.

By: Nov. 17, 2023
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Interview: Theatre Life with Marcus Yi
Marcus Yi

Today’s subject Marcus Yi is living proof that you can do it all and succeed in the theatre. Currently he is living his theatre life as the book, music, and lyric writer of the World Premiere Musical The Dragon King’s Daughter. The show runs from November 18th through December 17th in the Family Theater at Kennedy Center.

Marcus is an award-winning theatre writer/composer/director and performer based in New York. Marcus was an inaugural member of the 92nd Street Y Musical Theater Development Lab Collective, a 2021-2022 New Victory LabWorks Artist, and a Resident Artist with the American Lyric Theater.
He has been commissioned by Queens Council on the Arts, American Lyric Theater, Atlanta Opera, Really Spicy Opera, and First Stage.

Selected work includes Lucky 88 (QCA Commission), Micro Shrimp The Musical (Winner of 11th Annual NJ Playwrights Contest), 29x/y (Wild Project, Paradise Factory), Pretty Little Mouth (Roy Arias), The Procedure (Gene Frankel Theater), The Ephemeral Lightness of Dreams: the dream plays (Lynn Redgrave Theatre), Thicker Than Water: the blood plays and Baby Baby!. 

His work has been produced by the National Asian Artists Project, Yangtze Rep, Prospect Theater, Pan Asian Rep, Asian American Film Lab, The Secret Theatre, New Jersey Playwrights Contest, Ingenue Theater, Modern Griot Theatre, Ticket2eternity Productions, Queens Players, Rising Solo, POPLAB, URNetworkAlliance, NYC Actors and Playwrights Collective, All Out Arts, Short Play Lab, Angry Head Productions and Living Room Theater. 

His work has been seen at the New York Times Center, Green Room 42, The Duplex, National Opera Center, Midtown International Theater Festival, Planet Connections Theater Festivity, Fresh Fruit Festival, and the Midwinter Madness Theater Festival. 

When not working in the theatre, Marcus is also an O1 Visa lawyer for creative professionals.

As you can see, Marcus is very passionate and driven about hid craft. With the number of theatres that have already produced his work you have to wonder if Marcus ever sleeps. I’d say it’s about a 50/50 chance.

Grab some tickets to The Dragon King’s Daughter at Kennedy Center and start your holiday season with something original and fun for everyone.

Marcus Yi is truly living his theatre life to the fullest and from what I can tell has no intention of stopping from doing so.

At what age did you get the theatre bug?

Twenty-five years ago, at the age of 15, I found myself immersed in the world of theater through a production called Singaporeana Kool. Alongside 200 other teenagers in Singapore, I was cast in this unique show, which was a collaborative creation involving diverse workshops such as improvisation, musical theater, mime, and dance. Being part of this devised performance marked my introduction to the theatrical realm, and I distinctly recall it being an incredibly enjoyable experience—a moment that sparked a desire to make theater a significant part of my life.

Where did you receive your training and were there any professors that you would say were a big influence on you becoming a theatrical artist?

I went to the University of Tampa and studied musical theater as a performer there. From my dance/choreography professor Susan Taylor Lennon, I learned to always root for the underdog, to be kind and gracious, and to be able to roll with the punches. From my voice teacher Yvonne Dechance, I learned how to listen, to always be open to learning new skills and ideas, and to push the boundaries of what you can do.

What was your first professional job in the arts?

I think it was a mime/physical theater show. The show was called Pontianak which refers to a Southeast Asian female vampire and was a psychological thriller told without words. I was cast as the prankster student who puts a voodoo doll on my professor’s table.

Can you please tell us how The Dragon King’s Daughter came to you for a stage project?

I was part of the 2021-2022 LabWorks Program at the New Victory Theater when I wrote the first draft of the show and did its first staged reading. The first thing that came to me was the title of the show, which also happens to be the name of a sushi restaurant. I just thought that the character sounded really cool and I started doing some research into and it turns out there is a lesser known figure in Chinese and Indian mythology.

Interview: Theatre Life with Marcus Yi
Jonny Lee Jr. in Kennedy Center's World Premeire Musical
The Dragon King's Daughter.
Photo by Teresa Wood.

For people not familiar with The Dragon King’s Daughter, can you please give us a brief overview?

When 12-year-old Kenny Li dances, he feels on top of the world. If only he felt that way the rest of the time, especially when facing bullies at school. After Kenny’s tormentors fling him into a dumpster, he finds a magical iPad that transports him from New York City to the world of the Jade Kingdom. There, he must put his faith in a mysterious girl to find his way home.

Xing is a young shapeshifting dragon princess who needs to find the missing pieces of a magic mirror that will free her mother who is trapped in another dimension. However, she only has three days to complete her quest before her father unleashes a tidal wave that will wipe out all of humanity.

Together, they must outwit drought demons, outrun angry pandas, and outsmart fox spirits to save the world. If they don’t succeed, bullies will be the least of Kenny’s problems, and Xing’s mother will be lost for all eternity.

The show combines martial arts, musical theater, and projections to address bullying in middle schools.

Interview: Theatre Life with Marcus Yi
Michelle Cabinian in Kennedy Center's World Premeire Musical
The Dragon King's Daughter.
Photo by Teresa Wood.

Can you please talk about the style of the score for the show?

The musical style of the show is, in a nutshell, eclectic. It's this blend of various genres, swinging from electronic dance beats to musical theater vibes, sprinkled with a touch of world music, a dash of 90s rock, and a hint of Shanghai jazz. Being a fan of anime, I appreciate how diverse musical styles seamlessly weave through a single show. I do think of this show as Asian American as opposed to Chinese. And the Asian American experience is a melting pot of different cultures and types of music. That's why I decided against crafting a piece solely rooted in Chinese traditional music.

Did you find it a daunting task writing the book, music, and lyrics for The Dragon King’s Daughter? At any time in the process, did you wish you had a collaborator to bounce ideas off of?

Typically, I handle the writing for the book, music, and lyrics in most of my musicals, and over time, I've honed a clear process for it. I've discovered that working independently is more efficient for me, and my solo projects tend to progress further.

However, I do have a circle of close friends, including Sonia Nam and Benjamin Oshrin, with whom I can bounce around ideas. What’s great about them not being musical theater writers is that their feedback is more big-picture and neutral, offering a fresh perspective.

Do you find writing for a kid’s short attention span is harder than writing for an adult audience or do you approach every project the same way?

My attention span is just like a kid, so writing for young people feels very natural. My approach is the same for my adult musicals. This approach carries over into my adult musicals as well—I'm not a fan of shows that unnecessarily drag on.

What does 2024 hold in store for you?

In 2024, I'll be busy with exciting projects! Firstly, there’s the workshop and premiere of my upcoming musical, Emily Song and the Queen of the Night, happening at First Stage. The storyline follows a young Asian American girl who discovers her singing voice has the power to cast spells.

Additionally, I'll be diving into an orchestral workshop for the opera Working for the Macbeths with the American Lyric Theater. This comedic adaptation of Macbeth offers a fresh perspective from the viewpoint of the Gentlewoman. I crafted the libretto, and the music comes to life through the talents of composer Johanny Navarro.

With the permision of Marcus Yi, here are three demos from the score of The Dragon King's Daughter. In order, "I'm Fine", "Chang An", and "Peices of a Memory".

Special thanks to Kennedy Center's Senior Press Represenitive Brittany Laeger for her assistance in coordinating this interview.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.


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