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Brooke Ishibashi, Joe Ngo, Jane Lui, and Ray Lee in 2018. Photo: Jordan Kubat

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What excites you about this concept? What’s the upside?

What do you find worrisome about this concept? What’s the downside? 

What else do you need to know about this concept? What additional information would help you to evaluate things?

What is your current stance on the concept? How might you move forward in your evaluation?


The Compass Points thinking routine was developed by Project Zero, a research center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Fact vs. Fiction

Though CRB and most of its characters are fictional, it’s based on historical events and incorporates real people’s experiences. For example, Duch’s dialogue was imagined by Lauren Yee, but his story—that of a math teacher turned Khmer Rouge prison supervisor, the first leader to be tried for his role in the genocide—is true. Chum’s claim of having been a banana seller rather than a musician is the lie that saved singer Sieng Vanthy’s life during her own interrogation. In the play’s early stages of development, Joe Ngo (who plays Chum) revealed to Yee that he had a uniquely personal connection to the material—his parents were survivors of the Khmer Rouge’s genocide. He shared family stories that became instrumental in the play and deepened its authenticity. 

From Page to Stage

Cambodian Rock Band playwright Lauren Yee almost missed the concert where she first heard the music of Dengue Fever. A friend invited her to see the band’s set at a music festival, and they made it just in time! The Los Angeles-based band combines 1960s and 70s Cambodian rock with various music styles from around the world, including American influences. Yee loved their unique sound and started researching its Cambodian origins. Learning about Cambodia’s rich popular music and its near-eradication by the Khmer Rouge’s tyrannical regime inspired Yee to write a play telling the story of a survivor returning to Cambodia 30 years after escaping the place he once called home. The result is part-play, part-rock concert—exploring music’s cultural power, preservation of identity, the cost of survival, and our struggle to understand each other across generational and cultural divides. 

Trailer from Signature Theatre 

Lauren Yee's Inspiration

Sieng Vanthy in the 1960s

“That anybody in their lifetime would get to do a show that speaks so deeply to who they are, what they are, and how their culture, family history, everything pours into their character is a cherished gift and an honor.”

 - Joe Ngo accepting an OBIE    Award for his performance 

CRB Goes on Tour

The Signature Theatre production of Cambodian Rock Band marked both the play’s New York premiere and Lauren Yee’s first production as one of the theatre’s resident playwrights. It opened in February 2020, but closed less than a month later due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Later that year, a North American tour of the production was announced, but had to be postponed. At last, Cambodian Rock Band is having its moment, and Alley Theatre is the first tour stop! The production will move to California’s Berkeley Repertory Theatre in late February before playing at ACT Theatre/5th Avenue (Seattle) and Center Theatre Group (Los Angeles) in 2024. 

Storytelling in CRB

Signature Theatre Cast 

Compass points

Think of historical fiction movies, TV shows,

and books you’re familiar with. What do you find

successful or unsuccessful in the genre? With what you know about the play so far, consider these “compass points”: 

Role of the Audience

Hear from two members of our Resident Acting Company about guidelines for audience members!

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