Friday, January 20, 2012

Java Tacoma: Episode 38 "Here We Go Again"

It's already been over a month since we closed this comedy, Java Tacoma: Episode 38. A lot has happened since that show closed. A lot happened during the production of the show as well.

It's funny. Even though this is the second installment of a comedy series that Randy and I are producing, there were a lot of "firsts" in it as well.

It was the first time I performed on stage in a role I had already played. Yes, the episode and the script were new, but I brought the character of Linda out of storage and tried her on for size once more.

It was the first time I invited the local Tacoma media to come and review what we were doing. Three reviewers came. One loved the show. One was so-so about the show. The other one hated it. Even though the third reviewer never mentioned names, I knew he was picking on me a bit.

It was also the first time I had to deal with major conflict among some of the production personnel. I won't mention any names either, but being put in the middle of someone else's war challenged my conviction, my self-esteem and my sense of success/failure.

When you put yourself out there for the world to judge your work, your mission, and your ability to act and produce, it puts you in a vulnerable position. Some people will believe in and support your mission, others will scoff and find ulterior motives in your work. Even those within the production staff may or may not be on board with what you are trying to accomplish.

I don't do theatre simply because it's fun. I don't do it primarily for an opportunity to be on stage. If that's all I wanted out of theatre, then I would be auditioning all over creation for any show, anywhere, just so I can put myself on the stage.

Dukesbay Productions is about telling stories about people whose stories don't often get told. Java Tacoma tells the comic story of middle aged folks from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities, for instance. Future productions and staged readings will involve still others who are under-represented on stage, by virtue of age, gender, ethnicity or acting experience. The playwrights are under-represented simply because they are local writers who are not "famous."

Theatre is not just about what "sells." I know young, beautiful and Euro-American is what appears to sell. But not to everyone.

Dukesbay is about everyone else. I'm proud of that. It's only a drop in the bucket, but (at least here in conservative, white-bread Pierce County) we're giving it a start.

And, we're making them laugh.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Java Tacoma: Episode 37 "If I Build It, I Can Come"

I believe I just experienced what all (or at least most) stage actors may dream about: I just co-produced a show, along with my husband Randy, that was a tailor-made project for both of us. Randy got to direct and I got to be on stage. No audition, no call-back. Just Randy and me deciding to do a show.

After struggling for years through countless auditions, and experiencing rejections for much of those times, I have learned a few things.

One of the things I have learned is that when you're an actor, you are in one of the only fields in the world where you can still be hired (or not hired) based on your gender, age, race and general appearance. Try rejecting a job applicant in any other job on that basis, and you'll find yourself in court on the losing end of a lawsuit.

But theatre (heck, television and film, too) is about "type" and image. It's also about what people think will "sell" and what constitutes entertainment and art. So, put that all together and you've got a lot of people who are not in demand on the average Pierce County stage.

Sure, I've gotten my share of interesting roles and opportunities over the years, so I can't complain. But I am guessing that I struggle to find reasonable opportunities in theatre more than the sought-after demographic: young, caucasian, male, good-looking...or any combination of that.

But, what bothers me the most about that is not that I won't be on stage as much as others whose types are "in demand." It's what this is saying about what American (or Pierce County) society thinks is important.

Our culture, ideas and values are passed on to the next generation, in part, by the stories we tell. If the stories that are told are mostly about young European-American culture and families, does this mean that Asian, Latino and African-American stories are NOT as important? Or stories of people of a certain age are insignificant? Or, are our stories important, but not "marketable"?

Either way, it's a sad commentary.

So, Java Tacoma: Episode 37 "Ashes to Ashes, Cup to Cup" is my small, modest way of telling the story of us "unmarketable" types. Imagine a play with a cast of 5. All middle-aged. Two of whom are non-white. The central characters are women.

Unmarketable? Not according to our audiences. Sure, the average audience member was middle-aged, but perhaps that tells us something. Stories about "US," whoever constitutes your "US," draws others who are like ourselves. If it's good art and good entertainment, it will also draw folks who are not like ourselves.

Java Tacoma was a success. It struck a chord, it gave our audiences a lot of belly laughs, too. And, it was a wonderful middle-aged comedy about people, regardless of race or age.

