Founded in 1989, Ma-Yi Theater Company is a professional, award-winning not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization whose primary mission is to develop and produce new and innovative plays by Asian American writers. Since its founding, Ma-Yi has distinguished itself as one of the country’s leading incubators of new works shaping local and national conversations about what it means to be Asian American today.

Central to Ma-Yi’s mission are challenging popular perceptions for culturally specific theater, and encouraging artists to push Asian American theater beyond easily identifiable markers. To that end, Ma-Yi provides a nurturing home for exciting, generative, contemporary playwrights to produce risky, challenging, forward-thinking new plays for American Theater.

Onstage and off, Ma-Yi is guided by knowing why and for whom we create. Ma-Yi aspires to exemplify the extent to which theater makers can be active local partners to the diverse communities that inspire them, while also participating in larger, global conversations about our roles as artists/citizens.

Our History

Ma-Yi Theater Company was founded in 1989 for the production and development of new plays and performance work discussing and engaging with the Filipino American experience.

In 1998, responding to the growing need for a developmental venue for Pan-Asian American texts, Ma-Yi expanded its mission to include works by Asian American playwrights of all ethnicities and origins.

Its numerous acclaimed productions include Haruna Lee’s Suicide Forest, Jessica Hagedorn & Fabian Obispo’s Felix Starro, Mike Lew’s Teenage Dick and Bike America, Qui Nguyen’s The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G and Soul Samurai (with Vampire Cowboys), and Hansol Jung’s Among The Dead. Other productions include: Rescue Me by Michi Barall, Lloyd Suh’s The Chinese Lady and Lonnie Carter’s The Romance of Magno Rubio.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ma-Yi pivoted to the creation and production of digital content from Asian American artists in order to keep members of the community employed – this endeavor was known as Ma-Yi Studios. Productions to come out of Ma-Yi Studios include short films like Sophocles in Staten Island and Vancouver (produced in association with Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival); short subjects like Pinoy Street Dancers and A Divergent War: Songs for the Pandemic; and digital readings of plays such as Clippy & Ms. U, Final Boarding Call (in association with WP Theater), ONCE UPON A (korean) TIME, My H8 Letter to the Gr8 American Theatre; and more.

Ma-Yi Theater Company’s works have won a total of 10 Obie Awards, 3 Lucille Lortel Awards, an Off-Broadway Alliance Award, a Richard Rodgers Award, a Drama Desk nomination for Best Play, numerous Henry Hewes Design Award nominations, and in May 2010, a special Drama Desk award for “more than two decades of excellence and for nurturing Asian American voices in stylistically varied and engaging theatre.”

Our Name

“Ma-Yi” is the term used by ancient Chinese traders to refer to a group of islands that is known today as the Philippines.

A document written sometime around 1318 and titled Wen Shiann Tung Kuo (A General Investigation of the Chinese Cultural Sources) contains a stray reference to the Philippines that dates back to 982 AD. The text reads: “There were traders of the country of MA-YI carrying merchandise to the coast of Canton in the seventh year of Tai-ping-shing-kuo.”

Another pre-Spanish source is the Tao-i-chih-lio (Description of the Barbarians of the Isles) by Wang Ta-yuan, dated 1349 AD, with the following reference to MA-YI: “The people boil seawater to make salt and ferment (molasses) to make liquor. The natural products are kapok, yellow beeswax, tortoise shell, betel nuts, and cloth of various patterns. The Chinese goods used in trading are cauldrons, pieces of iron, red cloth or taffetas of various color stripes, ivory, ‘tint’ (a Chinese silver coin) or the like.”

The company’s name was chosen in recognition of the vibrant culture that existed in Ma-Yi, prior to its colonization at the hands of the West.

The Team

Ralph B. Peña | Producing Artistic Director

Ralph has been Ma-Yi Theater Company’s Artistic Director since 1996. Under his artistic leadership, Ma-Yi Theater has become the country’s leading incubator of new plays by Asian American playwrights, with a history of productions garnering numerous awards including nine Obie Awards, the Off-Broadway Alliance Award, nine Drama Desk nominations, a special Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Achievement in Theater, and most recently, a Lucille Lortel Award and the Ross Wetzsteon Obie Award. For Ma-Yi, Ralph has directed Felix Starro, The Chinese Lady, The Children of Vonderly, House/Boy Microcrisis, House Rules, The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra GO!, and Among the Dead. Ralph’s work has been seen on the stages of Laguna Playhouse, Victory Gardens, Long Wharf Theater, Children’s Theater Company, The Public Theater, NAATCO, The Round House Theater, and LaMama ETC., among others. He is the recipient of an Obie Award for his work on The Romance of Magno Rubio and a proud member of the Ensemble Studio Theater.

