Q: Where are you located? What state?
Q: Company/Organization Affiliation/Last Show?
Disney's Aladdin on Broadway.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about how you became involved in the performing arts from the very beginning?
Let's see, if you count piano recitals that would be my very first time performing as an artist because I was in piano lessons from age five to around 13. So, I had a music background first, and I studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, took lessons from piano teachers in my neighborhood. So that's where I really started performing in the arts and then I transitioned from there. Around seventh grade, I was cast as Oliver in Oliver at school, and my sister was part of a song and dance troupe called Razzle Dazzle Kids, which performed all around the San Francisco Bay area, which is where we grew up. And she asked me if I wanted to join this group and at the time, you know, I was playing piano and also playing soccer and I was like, “I don't know.” Also, hanging out with my little sister didn't seem as cool to me, but I was also at that age where the girls started to look a little bit cute, you know, so I said alright, “I'll join the group.” And I started singing lessons from her teacher, and started performing with that group. That's where I started really singing and acting. Then high school is where I got bitten by the bug, as they say, and I found my true passion. I had a really great teacher and director; he was my English teacher and also my director, and he really encouraged me to pursue a life in the arts. It was really his kind of flipping the switch for me and saying you have what it takes and if you want to pursue this as a career you can. Upon hearing his advice, I went to New York University and got a degree in Theater there.
Q: What has the performing arts taught you that you've applied to your everyday life and how you engage with the world?
Oh, there's so many things. Being a performing artist, probably the number one thing is you gain confidence being in front of an audience. You also learn a lot about yourself. Just throughout the course of becoming an actor, you have to be in touch with your emotions and your personal stories and things that have happened in your life and you apply those things/you use those things on a stage. So, it helps you sort of internalize, but also express. I say it helps you look inward, as well as express outward as a person. Even people who end up not following the career path of being a professional artist, those who have studied have used those skills, those basic sort of communication skills, to be successful in whatever major or field they go into. So it's really helpful to have that kind of background, and really applies to a wide range of different fields.
Q: Has the performing arts ever helped you overcome any hardships in your life?
Without getting too specific, I would say that there are times where you're dealing with things on a personal level, and a lot of times getting on the stage allows you to sort of have a little bit of a catharsis. In terms of things that are going on in your life, you can use that on the stage and express it and channel it.
In terms of specifically, since we're going to be talking more about diversity and non-traditional casting, I think growing up as an artist who has a mixed background, I've had some challenges. You know, the pros are that I get to play a wide variety of roles because of my mixed ethnicity. The con side of that is that I've been passed over for a lot of things that are specifically Asian or Latino or this or that. I still think for me, the pros outweigh the cons in that regard. But when it comes to TV and film stuff, I'm pretty much typed out because they're looking for something very specific. As an actor, I have to work hard to sort of change their minds and open up their minds to cast me in a role that they hadn't thought of it in that way. So there are a lot of specific challenges that you have to deal with, you know, in terms of diversity and race. Luckily in the theater, they're on the forefront of sort of pushing the envelope and being non-traditional. But I feel like the TV and film world is still a decade behind in terms of opening that up and I hope they get there, but there's no guarantee they will.
Q: What other interests and passions Do you have outside of the performing arts that influence and inspire your artistry?
Sure, well right now it's raising my twin boys, Jack and Alex - they're six So, being a dad has really sort of broadened my horizons in terms of how I think about the world, and just generally speaking. Also, my hobbies include playing chess. I like playing games. I've always been a gamer. I play chess, I play poker/online poker with my friends. But really it's just trying to stay ahead of my boys and keep them engaged, and try and keep them interested. And right now, during this time, one of my hobbies is speaking with people like you and with groups who've had their shows cancelled… You know, just trying to inspire and trying to keep the passion alive for what we do.
Q: How do you think the performing arts can be a platform for social justice issues?
I think inherently the performing arts allows different groups to see each other and find commonality. It sort of creates a foundation where everybody is experiencing something at the same time and realizing that we're not that different after all; or seeing a story that sort of opens their eyes and helps them look at the world in a new way. So the performing arts is magical in that way because it has the power to open up people's minds and to see the world differently.