I can't wait to do the next episode. In a year, we'll do Episode 38. More middle-aged folks, and hopefully, even more ethnic folks. What a blast that will be.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Flower Drum Song: Rehearsals Optional

I have a new declaration to make: rehearsals are NOT over-rated. In fact, they are essential. Not only do I need rehearsals in order to do my best work as an actor, I need them to maintain my mental and cardio-vascular health.

Take, for instance, my most recent experiences on stage as a performer. Last year, I took part in a festival called "The Double Shot." Instant theatre, instant acting, instant stress. I believe I chronicled this nightmare in my previous blog posting.

Now fast forward to 2010. I am cast in the wonderful Rodgers and Hammerstein masterpiece "Flower Drum Song" at the Tacoma Musical Playhouse.

In TMP's production, I am asked to play a minor character, the owner of a fortune cookie factory, who appears in one brief scene. The rest of the time I am an "extra" in a couple of crowd scenes. But, for the final weekend of the show, I was the designated replacement for the role of Madame Rita Liang, a principal character who is featured in 2 solo numbers. GASP!

Hey, musical theatre has been my life-long dream, but almost never a reality, due to my weak singing voice. This opportunity, though brief, would be my dream come true.

I did everything a conscientious actor would do to prepare. I was off-book for my lines before the deadline. I ran through my scenes at home, created my character with care, and took voice training to get myself up to speed for the songs.

But, did I get to rehearse with the cast and crew of the show? Well....not really.

During the week before my performances, I got to run through my scenes with one of the actors in the cast. None of the other actors were asked to come. No orchestra. No lights, sound or costumes.

All the other elements of my performance were experienced for the first time live in front of a sold-out audience. If I thought the Double Shot Festival was stressful, Flower Drum Song was an occasion to call 911.

But, I pulled it off. My family and many of my dear friends and co-workers came to share in the moment. Most theatre folks, including the directors and fellow actors I hoped would see me in this, were not there, however. It was Mother's Day weekend, and most people were busy with other things.

In the long run, I guess it doesn't really matter how many shows I got to do, or how many people came to see it. I know I am an actor. I know I am good at what I do. Even if no one else notices, I still know these things about myself.

I also know I can do it under stressful circumstances and still do good work. I prayed a lot backstage that day. God heard me. He helped me do my best work.

I gave Him all the glory.

He's the One who deserves it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Instant Theatre: Why Not Give It A (Double) Shot?

Did this ever happen to you as a child: your mother signs you up for something (for example, summer camp, dance class, Girl Scouts, Chinese Drill Team, etc.) and you don't even find about it until the day before it's supposed to start?

Well, this didn't exactly happen to me THAT way, but it felt like it. You know, the way a sucker punch feels. No, I'm not implying that I was tricked into running for PTA president or chairing the bake sale committee ("Hey, it'll be fun! We'll all help you!")

I'm talking about the 3rd annual Double Shot Festival, sponsored by the Northwest Playwrights Alliance. Once a year, this hardy group of writers comes together to challenge themselves and to torture local Pierce County actors by putting on a weekend of instant theatre.

Here's how it works. Around 8 pm on the Thursday night before the festival begins, eight of their playwrights are given a writing prompt. They are randomly assigned to a director and a cast of actors, numbering anywhere from 2 to 5 persons. Then, these writers have 12 hours to write a 10-minute play tailor-made for their cast based on the prompt.

Then, starting at 8:30 the next morning, each director and cast is given until 7:00 that evening to rehearse, memorize and perform their play in front of a live audience. Sounds like a blast? You bet. Sounds like stress? Tell me about it!!!

I really can't say I was "signed up" for this event. Randy asked me if I was interested in participating and I agreed to it voluntarily. That was bad enough. What was worse, I talked my son Tim into doing it, too.

10 1/2 hours of grueling, on-the-spot acting and memorization. Creating a character and going through an actor's process in one short day that normally takes a professional at least 3 weeks to accomplish. Spending the day in fear that you are about to make a big fool of yourself. Walking in dread of that 7:00 hour. Wondering if it would be too horrible to walk away in shame rather than give the worst performance of one's life. I certainly hope Tim forgives me one day.

