Director May Adrales turns a spotlight on a Chinese immigrant's experience at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Associate Artistic Director, Milwaukee Repertory Theater

May Adrales wasn’t supposed to become an artist. Her parents, Filipino immigrants living in Virginia, are a nurse and a doctor. Her older sisters have careers in medicine and banking.

But Adrales’ interests leaned more toward theater, so she ditched her plan to attend law school and enrolled at the Yale School of Drama instead. “Once I decided that that was what I wanted to do, then I wanted to get really good at it.”

Adrales says the Milwaukee Rep’s then-new artistic director, Mark Clements, “took a chance” by hiring her to direct Yellowman in 2011. Two years later, The New York Times highlighted Adrales as an up-and-coming female artist infringing upon the “old boys’ club of New York theater.”

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Lisa Helmi Johanson as Afong Moy and Jon Norman Schneider as Atung in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s production of “The Chinese Lady”

Last fall, her production of In the Heights at the Rep drew record crowds. Adrales is now directing the Wisconsin premiere of The Chinese Lady, a true story about the United States’ first female Chinese immigrant that runs through March 24.

“I’ve always had an interest in what it means to be a minority thinker, not in regards to race but somebody who has a different perspective to the status quo,” Adrales says. “I’m attracted to work that is from an outsider-looking-in perspective.”

The Chinese Lady is the kind of story Adrales easily connects with, and one she thinks will have a broad reach thanks to Milwaukee’s racial diversity.

“Theater can create a kind of empathy within its audience,” she says. “We have a very large Hmong community and Asian community in Milwaukee that we have created relationships with in the past couple of years. This play provides a channel for them to have a closer and deeper experience with the Rep.”


“Local Talent: May Adrales” appears in the March 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning Feb. 25, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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