November 19, 2023 Coverage and Posts, CSA, Music, Theater

PREVIEW: An Immigrant Finds Their Voice and Tells Their Story in The Musical Play One Log Bridge

Photographs by Renee Rosensteel.

PREVIEW: An Immigrant Finds Their Voice and Tells Their Story in The Musical Play One Log Bridge

By Vanessa Reseland

One Log Bridge, by composer and playwright Yan Pang, explores the courage it takes to leave one’s life and culture in order to move to another country. It addresses the inevitable growth, excitement, loss, and disappointment that accompanies immigrating from one’s homeland to a foreign one, and it tells this story with the artistic and emotional support of operatic music. I spoke with Yan about her life, her work, and her upcoming production at the New Hazlett Theater (NHT) on Dec 7th and 8th. Get information about tickets here.

VR: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your upcoming show for the NHT’s Community Supported Art (CSA) Series?

Yan Pang: This show is about using voice to explore the immigrant experience in the US. I am a composer. I write orchestra music. I write for small ensembles, and recently, I have been exploring operatic music writing. That’s what you will see and hear in this show. And I teach music including piano, music theory, composition, and sight-singing at Point Park University here in Pittsburgh.

VR: What is the title One Log Bridge referencing?

YP: There are two references. One is the reference to Nietzsche about self-discovery. It’s the bridge you and only you can cross. And then, this is a line from the show actually, “In Chinese culture, walking on the One Log Bridge requires courage and singular capacity moving forward to find that self-liberation.”

VR: That’s quite compelling. Can you tell me about the storyline?

YP: The plot is very simple. This person comes to the US, having a perfect idea of what America is like, thinking they will be so happy to have the freedom of artistic expression. Then they realize America is not perfect, but they want to be here because they love the people here. Her parents want her to come back to China. That’s a conflict. She wants to legally stay here longer, and there’s conflict [since] she got her PhD in music here but she’s still seen as a suspect by immigration officers.

These hardships or misunderstandings or xenophobia don’t kill her. What really kills her is that her family doesn’t understand what’s so good about America. In media in America, people will say, “foreign countries are bad, immigration is bad.” And in foreign countries, it will be, “Oh, Americans are bad. They treat non-white people bad.” So there’s a conflict of the misunderstandings, and that is represented in the mother/daughter relationship. In the end [of this show], we’ll see some resolution.

Photograph by Cora Reddinger.

VR: Would you mind sharing a little bit about where you come from and what it was like coming to a new country where the mindset was different?

YP: I was born and raised in China, where it is a very patriotic society. My whole life I have been taught to just listen, follow, and be obedient. That is part of the story in the beginning of [One Log Bridge.] The character came here and has learned how to speak up for herself, stand up for herself in America.

VR: What was it like for you coming to a new country and recognizing those differences for the first time?

YP: Coming to a new country, speaking a brand new language, is exciting and scary at the same time. The scary part is that it’s hard to communicate your needs and desires. When I first got here — and this scene is in [One Log Bridge] as well — people would greet me, “What’s up?” I would literally look up to see what’s up there [gestures to the ceiling.] Because I take everything so literally, I don’t get “passive aggressiveness.” I had a very easy life the first couple of years because I was always happy and don’t recognize any passive aggressiveness or microaggressions. As I stayed in America longer, I had a deeper understanding of American society, having more conversations with other AAPI or BiPOC friends. Then I realized, no matter what country you live in, the world is not perfect, so rather than chasing that, we’re more fighting for a better world together. That’s what I think music and theater could do.

VR: How much of the One Log Bridge storyline comes from your own personal experience?

YP: This story is autobiographical. It’s based on my story, coming here to the US. My desire is to speak for the stories of people like me, so I have included a lot of other people’s stories as well. I’m not the only one to go through this. Outside, it looks like my story, but the truth is, it’s a lot of different stories combined. Because everything is based on true stories, the music has some surrealism in there.

VR: Is this your first time translating music into a story?

YP: Yes. In the past, before I came to the US, I had been using orchestra or chamber music as my medium because there is less freedom of speech. So I choose an instrument to speak the story. But when I came to the US, I feel there are a lot of opportunities for artists like me to speak up and tell our stories, so I transformed or transitioned from “art for art’s sake” to “art for social justice work.” Opera, musical theatre, and plays with music are the perfect mediums for that.