Okay, wasn't THAT bad....but, then again, maybe it was.

I've always said that I am not a "serious" actor. I do theatre for enjoyment. It's my hobby. That's all. I'm not athletic. I am only a so-so musician. I do needlework, but not too often. I rarely read for pleasure. I never watch TV. I do theatre. Now, that doesn't mean I don't take theatre seriously. On the contrary, I take the work of an actor quite seriously. But I do theatre because it brings a smile to my face.

On the other hand, Instant Theatre was not fun for me. It was stress. It was terror. It was Aya-Is-Not-A-Good-Sport-About-This.
Instant theatre is about memorizing madly, creating a character on the run and when your memory fails you on stage (and it will!!), shooting from the hip and hoping you hit the target anyway.

I realized that performing on stage is a joy, but the rehearsal process that precedes it is a wonderful gift as well. It is during rehearsals that I can make wonderful discoveries about my character and about myself. This is when I bond with my fellow actors and watch slowly as we create something magical. I want to savor each day and live each moment as someone new, someone who only existed on paper until I brought her to life.

With Instant Theatre, most of this wonderful process doesn't happen. There isn't time.

In a strange way, I am grateful for The Double Shot experience. I now know what I enjoy about theatre and I also know what I don't enjoy. I know my limits, but I know what I do well.

The Double Shot Festival is a quick cup of Folger's Instant Crystals. I prefer my coffee brewed. Slowly. With the morning news. While dressed in my fluffy bathrobe. Sipping and savoring every drop. On my day off from work so I can take my time and enjoy my java.

Don't give me that quick fix. Don't force me into an adrenaline rush. Don't make me act in a pressure cooker. Just give me an opportunity to create my art in my own way. I will take direction, but I need time to do it well. Given the right conditions, I will work hard for you.

If it's my day to work, I will give you a good day's labor. If you don't over-tax this old 50+ year-old memory, I will be off-book and ready to go by the deadline. If you make demands of me that this middle-aged woman can do (without it killing her), it will all come together and it will work.

Sigh..... I wish it really was my day off from work today. A nice, relaxing cup of coffee sounds really nice right now.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Now Seating for "The Theory of Everything"

Shortly after New Years 2009, I was contacted by one of the friendly producers with SIS Productions in Seattle. Would I be available to take over the role of Grandma May in their upcoming production, "The Theory of Everything?" They had an actor drop out.

When that call came, I was in the midst of the whirlwind, stress-filled week called "Tech Week" with Lakewood's production of "Greater Tuna," but my mind (thankfully) was sharp enough to say, yes! After all, last November I auditioned for the part of May, but was not cast.

Usually when I do not get cast in a show, I'm not that surprised. It makes sense to me that another actor might be more appropriate for a role than I. But this time, it confounded me. I was convinced that I was meant to play that role, and I couldn't quite lay it to rest.

But, here was the Mother of all Second Chances. The bus I missed turned around and came back for me. I climbed on board and took my seat. Literally. And believe it or not, I didn't get up from that seat for another 8 weeks.

Prince Gomolvilas' "The Theory of Everything" is a story about 7 Asian-Americans in Las Vegas who gather each Saturday evening to watch for UFOs. The characters come and go, making dramatic entrances and exits as they tell their tales of love, loss, dreams, hopes and confusion. All except May.

May spends the entire play seated in a lawn chair, waiting, watching, sleeping and occasionally working on a needlepoint project. She is the ever-present point of stability and constancy. She is the one who sits and observes. And boy, did I sit. And sit. And sit some more.

Immediately, I saw the advantages to this.

It was easy to learn and rehearse most of my blocking on stage. At the top of each scene, director Manuel Cawaling would point to my lawn chair and say, "May, you're sitting down." Piece of cake...

I was also able to bring in my own comfortable furniture. I have a favorite lawn chair that I used throughout the rehearsal process. Other actors envied my comfort and even attempted to "steal" the use of my chair.

I was able to rest and close my eyes during rehearsals and still be in character. After a long work day and a 45 minute commute to rehearsals, I had a hard time staying awake and energetic most evenings. What a perfect role to play, a sleeping grandma!

