Meet the Labbies: CLARENCE COO

Founded in 2004, the Ma-Yi Writers Lab is the largest resident company of Asian-American playwrights ever assembled. We reached out to a few of the members to learn more about the artists that are shaping the landscape of theatre for Asians.


Meet Clarence Coo.


Clarence Coo

Clarence is the recepient of the 2012 Yale Drama Series Prize for Emerging Playwrights. In addition to being a member of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab, he is a resident playwright at New Dramatists, and the program administrator of Columbia’s MFA Writing Program. His play “The Birds of Empathy” will be a part of the Fall LabFest 2015.

Ma-Yi Theater Company: What kind of stories do you like to tell?
Clarence Coo: I like to tell stories of characters encountering a language they’ve never encountered before. And who then try to figure out how that language works. Sometimes the language is literal, like French or English. Sometimes the language has a more metaphorical meaning, like the language of birds.

MYTC: Is there a particular piece of theatre or art that strikes your fancy right now and why
CC: I don’t know a lot about contemporary visual art but recently I got a membership to MoMA and have been going on a lot of their gallery tours.  So much visual art asks the question “Why am I art?” and I think that’s an interesting question for theater people.

MYTC: If you could meet one fictional character, who would it be and why?
CC: Jane Eyre. She’s smart, charming, and obsesses about morality.

MYTC: How would you describe your style of writing and/or aesthetic?
CC: I think each play is like discovering a new country for the first time. I love writing a play and figuring out its rules, its values, its rhythms.  And then sharing that world with the audience.

MYTC: What makes you angry?
CC: Bullying. Vast amounts of resources spent on boring theater. The wasted potential of talented people.

MYTC: What makes you happy?
CC: Speaking of traveling I’ve rediscovered the pleasures of traveling alone. Because you don’t have a companion, you become super focused on every new thing you see, hear, and experience.

MYTC: What is your favorite midnight snack?
CC: Dumplings.

MYTC: Why do you write plays?
CC: To increase the amount of empathy in the world.

MYTC: How did you find out about the Writers Lab?
CC: Word of mouth!

MYTC: Are there any upcoming readings, workshops, and/or productions of your work coming up? Tell us when and where!
CC: Lark Playwrights Week – October 5
Ma-Yi Labfest – October 18
New Dramatists Playtime – mid-November

Clarence Coo received the 2012 Yale Drama Series Prize for Emerging Playwrights, which was judged by John Guare, for Beautiful Province (Belle Province). The play was developed at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival and the Inkwell. His other plays include The God of Wine, People Sitting in Darkness, Bahala Na, Braids, Proof Through the Night, and Removing the Glove. His work has been produced or developed at New York Theatre Workshop, Ma-Yi Theatre, New Dramatists, Second Generation, the New York International Fringe Festival, Mu Performing Arts, the Great Plains Theatre Conference, Round House Theatre, East West Players, the Mark Taper Forum, the Young Playwrights Festival, and the Kennedy Center. His work has also been published by Temple University Press, the New Press, and Samuel French. Honors include an Arena Stage Allen Lee Hughes Fellowship, an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence Grant, a Kennedy Center commission, and a Larry Neal Writers’ Award. He has been a dramaturg at Young Playwrights Inc., a visiting artist at Georgetown University, and a social media writer for the 2010 and 2011 Tony Awards. He received his MFA in Playwriting at Columbia University where he studied under Charles Mee. He is a resident playwright at New Dramatists, a member of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab, a 2012-2013 Dramatists Guild fellow, and the program administrator of Columbia’s MFA Writing Program.


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