Tell us about the character you play, and how can you relate to him/her. Is there any part of Chess that resonates with you as an actor, or personally?
I’m the Spirit of Chess. I embody the idea that the world is controlled by a spiritual being who is temperamental, mercurial, full of joy and lives in the moment. She does not judge. She is playful when she moves through the human world. The spirit is basically a more mischievous version of me (although I am not as spontaneous as Spirit and do not have magic powers).
I grew up surrounded by many saints and gods (Jesus, Buddha) – my Chinese mom hasmany good luck charms and believes in them. I believe that there are spirits, fairies and energies that lives among us. The spirit takes many different forms and when summoned, will appear – so be careful what you wish for!
What challenges, if any, have you faced with playing your character?
In Act 2, the spirit of Chess is in the form of a Thai goddess. My challenge is balancing the headpiece (it’s quite heavy) while doing Thai-inspired movement. During the show, there are moments where I wish my character could disappear, have multiple arms, become the wind. The lack of special effects in the show challenges me to find creative ways to express the Spirit.
What distinguishes this production or role you have compared to other characters you’ve played in the past?
I am grateful to Marc Oka, our choreographer, and Tim Dang, our director, for giving me this amazing role where they have entrusted me with the creative freedom to improvise my dance solos. In a way, this role is like a Cirque du Soleil dream, where I can play a character that moves the show. Improvising is such a thrill, and thus, every show is different. My ability to improvise is honed from having had the opportunity to do creation with Franco Dragon for Celine Dion’s A New Day, which was the last time I did extensive dance improvisation. The difference is, this time, I have more stage time where the stage is mine and the feeling is immensely gratifying. I am responsible for setting the tone at the start of the show and inviting the audience to enter this world. This is a first and I LOVE IT.
What made you want to pursue acting?
Song and dance is part of my Filipino upbringing but I am the only one in my family to pursue it. I fell in love with ballet, a form of acting, when I saw it on TV at a very young age. After what seems like months of begging, I started training in ballet and had my first onstage experience at age 7 in The Nutcracker. I have been on the stage ever since, and in rehearsals for most of my life. I had always loved musical theater growing up but didn’t connect with the idea that I could do it until I saw musicals with multicultural casts (thank you East West Players!). My transition to theater from ballet was very easy; being onstage is very natural to me. I did my first musical, Oklahoma! at UC Irvine, the only ethnic female. I love playing different characters, especially where I can wear amazing costumes.
Have you ever faced adversity in your career, and if so, how?
Like in everything, there are good days and there are challenging days. Rejection is part of the audition game. All you can do is do your best and then move on. The difference between dance and musical theater is that dance doesn’t care about what color your skin is as much as theater; you just have to be able to do it. Also, joining the union last year, despite some perks (such as insurance), has its challenges in a down economy when shows and theatre companies are slashing their budgets and limiting union members. I am grateful to Tim Dang and the team at East West Players for this amazing opportunity. And in every job, there is always politics and you just have to learn to work with it.
Any advice you’d give to actors just starting out?
You must truly love the art- even if you’re not acting or in something, create something! Take classes and become an expert in your art. Be passionate and have consideration for others. Show up to audition (all the good ones still audition), be in their face and don’t give up. Have good manners and don’t be late. Make it a routine. My motto is: everything to share and nothing to prove.
What’s in store for you after Chess?
I was asked to do The King and I in Wichita, Kansas (finally! Usually I find that onlymen are invited to do a guest artist contract.). You can see my sword fighting skills as Kunoichi, Ninja in www.WomenFantasyBattles.com where viewers can choose the ending (choose me!). I am going to Macau, China to do Miss Saigon with McCoy Rigby Productions in the fall. I am also working on my passion project (a product invention launching at specialty stores and boutiques) and organizing an event for charity (I will have a hugging booth at Market Days in Chicago, August 10-11 where proceedswill go to charity- I’m still deciding which one). If you are passionate about a charity or would like to volunteer/help, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Anything else you’d like to share?
Dream and then do. Find balance. Exercise and be healthy (I still go to ballet class and I love my chocolate cake). Travel the world and open your heart to new experiences. I love my life. I am grateful to my supportive family, friends, doctors/chiropractors, and coaches.
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