I was able to put into practice that tired old theatrical adage: "there are no small parts, only small actors." Sitting upstage (in the back of the stage area) in a lawn chair and saying almost no lines left me no other option than to act with my whole self. I had very few words and minimal blocking to express who May was all about. So, I learned to use my whole self to create my presence. Without the "burden" of copious lines to memorize, I was free to explore May in her entirety. They also say that "acting is REacting." I got to live that adage every night on stage. What a great learning experience!!

And most of all, I got what most actors covet: stage time. No one was on stage more than May. The Northwest Asian Weekly said that May was easily the most memorable character. I don't know about that, but she sure was the one person everyone was watching. The Seattle P-I (may it rest in peace) praised my performance as did Clearly, saying almost nothing has its advantages.

To be fair, I did get to stand up on occasion and spout some dialogue. I even got to deliver a humorous monologue at the end of the show. But, even with those lovely moments in the story, May will be remembered as the One Who Sat...and the One Who Said Very Little.

In other words, it was the perfect role for me.

So, next time some rude, thoughtless person tells you to "sit down and be quiet," don't despair. This might be your opportunity to steal the show.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Doing Our Part in "Greater Tuna"

I am sure you have heard that over-used motto about it taking a village to [insert worthy cause here]. You know, when someone wants to point out how we are "all in this together," or that we all need to do our share in this world. Most often the motto is quoted when addressing the needs of children.

It may indeed take a village to raise a child, I'm not going to question that jewel of wisdom. But, sometimes this adage must also be applied to situations beyond child-rearing and education. Because, sometimes, it takes that village to raise a Tuna.

No, I'm not talking about the kind of tuna that swims in the sea and makes good sashimi. I'm referring to Tuna, Texas, the 3rd smallest town in the Lone Star State. Well, no...not really. There really isn't any place called Tuna on a Rand-McNally map of Texas.

But in Theatre World, the Greater Tuna area is legendary...almost mythical, and Randy and I had the privilege of being in the village that raised Tuna.

When the Lakewood Playhouse announced that their managing directors Marcus Walker and Scott Campbell were planning to perform "Greater Tuna" as a fund-raiser for the theater, I immediately thought, "I could help out! I should volunteer to be the assistant stage manager."

Normally, working as a stage manager or assistant stage manager (better known as the "ASM") is not my idea of a fun way to spend 4 weekends. After all, you are usually stuck back stage with temperamental actors, grumpy stagehands and half-crazed directors and costumers barking last minute orders.

But, something inside me told me to do it anyway. You see, in the world of live theater, there are times when you get to be on stage, and there are times when you work to allow others to get on stage. This was the time, I told myself, that I should labor for another actor's glory.

Randy agreed, and quickly jumped in and volunteered to be stage manager. Whew! At least I knew I could get along with the stage manager on this project!

So, after many rehearsals, numerous production meetings and the filming of silly promotional trailers that were posted on YouTube, "Greater Tuna" was born. Marcus and Scott played all 20 characters in the show, both the males and females.

A crew of 5 dresser/changers worked backstage to make Marcus and Scott into quick-change artists. Randy called the cues from the tech booth, and I donned my walkie-talkie headset and called "places!" to our actors and crew.

We did 2 whirlwind weekends, with 6 performances per weekend. The actors worked feverishly through each show. The dressers became a well-oiled machine of costuming magic. The audiences laughed until they almost cried. "Greater Tuna" was a hit!

The fans of the Lakewood Playhouse praised Marcus and Scott's brilliant work. And rightfully so. They deserved all the credit they got. The rest of the production staff: the director, the dressers, the costumers, set and lighting designers and the stage managers were nearly invisible. Tired, ragged and worn-out, yes, but feeling like all their hard work was well worth it.

As it turns out, "Greater Tuna" was Scott's last hurrah at the Lakewood Playhouse. Two days after Tuna closed, he was notified that he got the job as head of another theater group across town. He'll soon be leaving Lakewood and will be sorely missed.

As the leaders of their respective theater companies, Marcus and Scott won't often get to be on the stage. They will usually be kept busy being those great people (better known as "producers") who work to allow others to get on stage.

I am so glad that Randy and I got to be one of the privileged few who worked to help Marcus and Scott get on stage. I was glad to be in their village... their theatrical village.

