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Cast of "Sex in Seattle," photo courtesy SiS Productions.

Cast of "Sex in Seattle," photo courtesy SiS Productions.


Sex In Seattle Ends A 12 Year Run

Marcie Sillman

After more than 10 years and 20 plays, it's time for the gals and guys of "Sex in Seattle" to say goodbye. The producers started the romantic comedy series to make theater about their own lives as Asian–American women. It's evolved into a permanent effort to give a voice to Asian–American theater artists and to Asian audiences.


"Sex in Seattle" started as a casual dinner party conversation.

Hsieh: "And we were just talking about relationships and the fact that, as Asian–Americans, a lot of the issues we deal with in relationships, we never see on television."

That's Kathy Hsieh. She was born in Seattle. Her parents are Chinese immigrants. A lot of American kids get a big "birds and bees" talk when they hit puberty. But for Hsieh and her Asian–American friends —

Hsieh: "Our parents actually never had those kinds of conversations with us, about relationships, or about sex. Or about any of that stuff. So, as a young person, growing up, you don't know how to deal with any of those issues, and so a lot of people learn it from television."

Hsieh says she and her friends realized they could keep complaining about not seeing their lives and relationships portrayed in popular entertainment, or they could do something about it.

Hsieh: "And so, we thought, why don't we create a show about that?"

And that's how "Sex in Seattle" was born. Hsieh had been a Seattle actor for years, but she says, like a lot of Asian–Americans, she didn't play a wide variety of characters.

Hsieh: "I always got cast as the other woman, or someone who wasn't part of the family. So it was always kind of like a femme fatale, or someone who was really manipulative. You know, for some reason that was what I got cast as."

Hsieh thought, if she and her friends wrote their own show, they could create their own roles. Hsieh came up with Elizabeth. She imagined her as an all–American girl with a group of street–savvy friends. Hsieh handed over these characters to a colleague, Serin Ngai, to hammer out the first script. Ngai says, before she started writing, Hsieh told her to watch the television show "Sex in the City."

Ngai: "She was kind of explaining how it would be similar to that kind of concept, where it would be about Asian–American women and their relationships but also mostly their relationships to each other as well, and how she was going to create that into a theater format."

"Sex in the City" is about the love lives of four single, white professional women in Manhattan, punctuated by designer shoes and a lot of cocktails.

Hsieh: "You know, the funny thing is, none of us really drank — we're all very clean cut. Even though the show is called 'Sex in Seattle,' I think that's the first thing people realized when they first started coming to see the show. It's actually much more of a romantic comedy, much more like an Asian–American version of 'Friends' than anything like what you might see on 'Sex in the City.'"

From the very first episode in 2001, "Sex in Seattle" has attracted and maintained a loyal following. Hsieh and Ngai say the audience is mostly young and Asian–American. But they do see older folks at their shows, and a handful of Asian immigrants.

Some fans were so zealous, they couldn't wait a year between episodes to find out what happened to the characters. The producers had to send out email updates to satisfy them. Even after almost 12 years and 20 plays, Hsieh says audiences are still wildly enthusiastic. The actors are a little burned out.

Hsieh: "We decided around episode 16 that we couldn't keep going on forever. Us actresses are not getting any younger. So we didn't want to be doing like the 'Golden Girls' version of the show."

They decided episode 20 would be "Sex in Seattle's" swan song, a play to wrap up all the story lines. Will the father of Jenna's baby step up? Should Tess date Caucasian men? Will Elizabeth find true love? Even she isn't sure how to answer that one.

Scene: "Maybe it would be better if we were brought up to believe that everything's going to end horrifically bad. Then, no matter what happens, it'll be better than we expect."

"Oh, my Filipino mom has that myth mastered."

"She doesn't really tell you everything's going to end up badly, does she?"

"Yes. She's also Catholic, she'd cry and make me feel so guilty. It was her way of scaring me from doing anything wrong."

"What about your dad?"

"He's Japanese–American, so he's smart enough to let my mom have her way."

Even after "Sex in Seattle" ends, Kathy Hsieh says the company that produces it, SiS, will live on. In the last few years, Hsieh and her cohorts have branched out beyond the "Sex" series to produce new plays by Asian–American writers. Hsieh says SiS also functions as a de facto casting company.

Hsieh: "You know, what's interesting is I think we probably do more work in terms of helping every single theater and casting director in town cast their shows whenever they're looking for actors of color, and specifically, Asian–Americans. We do it pro bono, because part of our mission is really to create opportunities for Asian–Americans. But we have gotten a lot of our actors a lot of paid work over the years."

That said, Hsieh hasn't seen a net increase in jobs for local Asian–Americans actors. But "Sex in Seattle" did achieve one goal the creators set for themselves at that long–ago dinner party: They created a body of work about contemporary Asian–American women. Kathy Hsieh remembers one episode in particular, where two characters muster the guts to reveal their love for each other. That plotline struck a chord with a couple of audience members.

Hsieh: "And these two people came to us after that, and they told us that because of the episode, they finally told each other how they felt about each other. And they've been dating ever since. And they shared it with us because they said they never would have had the courage to do that if they hadn't seen the show."

"Sex in Seattle" opens Episode 20, its final episode, this weekend. I'm Marcie Sillman, KUOW News.

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