Q: Can you talk about being a mixed race actor and performer, and what that has entailed for you in terms of casting/in terms of the way that you see the performing arts world/the way you see other people of color and mixed race people getting cast and the general pros and cons of that?
As I think I mentioned, you know being a mixed race definitely has its pros and cons. I have found that, you know, I've been able to play Native American, I've been able to play Latino, I've played everything from like a Bible Belt Preacher to a Spanish Sword Fighter, to anything and everything which is amazing because I think my mixed race has definitely helped me get cast in a lot of those roles. However, a lot of times I'll get flack. For example when I performed in Aladdin, there were a lot of people that said, “Well he's not Middle Eastern. He shouldn't be playing the role of Aladdin.” Or when I played Zorro people said, “He's not really Spanish.” Even though I'm half Filipino, which has Spanish roots. You know, there's a lot of sort of gray area when it comes to this, and there are a lot of people who feel passionately on both sides. The people who feel underrepresented, definitely have a point, and the problem is that there's just not a lot of roles written specifically for, say Filipinos. I'm half Filipino and essentially, there are not a lot of Filipino roles out there. So, you know, as long as we can start to sort of change that and start creating more roles for the minority groups… We have to work on that and get the writing to come up to speed and come up to par with where the world is at because Asian people can't just keep doing The King and I And, and Flower Drum Song all the time. You’ve got to branch out. That's why when a movie like Crazy Rich Asians came out, or a great play I saw, Chinglish… There's a lot of stuff that's pushing the envelope in theater specifically, which allows people to experience a story and they just happen to be Chinese. The story is not specifically based on that culture. The universal story. We want to get to that level where we can tell the story and the race, gender, sexuality - none of that - is as important as what the story is portraying and what it's telling. So when people start to look past that, then I think we've made headway.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected you as a performing artist?
Well, I had a lot of work that was cancelled unfortunately. I had a bunch of concerts and shows that were planned for later this year that had to be postponed indefinitely. I've heard back from a couple theaters that they are going to try maybe next year or in two years, but there's no guarantee. Our work/our businesses as it is, is very hard to depend on. It’s very come and go. It's very fickle. So in some ways I'm used to being out of work because as an actor, in between jobs, we're out of work a lot. So I have an advantage to some of the nine-to-fivers out there in the world who are like, “I've never been out of work in my whole life.” Luckily I'm not too nervous I guess, but I am also worried. I am very much concerned that the theaters are not going to be opening up anytime soon. Even as the economy gradually opens, theaters, concerts, all these big events with crowds, sporting events, etc. they’re just not going to happen, I feel like, until there's a vaccine, which could be a year and a half to two years out. So there's going to be continued suffering in our community and in the theater world specifically. It's going to be tough because actors, as it is, you know, the struggling actor is a stereotype for a reason. There's the actor-waiter, which I did. I cater-waitered; I did the whole thing. So I know that it can be brutal, especially when you're just trying to make it in the beginning of your career. Whatever people can do to help out the theater community, which would be donating to the Actors Fund or Seasons of Concern, which is sort of the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS equivalent here in Chicago. Any of those would be great and would help out actors during this tough transition time.
Q: What process were you in when the US started to shut down and what were your initial reactions to that?
I think my initial reaction was surprise, but then I was also proud that the country was taking the steps that it was and that specifically here in Illinois, and other places as well, people were taking it seriously. I don’t think I've ever thought of a time in my life where everybody has stopped what they're doing... I've never lived through a war, and this is kind of like that. I've never seen a whole nation sort of stop in its tracks to protect the weakest and the most vulnerable. That's what we're doing. It's a selfless act, what we're doing. I know a lot of people can't see it that way and want the economy to be open now and they want their jobs to be now; but I was very heartened and amazed that people were taking it seriously and trying to flatten that curve. And I think it's commendable that people have been able to see the broader perspective because, you know, this is a nation of capitalism and there's a lot of self absorption happening, so it's pretty amazing to see that we're looking at the broader picture and helping everybody as a whole.