And you know what the best part of the deal was? I spent 12 performances back stage, and never once ran into any temperamental actors, grumpy stagehands or half-crazed directors or costumers. I only got to work with a terrific village full of great theater artists.

Of course, there was that grumpy assistant stage manager....don't know when I'll ever have to work with HER again........

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"The King & I" Were The Only Asian Actors in the Show!

Some goals seem impossible and unattainable. I'm not talking about the ones that involve receiving an Academy Award or winning the million dollar lotto. I'm thinking about dreams that only those who believe in fairy tales hope for.

So, because I possess a singing voice that belongs in the chorus rather than with the soloists, there are certain hopes and wishes that I never thought would ever happen for me. Playing Bloody Mary in "South Pacific," Jack's Mother in "Into the Woods" or
just about anyone in "Flower Drum Song" come to mind.

But every now and then, an impossible dream does come true. No, I didn't get cast in "Man of La Mancha" (it wasn't that impossible dream). It was even better than that. I got to play Lady Thiang in "The King & I." Yes, that wonderful role where I, the mediocre singer, had the privilege of singing "Something Wonderful," the most beautiful solo from one of my all-time favorite shows.

As a small child growing up in a world (back in the 1960's) when seeing an Asian face on the silver screen (or the television screen) almost never happened, watching the movie "The King & I" was a rare delight. It fueled my impossible dream that one day, even I could be on stage in a musical just like this. Never mind that I didn't have a singing voice anyone would pay to listen to. Forget the fact that I never even had an opportunity as a young girl to be in a play, take acting lessons or even be in a school skit. None of that mattered. This was my fantasy, and I would not be moved from it!

Then, suddenly, my "every now and then" moment arrived. No, it wasn't even that. This was my "once in a lifetime" moment: I got to live out my fondest fantasy, my impossible dream, my this-will-never-happen-to-me wish. I got to play a principal role and sing a solo in Rodgers & Hammerstein's "The King & I."

The production was full of good-hearted folks who got together every year to put on a show. No one was a professional, or even had aspirations along that road. Being in a show was just a fun, energetic way for them to spend their summer.

For me, being Lady Thiang was more than just having fun. I spent each rehearsal and every performance marveling at my good fortune. I felt unworthy to play the part. I floated on air, and my feet didn't touch the stage until the moment after we closed the show.

And how did my solos turn out? Thanks to a good sound amplification system (this was summer outdoor theater, you know), it all turned out quite well. I felt like I was born to play the part. Maybe I was right. After all, I had spent most of my life dreaming of it.

To quote from one of my other favorite Rodgers & Hammerstein show, "South Pacific," Bloody Mary tells her daughter, "You've got to have a dream. If you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?"

I may never get the chance to actually play Bloody Mary, but I was certainly able to live out her inspiring words. No, I may not be Bloody Mary, Jack's Mother, or anyone from "Flower Drum Song," but for one marvelous summer, I got to be the Queen of Siam. Now, that was something wonderful.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I Must Be "God's Favorite" Actor....

I have been a part of the Christian church for nearly my entire life. Over the years, I have served the LORD in various capacities, as a Sunday School teacher, bible study leader, church nursery worker, missions committee chairperson, official board member, singer for the Praise and Worship team, etc.

One thing I haven't done is what many churches call "drama ministry." It seems logical to some that an actor who is also a Christian would (naturally) want to use her acting skills in the context of the church. In fact, many would say that a Christian actor should only do "Christian theater" (whatever that is...) or do her acting in church.

I guess I'd have to disagree with that assumption. I have always been interested in one thing: theater. Not "Christian" theater or "educational" theater or any other label you could come up with. All I have ever wanted to do was just plain theater.

That doesn't mean, however, that I have no interest in serving God through theater. I firmly believe that a Christ-follower can glorify God through whatever talent or interest she possesses. After all, who gives us these talents and passions, but God Himself?

With this thought in mind, I carefully look around at the audition announcements out there. Once, way back in 2004, a particular announcement caught my eye. The Renton Civic Theatre was putting on a show by Neil Simon, one of my favorite playwrights. There was an interesting role in "God's Favorite," one calling for an African-American maid. The script called for African-Americans to play both the maid and the butler. Hmmmmm...