VR: How does music influence the audience in a way the spoken work alone can’t?

YP: As a musician/composer, my drive engine is music, so I want to have music to tell the story, to express emotions and the cultural aspect. For example, at the beginning of the show, you will hear some traditional Chinese instruments with some Chinese music styles and while the show progresses, you will hear the combination of the Chinese essence but with some American compositional technique. In the end, a total transition to the Western World, meaning being Westernized or able to fit into American society.

When I first came here, all I wanted to do was assimilate to fit in, so I tried very hard to learn jazz and blues, and I failed so hard. American pop culture is engrained. You have to really feel it. There is no magic formula that if you just follow all the music theory, you will get it. For people who come to see this show, they don’t necessarily have to speak English. They can still hear the music drive the plot forward.

VR: You call One Log Bridge a play with operatic music. What is the difference between a play with operatic music and an opera?

YP: In opera, music is driving the plot forward or is the dominant medium of the storytelling, but [in OLB] the acting, the dialogue, the plot, the text is dominating the storytelling, and the style of music to support that storytelling is operatic music.

Photograph by Cora Reddinger.

VR: How did you hear about the CSA series? What made you apply?

YP: I wanted this show to be seen. I wanted the people who worked so hard with me to workshop this piece to really perform it for people and have their name appear on the credit if they are on the creative team. People know that I am very hungry for opportunities, so one day my colleague said, I should apply for this opportunity. The people at the New Hazlett are so supportive and encouraging. That helped me so much with this process.

VR: How long have you been working on this piece?

The idea for this piece started in 2019 when the opera director at the University of Minnesota, David Walsh, told me, “You should write an opera.” [Pang received her PhD in Music with a minor in Theater Arts & Dance at the University of Minnesota.] From then on, I had been thinking about this idea and applying for grants, but I would get turned down and criticisms saying, “The story is overly sentimental.” I recognized that, so I added some comedy to lighten the heavy topic up.

One day, in my most sentimental song, I’m thinking how I should end the scene. Should I go to the artistic drive, or should I go to entertainment and “happy ending, everybody jazz hands?” David looked at me in the eyes, and he said, “America needs to be reminded what makes this country great, and this person can be you.” That language haunted me and kept me going. This May, we did a workshop at the University of Minnesota. Then in April, we did an acting workshop at Point Park University with all the students. The students involved in the CSA program are all current students, so they’re the tip of my heart. I want this opportunity to be a step-stone for their careers as well. I’m trying to include as many of my students as possible.

VR: When the audience leaves the theater, what do you hope they take away from your show?

YP: I’m hoping the audience feels a different understanding of other people because people came to America in different ways. Some people came here by force, some people came here to escape violence, some people came here by choice. I came here by choice, and I made a very hard decision because I came here, and I may never be able to go back because the politics of the two different countries are so tense. So I basically made the choice to give up my family and friends in China. That’s not easy. The art has to be so good for me to give up all of that. We all have difficult lives in one way or another, so having more grace for the other human beings is something that I want people to take away from [the show.]

One Log Bridge runs at the New Hazlett Theater: December 7 at 8pm, December 8 at 10am, 8pm

Tickets can be found at:


Amanda Sun — Yan
Mimi Jong — Min
Braden Stroppel — J-sun
Lulu James -Faye
April Daras — Amy
Ben Heavner — Isaac
Ayden Freed — Ensemble/Understudy (J-Sun)
Julia Resnick — Ensemble/Understudy (Faye)
Eli Plummer — Ensemble/Understudy (David)
Arden Adams — Ensemble

Creative Team:

Yan Pang — Composer/Librettist/Lead CSA Artist
Emily Vath — Dramaturg
Richard Keitel — Director
Madi Thongmonkolchai — Assistant Director/Assistant Stage Manager
Simone Hunt — Assistant Director/Dramaturg
Jason Noer — Choreographer
Cora Reddinger — Photographer


AJ DePetris — Music Director/Pianist
PJ Roduta — Drummer
Jin Pang — Erhu Player

Design Team:

Rianne Lindsay — Lighting Designer
Jull Musser — Projection Designer
Mary Beth Leviro — Costume and Props Designer
Emmaline Naud — Scenic Designer
Stella Frazer — Scenic Designer

Stage Management:

Lauren N.Wijangco


Join Our Mailing List

Join Our Mailing List
Would you like to volunteer at the Theater?