The primary Stages Off-Broadway Oral history Project

Celebrating the visionaries who created New York's vibrant Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theater.

Lori Tan Chinn

Lori Tan Chinn


Interviewed on: Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Location: Primary Stages Offices
Interviewed by: Casey Childs
Interview #74
"And I took the 10-hour bus ride to New York. And all I had was one pair of dance pants, a unitard, maybe one leotard, a pair of boots, and that was it."
Lori Tan Chinn Highlights
Video Length: 4 minutes, 44 seconds
Lori Tan Chinn Interview
Video Length: 1 hour, 51 minutes

Lori Tan Chinn was born in Seattle, Washington, where she grew up teaching herself to dance and to play violin. She auditioned for Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen (1970) on Broadway, where she was soon plucked from the chorus and awarded the comedic lead role of Miss Higa Jiga. Since then, Chinn has done work in several Off- and Off-Off-Broadway productions. Some of her Off-Broadway credits include: THE BALLAD OF SOAPY SMITH (1984) at the New York Shakespeare Festival, THE PRIMARY ENGLISH CLASS (1976) by Israel Horovitz at Circle in the Square, G.R. POINT (1977) at the Phoenix Repertory Theatre, and PEKING MAN (1980) at the Horace Mann Theatre. A few Off Off-Broadway productions include: productions at La MaMa E.T.C., NORTH ATLANTIC (1977) at the Gene Frankel Theatre, HOUSE PARTY (1973), THE MIKADO AMAS (1975) and BAYOU LEGEND (1977) at the AMAS Repertory Theatre, CHILDREN at the Henry Street Settlement, BRISBURIAL (1974), TAKE IT FROM THE TOP (1979), and POPOV’S MIRACLE at the New Federal Theatre, THE LOTTERY (1968) and MOON ON A RAINBOW SHAWL (1969) at Urban Arts Corps, and THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (1973) at the Equity Library Theatre.

Along with having a strong stage presence, Lori Tan Chinn has been in her fair share of film and TV productions, as well as Broadway. In addition to her Broadway debut as Miss Higa Jiga, she has originated roles in G.R. Point (1979), M. Butterfly (1988), and the late Marvin Hamlisch’s final project, Half Time, heading to Broadway at a future date. Although most well-known for her role as Mei Chang in the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” she has also appeared on television in “Roseanne,” “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific” (ABC television movie), “Spin City,” and “Law & Order.” Some of Chinn’s film credits include: She-Devil (1989), What About Bob? (1991), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), and Mickey Blue Eyes (1999).

Mentioned in Interview

Israel Horovitz, Vinnette Carroll, Ellen Stewart, Pearl Bailey, Ruby Dee, Rosetta LeNoire, Circle in the Square, La MaMa E.T.C., NYSF/The Public, 52nd St. Project, AMAS Repertory Theatre, Henry Street Settlement, Urban Arts Corps, Equity Library Theatre, THE PRIMARY ENGLISH CLASS, PEKING MAN, TAKE IT FROM THE TOP, FENCES, MOON ON A RAINBOW SHAWL