Jorge Z. Ortoll | Board Member, Senior Advisor, Former Executive Director

Jorge assumed the position of Executive Director in 2004, produced all of its productions and oversaw its steady growth and respect in the industry and communities it serves. He believes that the bedrocks of longevity for an arts organization, besides artistic excellence, are fiscal responsibility and responsiveness to the communities that it is important to. He has served as panelist for the Nancy Quinn Fund of the Alliance of Resident Theatres in New York, and has represented the United States in the bi-annual conventions of ITI (International Theater Institute of UNESCO) since 2002. As one of the seven founders of CAATA (Coalition ofAsian American Theaters and Artists) in 2004, he was in the steering committee of the First National Asian American TheaterConference in Los Angeles in June 2006, and one of three members of the executive committee that organized the highly successful First National Asian American TheaterFestival held in New York City in June 2007. Jorge is the recipient of the TOFA award in 2011 (Twenty Outstanding Filipinos Abroad,Washington DC), and in December 5,2012, he was awarded the PAMANA Presidential Award at Malacanan Palace byPresident Benigno Aquino III, acknowledging his distinguished work as a Filipino in the field of Arts and Culture outside the Philippines. Born and raised in Manila, Jorge holds a B.A. degree in Economics and Accounting from Holy Cross College and an M.B.A. degree from Columbia University.

Jakob Carter | Executive Producer

Jakob Carter is a nonbinary theatre artist who is very excited to continue working with the Ma-Yi Theater Company on their 35th Season. They believe in creating accessible and inclusive art, working with artists to showcase their work representing systematically underrepresented communities and identities, and aiding in telling stories that push the traditional envelope of what we identify as American Theater. Jakob has worked with Ma-Yi Theater Company in producing productions of The Chinese Lady, ONCE UPON A (korean) TIME, Short Stacks Playfestival, as well as working with Ma-Yi and La Jolla Playhouse in their co-production of SUMO this past fall of 2023. They have also had the privilege of serving on a panel for the New York State Council of the Arts in 2022.  Jakob is thankful to Ma-Yi Theater Company’s Staff and Board of Directors, as well as our funders for the opportunity to continue to cultivate our mission in developing and producing AANHPI Artists and their work.

Borna Barzin | Associate

Borna Barzin is a director, playwright, and arts administrator. Recent directing credits include Lorca’s Blood Wedding (Atlantic Stage 2), Chuck Mee’s Summertime (Atlantic Stage 2), Victor I. Cazares’s <<when we write with ashes>> (National Queer Theater/Lincoln Center) and Pinching Pennies with Penny Marshall (New York Theatre Workshop). He has developed new work with Atlantic Theater Company, The Sibiu International Theatre Festival in Romania, The Bushwick Starr, Echo Theater Company, and SPACE on Ryder Farm. He has completed residencies and fellowships with Roundabout Theater Company, Colt Couer, NYTW, and The Mercury Store. Borna is also a playwright, his play “HELL IS” received a workshop through Egg&Spoon’s Incubate NYC Program and is also a Finalist for the Eugene O’Neil Playwrights Conference.

Ma-Yi Theater Company Staff

Staff and Board

  • Ralph B. Peña
    Producing Artistic Director
  • Joi Barrios, Ph.d.
    Literary Manager
  • Jakob Carter
    Executive Producer
  • Borna Barzin
  • Jesse Jae Hoon
    CRNY Resident Artist
  • Lisa Sanaye Dring
     Resident Playwright
  • Everyman Agency
    Press Representative
  • David Reynolds
  • Jerry Tower,
    Gibson Dunn Legal Counsel
  • Mark S. Lichtenstein
    Crowell & Moring LLP Legal Counsel
  • Gary Eisenkraft
    CPA Accountant

Board of Directors

  • William A. Cook, MD (Chair)
  • Christopher Chorengel
  • Corrie Davidson
  • Jessica Dosch
  • Edwin Josue
  • Justin Lim
  • George Martel
  • Jorge Z. Ortoll
  • Cristina Osmena
  • Ralph B. Peña

Advisory Board

  • Loy Arcenas
  • Lydia Benitez Brown
  • Daphne Ceniza-Kuok
  • Curtis S. Chin
  • Ian Darnton-Hill, MD
  • Sony Dabao Salvador
  • Ronald Eames
  • Ernest L. Escaler
  • Cao K.O.
  • Mia Katigbak
  • Theresa Maja-Schultz
  • Charlotte Newberger
  • Lily O’Boyle
  • Fabian Obispo
  • Gertrudes Pajaron
  • Lori Pennay
  • Arianne Recto
  • Elizabeth Roxas-Dorbish
  • Jerry Sibal
  • Lolita Valderrama Savage
  • Cristina Sison
  • Cristina Tabora
  • Francisca Tayag
  • Richard Upton
  • Ching Valdes-Aran

Founding Members

  • Chito Jao Garces
  • Margot Abuan
  • Ankie Frilles
  • Luz De Leon
  • Isolda Oca
  • Ralph B. Peña
  • Arianne Recto
  • Cristina Sison
  • Bernie Villanueva


Thank you to these institutions who make Ma-Yi’s work possible:

Actors' Equity Foundation | The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation | AXA Foundation | Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc. | Fan Fox & Leslie R. Samuels Foundation | Harold & Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust | Howard Gilman Foundation | The Jerome Foundation | The John Golden Fund | Lucille Lortel Foundation | The Shubert Foundation | Salman and Vienn Al-Rashid | National Endowment for the Arts | Department of Cultural Affairs–NYC | The New York Community Trust | New York State Council on the Arts | The Mary Li Hsu Charitable Trust | The Tow Foundation

Government Support

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Your contributions allow us to continue to produce and develop innovative, exciting new work by Asian American playwrights and to keep theater tickets affordable.