The whole world is a stage: the Community Asian Theater of the Sierra celebrates its 30th anniversary


Two women, drawn to Nevada County for different reasons from the Bay Area, helped make the Community Asian Theater of the Sierra what it is today.

CATS Artistic Director Lisa Moon and Group Executive Director Jeannie Wood founded the theater group nearly 30 years ago. However, their paths to Nevada County began years before.

The Community Asian Theater in the Sierra performed “The Joy Luck Club” at the Nevada Theater in Nevada City from April 21 through May 14. Lisa Moon, artistic director of CATS, played three roles. Jeannie Wood is the executive director of the group.
Submitted to The Union

Moon was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts to an American father and a Chinese mother. Her father was educated at Harvard and her mother came from a wealthy family. After her father had difficulty finding a job in the East, they moved to San Francisco.

Education was a priority, and Moon’s father urged her to study science. She said that, like a “good little Chinese girl, I took physics instead of art.”

When her father wanted her to go to a large state university, she was overwhelmed by the mass of people at the busy campus entrance. Instead, she enrolled at San Francisco’s smaller college. After two years, Moon was accepted into UC’s Doctor of Optometry program. She worked on both her undergraduate degree alongside her doctoral studies. Its eight-year program was completed in six years.


Grass Valley native Jerry Chan was also part of the program. He and Moon dated and began a lifelong romance. Chan was forced to serve in the navy. After his service ended, they were married. They wanted an optometry practice in the Bay Area, but they couldn’t find a suitable opportunity. Chan convinced his wife to move to Nevada County, a big move for her but a homecoming for him.

They both tell the story of his efforts to show off the county. He took her to the dump on McCourtney Road. Passing the horse ranches on the road, she decided she could live here.

They found a small optometry practice to buy and started building their practice. Soon their family grows with the arrival of two daughters.

The children led activities including dance lessons for the girls, Tiffany and Allison, and ballet. Nelda Honey owned the dance studio and also had a theater company, Gold Country Productions. This is where Moon got the acting bug. Chan followed. When the company produced “Flower Drum Song”, husband and wife performed. A new actor, Jeannie Wood, has also joined the cast.


The wood also came from San Francisco. The family name was Wong. His parents were Chinese immigrants. They lived in Chinatown and owned a fortune cookie bakery. The work was hard, with long hours for parents and children seven days a week. There was no time for social life, just work.

Growing up in a Cantonese-speaking family was a handicap at school and when the children started school, they did not know English. Wood went to college, eventually earning a teaching degree. She started teaching English as a second language. The program lost funding and after several moves she was hired as a paralegal. She thought at the time, under different circumstances, that she could have become a lawyer.

Lisa Moon, left, artistic director of CATS, and Jeannie Wood, executive director of CATS.
Submitted to The Union

It was the 1970s and Wood was on a journey of self-discovery. She signed up for many popular programs of the time. She married in 1980 and had a daughter, Kim. She and her family moved to Nevada County in 1987 and participated as a family in its community theater debut. When Wood learned that Honey’s theater troupe was casting for “Flower Drum Song,” a favorite musical, she auditioned and got the part.


It was while rehearsing and performing in “Flower Drum Song” that Moon and Wood began their friendship. In 1994, the couple and a few other friends decided to start their own community theater focusing on Asian-themed productions as well as cultural events. This was the birth of CATS, Community Asian Theater of the Sierra, a name suggested by Moon’s daughter, Allison. Moon became the artistic director and Wood took on the role of executive director. Their skills and interests complemented each other. The first production, “Tea”, dates back to 1996, followed by new productions every year selected by Moon.

Tragedy struck in 2016 when Moon suffered a major stroke while attending the county fair. Her medical training allowed her to tell doctors what was going on and she was rushed into surgery with just over a 10% chance of surviving. She emerged from surgery with her mind and speech intact, but requiring several months of rehabilitation. She lost 25% of her sight in both eyes and couldn’t walk, but her mind still worked and she could give directions for the next production, “White Snake,” in 2017.

More productions followed, and Moon saw no roles for herself, saying she was still recovering. In 2019, CATS was planning Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club,” and Moon decided to play one of the mothers. She was surprised when she first read the script – her character would die of a stroke.

Scheduled for a spring 2020 performance, production was halted by the pandemic and ultimately postponed to 2022. By the time the curtain went up in late April, Moon had three parts to memorize.

Two women with very different histories have combined their talents, along with volunteers, actors and supporters, to enrich the county’s culture and share their Asian heritage.

Don W. Scoble is a longtime resident of Nevada City


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