Now, we actors of color have played more than our share of household servants on stage. And I also know that when a local theater is in need of good African-American actors, they are hard to find. Not because they don't exist. They are in great demand. So, I figured, maybe the director might cast this part with an Asian maid instead.

So, I showed up to the audition, prepared not to try to portray a black woman, but an Asian one. Whew...what a stretch that would be....

I put on my best Asian immigrant accent, sharpened my rapier wit and hoped for the best. I guess it worked, thanks to an ever-open minded director, the wonderful Lee Paasch. I got cast as the (not-African-American-but-Asian-immigrant) maid and had the time of my life.

They say drama is easy, comedy is hard. Well...maybe no one has actually said that, but it is definitely what I would say. Comedy is what makes me come alive on stage. It commands all my skill as an actor (what little there is) to allow me to hit the mark. It does me good. It challenges all my senses. I love to make the audience laugh.

God opened the door for me to be a part of that show. Actually, He opens all doors that allows me to be on stage, but I could definitely see His hand in this incredible opportunity. "God's Favorite" is a story about a man who is convinced that he is chosen by God to show the world (or at least New York City) God's love and power. I may not be God's Chosen One, but I am convinced that I got on stage this time for a reason.

God is love. God is salvation. God is great. And sometimes, God is humor. Humor, you say? Well, that's a concept not everyone gets. But Neil Simon gets it, and so do I. Some of God's servants can move you and inspire you. I like to think I am one of His servants who can entertain you and make you laugh.

Yes, I can also teach His word through bible study. I also would like to think that I could deliver one heck of a sermon, if ever given the chance. But, when I am given the privilege of being on stage (especially in a comedy), I truly believe I fulfill who God made me to be. He gave me my sense of humor, my interest in theater, my comic timing and my love of comedy. What better way to glorify Him than to use the best parts of me?

Some folks are moved by deep, serious drama. Not me. Give me a good comedy any day. After all, there will be much rejoicing and laughter in heaven one day. Might as well get started now....

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Year I Had "Sex in Seattle"

Every once in a while, things just fall into place when you're not even trying. Sometimes when all you're doing in life is minding your own business, along comes opportunity, knocking on your long-neglected door.

This was one of those times. I was taking one of my long "breaks" (translation: I wasn't auditioning for any shows, and wasn't even planning to), when an email landed in my inbox.

"We would like to invite you to read one of the parts during a workshop reading of our next episode of Sex in Seattle." .......Wow....just like that.

Now, reading a role in a workshop reading is usually not a really big deal. But, for those who are wondering why this really is a big deal and why I would get involved in a show whose title sounds a bit like porn, let me explain.

"Sex in Seattle" is the marvelous creation of some talented and enterprising Asian-American actors. Tired of being left out of opportunities to perform in productions that don't require "Oriental characters" in them, these actors donned their playwright and producer hats, and created a long-running theatrical series about the lives and loves of 4 contemporary Asian-American women.

SIS has become such a hit, it has been running for over 7 years! Like its television counterpart, Sex in the City, SIS is smart, sassy, funny and fast-paced. But, I always thought I was too old to be a part of such a whirlwind of cutting-edge coolness. I was wrong.

I read the part of Mrs. Ko, the Chinese-born mother to Elizabeth, one of the four leading ladies. The play was downright hilarious, and probably one of the best episodes I had seen (I had seen several). I'd been a fan of the series for a long time, so what a kick it was to be a part of its workshop process.

Later that night, after returning home, I received an email inviting me to play the part "for real" when the next episode is performed on stage! Whew! How could I resist?

For most of my theatrical life, getting a role on stage has been an uphill climb, or so it seems. I carefully choose which roles I will audition for, hedging my bets as to which plays, roles, directors and theaters might offer the best odds of using someone like me in their production.

Usually, when I am auditioning for a role that is not written for an Asian character, I feel the climb up that hill is pretty steep. After all, I don't "look" the part, and might have to work extra hard to convince the director that I could convincingly be that person in the play.

When I audition for an Asian role, I am up against some of my stiffest competition. The Asian actor's pool in Seattle is talented, hard-working and doesn't give up easily. Many of the roles I have lost out on have been to my Asian-American sisters in theatre. Being a non-competitive type of person, the "fight" to get roles is especially hard for me.

