First Voice’s mission is to create and present the stories and music of people living between worlds.
Critical to this mission is "personal experience" or "voice" as essential to authentic pan-world culture. Through our pursuit of this distinctive purpose, First Voice has, over the years, played a central role in the evolution of the Bay Area’s Asian American arts community and its impact internationally. Throughout our organization’s history, First Voice has produced, presented, toured, published, and recorded original work that incorporates Asian theatre (particularly Japanese) and musical and spoken word traditions into indigenous American art forms like jazz and contemporary performance art. We are unique in the range of work we do which includes: symphonic work, plays, storytelling, jazz ensemble, chamber music, large scale pageant performances with traditional and contemporary dancers, solo monodramas and live performance to silent film. We collaborate not only across disciplines but also across cultures. Full-length main stage performances usually revolve around issues of place, home, family and survival. We have enjoyed collaborating with artists from Japan, MU, (2013), Legend of Morning Glory (2008), Hong Kong - Kuan-Yin: Our Lady of Compassion (2002), Hawaii treasure Keola Beamer - Ghost Festival I (2001), Basque musician Kepa Junpera (2010), Karuk Tribal elders Julian Lang and Lyn Risling - Hibakusha (1995), musicians and storytellers from the Cherokee nation - Fire in Heaven (2003), Afro-Peruvian, Mayan, Indian & Korean dancers - Return of the Sun (2009) classical conductor, Kent Nagano, Opera Lyon and the Berkeley Symphony - Mermaid (1997) and African-American civil rights poet & actor John O’Neal - Ballad of the Bones (1999). Our work is premiered in San Francisco, then presented locally and toured nationally.
About First Voice
Since 1976 Brenda Wong Aoki and Mark Izu have played a central role in the evolution of Asian American Art. They founded First Voice in 1997, with a mission to create, present and contribute the stories and music of people living between worlds. Critical to this mission is "personal experience" or "voice" - essential to the authentic representation of the people of the United States.
Who We Are
Since 1976, Brenda Wong Aoki and Mark Izu have, together and separately created multi-disciplinary work that has received national and international acclaim. The two prominent Asian-American artists were founding faculty at the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford, and their broad vision for this organization had its roots in their experience. First Voice was founded in 1995 to provide an organizational structure for their collaborations, which center on the creation of contemporary American art by working in and adapting non-Western theatrical, musical, and spoken word traditions.
First Voice looks for symbols, parables, and shared intent between people that can be woven together to create universal understanding. Our work has garnered Emmys, Dramalogue Awards, Critic Circle Awards, Indie Awards, Goldies, Certificates of Merit from the California State Legislature, San Francisco Mayor, Board of Supervisors and commissions from U.S. Congress, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Japanese Department of Cultural Affairs, the Asian Arts Council, the Rockefeller Foundation, the U.S. Japan Friendship, Meet-the-Composer, the Gerbode Foundation, the Dramatist Guild and the American Association of Authors, Composers and Publishers (ASCAP).
A Deeper Look
For a deeper look at the rich history and works of First Voice's artistic directors Brenda Wong Aoki and Mark Izu, please consider perusing our 52-page booklet.
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
San Francisco Grants for the Arts
The National Endowment for the Arts
Zellerbach Family Foundation
Dramatists Guild of America
San Francisco Arts Commission
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
The Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation
Ruth Mott Foundation