Q: What does a daily routine, or a week look like for you right now? Is there anything you've been working on during this time?
It's really hard to have structure as the days go on. We're supposed to be doing e-learning, which lasts like 15 minutes. With twin six year olds, we tried to spread out the workload as much as we can. It's hard to have a routine/to have a structure at all when it all the day start to blend together. I know a lot of people really need that to just have their sanity, and luckily we're not at the point where we're going crazy. I think having the structure, to a degree, but also being flexible with it and not feeling like you have do every single thing… I have found, since being home, the kids take up the majority of my time. A lot of people think, “Oh, you're in quarantine. You must have, you know, hours upon hours and days.” No. The kids are home from school, which means they want my attention every five seconds. It's hard and everybody's going be dealing with it in different ways. I find that having projects is definitely good and connecting with people is amazing. I'm sure the word “Zoom” is going to have a new entry in the dictionary right after Google and all these other ones because this is the new normal.
Q: Can you talk about the process that you were in during the initial shutdown?
I had a few concerts that had to be canceled there was a show specifically in Sacramento that I was getting ready to go do. I was going to play in Carousel; actually I was going to reprise a role that I played in high school, Billy Bigelow, and I was excited to do that but that got postponed.
I actually had just gotten back from a big gig in Walt Disney World where I did a bunch of concerts there for about two weeks. Then my sister got married, and right after that everything stopped. It was such a surprise. It came so suddenly. I was just sort of confused and took a minute, read about it and got a little bit more information to see what we're doing (in response to COVID-19). Like I said, I think it's commendable. It's great that we're doing it. So that was sort of my initial reaction. I'm still trying to deal with, you know, what's going to happen as the economy starts to open up again. I'm just trying to find work where I can. I've been doing masterclasses online. I've been doing cameos where people pay for video messages to say “happy birthday” and stuff like that. You know, whatever I can do. And it's tough. I don't know what's gonna happen.
Q: With the time to reexamine the systems and ways we’ve been conducting ourselves in the performing arts, i.e. what shows are on, what roles we play, who is coming into the theaters. Using the idea of world making, what would you like the performing arts to look like after the pandemic the way that you would want it to be or want it to look? What would you change?
That's a really good question. I think one of the things I would love to see happen in the Broadway community specifically, the economics of how the shows are put on and how they make money has really limited the audience in terms of people of different economic backgrounds. So people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have been priced out of coming to see shows. The ticket prices are astronomical, and it's just been going up and up and up. I really would love to sort of return to the golden age of Broadway where tickets were less expensive and people of all age, creeds and, you know, bank account size, can come and experience the magic of theater. That's one system that I would love to see overhauled. There are different grants/organizations that have been reaching out to lower income communities to try and fix that problem, but there's still a long way to go and I would think/I would hope that once this is all done we can say, “Hey, we're not going to be profitable for a while, and it's really not about that.” We've always been trying to make theater commercially viable. I mean, that's a producer's job and that's what they're supposed to do - to try and make profits, but I hope that this would allow them to step back and say, “We need to include not just the upper middle class that comes and pays for all the tickets every week. We’ve got to really try and broaden our horizons and speak to a larger group because that's what theater is meant to be. It's supposed to bring people together, of all different races and ages and everything. So I hope that that's revisited and re-examined.
One thing I think that will come from this is that you're going to see a sort of a renaissance of new work coming out because everybody's at home and creating amazing things. Whenever something like this happens (even though this is completely unprecedented)/whenever you have a lot of work that comes out of what’s happening in the here and now, you sort of come up to speed. So all the work that's happened in the past, as soon as it hits the page, it's sort of antiquated, which is weird. It's kind of like the new iPhone coming out. As soon as you buy a computer, it's obsolete until you get the next. So as long as people continue to create and when you have all this new work coming out, which I'm hoping there will be, I think the musical theater canon, as a whole, will be more present in the moment. People will be able to experience theater in a more present way if that makes sense.