But, here I was, being invited to play a marvelous part in a hit show! No audition, no competition, no 2-contrasting-monologues-then-a-cold-reading-from-the-script. Just a simple, gracious invitation by SIS director Miko Premo.

Wonderful roles usually aren't offered to you on that proverbial silver platter, but this time it was. And the platter offered so much more than just a nice opportunity to be on stage. I was in a sexy show with attitude and lots of laughs. I got my picture on the cover of a local magazine. I was able to reprise my role in a video clip 2 episodes later. I got to be a part of a local cultural phenomenon. I got to be cool and sexy.

Okay, maybe I wasn't the one who was cool and sexy. After all, I was pushing 50, and playing someone's Mom. But I was in "Sex in Seattle," so that made me cool and association, at least.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Macbeth: The Bearded Scottish Tragedy

My husband Randy and I were doing a bit of shopping one fine afternoon when that fateful call (you know, the one all actors wait longingly for!!) came on his cell phone. I didn't need more than one guess as to who it was.

Randy looked over at me, his cellular flip phone still pressed to his ear, and asked, "Scott (Macbeth director Scott Campbell) is offering me a part in Macbeth. Should I take it?" Silly question. Randy happily accepted the part of Ross, a Scottish nobleman, and practically sang all the way home.

But, after the initial excitement of knowing he had just been cast in a show had passed, Randy soon became pensive. I could tell he was planning...contemplating...deciding. He came to me, sat down and made his careful, almost apologetic declaration. "I think I will have to grow a beard."

A beard.....sigh.

It could have been worse, I suppose. Randy might have been cast in "Annie," playing Daddy Warbucks, which would have obligated him to shave his head. So, a beard is certainly not the real tragedy in this story. The murders of King Duncan, Banquo, Lady Macduff and her son, now THAT is tragic. A beard is simply a temporary dramatic device.

It started out well enough. The five o'clock shadow that soon developed was rather becoming on him. It gave him that rugged look, in the same way that Don Johnson made the "unkept face" look chic during his Miami Vice days.
Soon, as the beard grew more pronounced, I noticed that the hairs did not match the medium brown on his head. The beard was gray. Actually, white, to be exact. No longer was Randy given to the Miami Vice look. He now passed over to the Old Man look.

I tried to see the light side of things. I joked that Randy was now an old geezer, and I was his trophy wife. I stroked his beard and threatened to put a ribbon in it and make it into a ponytail on the chin. I told him I looked forward to the day that I would no longer be married to Santa Claus. And so it after day looking at a man I no longer recognized.....wondering who this fellow with a strange profile was sleeping next to me at night....wanting to ask this elderly gentleman, "Who are you and what have you done with my husband Randy?"

But, after weeks of rehearsals and agonizing over his Shakespearean dialogue, it was finally opening night. My brother Ko and I sat in my favorite section of the house at the Lakewood Playhouse (section I, second row). The set design was wonderful, with the Birnam Wood recreated simply and beautifully.

As the lights went up, the marvelously costumed actors took the stage and spirited us away to a far away land in a long ago time. As the beauty of Shakespeare's language mesmerized us, I was transported to a magical world of swordplay, royal ceremony and witch's brew.

Then, a handsome old man entered the story. It was Randy! How fitting he was, so much a natural part of the tale, with his kilt, his walking staff...and his beard. What was "unfitting" in Tacoma, Washington was now a thing of beauty in Macbeth's kingdom of Scotland. Randy was so regal, so handsome!

After the final curtain call, the spell had broken. Macbeth had been murdered by Macduff, the Thane of Fife. Malcolm ascended to the throne of his murdered father, King Duncan. All of Scotland began to hope anew. Randy and I went back home to our cozy condo overlooking Commencement Bay in Tacoma.
I looked at my talented actor/husband and again marveled at his beard. With his 21st century clothing back on, I gazed upon the Man Who Would Be Ross. So handsome. So strong. So noble. So......gray.

