LabWorks Artist Spotlight: Marcus Yi

New Victory LabWorks was originally established in 2012, as a program seeking New York City based artists that were interested in creating boundary-breaking theater for young audiences. Starting in 2021 and in future years, the program is and will specifically support New York artists who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in the creation of original work for kids and family audiences.

This season (2021-22), each New Victory LabWorks Artist receives a $15,000 stipend, as well as dramaturgical and community support from New Victory’s local and international network of professional artists, educators, presenters and producers.

New Victory LabWorks supports a variety of artists across performing arts disciplines. Without the expectation of a finished product at the end of development, participation in New Victory LabWorks is tailored to each artist’s creative process.

Q and A with New Victory LabWorks Artist Marcus Yi.

New 42 staff member Niki Cruz, Assistant Director of Media & Communications, sat down with some of our current LabWorks Artists for a very special Q&A series to discuss how the artists’ childhoods have influenced their current-day artistic processes. First up—Marcus Yi!

Niki Cruz: When you were a kid, what inspired you to create art?

Marcus Yi: Growing up in Singapore, my parents enrolled me in speech and drama class from a young age and took me to see touring musicals like Les Misérables and Fame. Theater was familiar to me from a young age. One of my earliest memories is playing make believe with my two sisters. I would always come up with some fantastical scenario in which a monster was chasing us, and I would assign roles to my sisters. So I guess being a writer and director has always been in me.

NC: How did you get into your specific art form?

MY: I always loved musical theater. I ended up moving to the United States to major in it for college. However, I quickly realized that the roles for actors of Asian descent were very limited, so I decided to go to law school. During law school, I was very depressed being the only artist there, so I decided to take piano lessons to accompany myself and keep singing. After developing my piano skills, I realized that I would never be good enough to play at Carnegie Hall, but I did enjoy writing songs. Eventually, I went back to musical theater as a writer and composer. And yes, I am still a practicing immigration lawyer that helps international artists come here for work!

New Victory LabWorks Artist Marcus Yi as a toddler, sits at a piano.
“Music has always been a huge part of my life.”

NC: What or who are the influences in your childhood that affect the art you create today as an adult?

MY: Childhood toys: My Little Pony, She Ra, He Man, Care Bears.
Authors I have loved: Terry Pratchett, Christopher Pike, Neil Gaiman.
Musical Theater writers I have loved: Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, Alan Menken, Ahrens and Flaherty, Kander and Ebb, and many more.

NC: What has profoundly affected you about the art of storytelling?

MY: Storytelling is a wonderful way of learning about characters who may have experiences completely different from yours. It is also a great way of exploring stories or scenarios that you might be considering in a safe, imaginative manner. Storytelling has taught me that despite our multiple racial, cultural, and linguistic differences, there are many similarities that we share, being part of the same human race.

New Victory LabWorks Artist Marcus Yi, as a toddler, sitting on a couch smiling.
“Even from a young age I knew how to strike a pose!”

NC: Can you tell us a little bit about your show?

MY: The Dragon King’s Daughter is a musical that combines Chinese Dragon mythology, martial arts, music, and shadow puppetry to address bullying in middle-school. 12-year-old Kenny Li is being bullied at school. When he finds a magical tablet, he is transported to the Jade Kingdom where he meets Xing, the Dragon King’s daughter. Together, they go on a quest to save the world, finding courage and friendship along the way.

NC: What was the LabWorks experience like?

MY: LabWorks is a residency that really listens to its artists and tailors the program to your unique disciplines and interests. I have never been part of a program that has been more receptive and attentive to the needs of its artists, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

NC: What kind of interaction or dynamic have you had with the LabWorks cohort?

MY: I love my cohort! I think we have a very honest and open relationship, and we try to share as much information with each other as possible. We see each other during the monthly meetings, and I try to attend as many of the optional workshops and meetings as possible to maximize my time with the program.

NC: What are some of the big takeaways you’ve learned from LabWorks?

MY: I have learned a lot about the field of theater for young audiences. I have a greater understanding of how the touring system works in the United States. And I have been connected to an entire family of wonderful visionary and generous artists who are part of the extended LabWorks family.

NC: What was the biggest surprise of your LabWorks experience?

MY: The colorful history of the New Victory Theater building.

NC: What would you want other artists to know about the LabWorks program?

MY: The program is a listening program which is tailored to your interests as an artist. Artists should have a clear vision of what they want to learn, who they want to meet, and how they want to spend their time in this program.

NC: If you could travel back in time and tell your younger kid-self that one day you would be part of the New Victory LabWorks program, what would you say, and how would you describe the program?

MY: One day, you will move across the world to the city where new musicals are born. You will then be part of an amazing program that will help you bring your unique stories to life.


Headshot of Marcus Yi

Marcus Yi is an award-winning musical theater writer/composer/director and performer based in New York. Marcus was named one of Indie Theater Now’s 2014 People of the Year, is an Indie Theater Now Playwright and an inaugural member of the 92nd Street Y Musical Theater Development Lab Collective. His work has been produced by the National Asian Artists Project, Yangtze Rep, Prospect Theater, Asian American Film Lab, The Secret Theatre, New Jersey Playwrights Contest, Ingenue Theater, Modern-Day Griot Theatre Company, Ticket2eternity Productions, Queens Players, Rising Solo, POPLAB, URNetworkAlliance, NYC Actors and Playwrights Collective, All Out Arts and the Short Play Lab.