Yep. I can't wait until closing day of this show, when the razor comes out and gives me back my husband. Shakespeare's Macbeth may be magical, but I sure do miss my handsome, clean-shaven Randy.
All I can think to say is, "Out, damn beard! Out, I say."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Once on This Island, I Was a Shrub

A call came on my cell phone one afternoon. It was Marcus Walker, the managing artistic director of The Lakewood Playhouse. "Have you thought about auditioning for our production of 'Once on This Island?'" he asked. "No," I said. "Why not?" inquired Marcus. "Because I'm not black," I informed him. "Well, that doesn't matter. We're thinking of having a multicultural cast," he countered.

"Hmmmm," I thought, "I'm not so sure about this." But, whenever a director invites me to audition for a show, I consider it good form to show up to the audition. After all, it is usually meant as a compliment when you are invited to try-outs.

For those not familiar with the show, "Once on This Island" is a tale that takes place on a mythical Caribbean island, populated by dark skinned people. One glance in the mirror made it clear that I didn't exactly qualify on that count. But, it seems that at least one theater director in town thought otherwise.

Apparently, the person whom he hired to direct the show also thought otherwise. "Island" director Julie Halpin offered me a part in the a member of the company who portrayed everything from a light-skinned black woman to a dark-skinned peasant. I even played inanimate objects, such as a gate, a shrub, and a tree.

Oh, and let's not forget some of the other aspects of the show that stretched my skill and imagination. As a minimally-trained dancer (in other words, ballet lessons as a small child and tap dance classes in college), I found myself as a fifty-something "dancer" jumping, twirling and shaking along side kids less than half my age. Age is irrelevant, you say? Perhaps, but let's not forget the injured back and menopausal hot flashes that bring me endless discomfort and pain. But, I danced, I sang (did I mention the sore throat that required antibiotics to heal?) and I blossomed (I played a tree and shrub, after all....)!

There was a valuable lesson to be learned there. We actors are always moaning about how directors tend to typecast us. You know, always casting us in the same type of roles, never letting us stretch our artistic boundaries in new and different ways.
I realized that I had kind of done the same thing to myself. I am an Asian actor, a female actor, a character actor....but the common word here is ACTOR.

I once read a quote attributed to Whoopi Goldberg. "An actress can only play a woman. I am an actor. I can play anything."
Anything...including a flowering bush.

So, what limits am I putting on myself? What experiences am I denying myself because of those self-imposed limitations? Good questions.
What can I do to help rid myself of these barriers? I may not know the answer to that one, but it has gotten me thinking, planning and dreaming. I am seeing past the image in the mirror and exploring what is inside me.

Most importantly, though, when I hear of a new and different opportunity for a role that I am totally wrong for, I may just audition for it anyway.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Our Town, Our Marriage

Long, long ago in the year 2006, I somehow got myself cast in Thornton Wilder's play, "Our Town" at the Lakewood Playhouse.

Don't ask me how that happened. It's a long story. You see, we actors of color usually stay as far away as we can from auditioning for shows like this. "Our Town," which takes place in rural New Hampshire in 1901, doesn't exactly conjure up images of a multicultural society. Well..perhaps there might have been an occasional non-white house servant, but other than that, Grover's Corners, NH is normally seen as a White Bread kind of town.

But, thanks to an enlightened director, Doug Kerr, who sees past an actor's color when casting a show, I found myself playing Mrs. Myrtle Webb, and the only non-white actor in the production.
And I am so glad he chose me. But, not for the reasons you might suspect. wasn't because I appreciated the opportunity to perform in a classic piece of American literature. And it wasn't because I relished the thought of racially integrating the cast, or making a "statement" about what it means to be an American.

It was much more self-centered than that. When I became Mrs. Webb, something beautiful happened. I had the pleasure of playing opposite a wonderful actor named Randy Clark who played my husband Editor Webb. Sparks flew, and we fell in love, both on and off stage. 10 months later, we were married. It was a dream come true.

You've heard all those Hollywood couple names: TomKat, Brangelina, Bennifer? Well, we have become RandAya.
Corny, yes. But it perfectly describes how we feel. We both love acting. We love the theatre. We love the stage. Most of all, we love being RandAya.

Who knew that an "old chestnut" of a play that is usually performed by mostly high school drama clubs could bring me such happiness?

Thornton Wilder never knew what a matchmaker he is. He just thought he was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.