Tell us about the character you play, and how can you relate to her. Is there any part of STEEL MAGNOLIAS that resonates with you as an actor, or personally?
Ouiser Boudreaux got no thanks for opening her heart and womb, so they snapped shut. But she forges on, doing what she thinks is right. I ran away from home when I was 15. Yes, a very bold thing for an Asian American girl to do. Strangers took me in, fed me, gave me money, solace and friendship during that time. From then on, it never occurred to me to be anything but open and generous to others. I’ve shared my home, heart, friendship and helped many people get work. For that, some never thanked me and worse yet, stabbed me in the back. Many times. I would have been justified in slamming my door shut. But I didn’t want the bad behavior of others to cause me to slam my door shut.
This is where I identify with Ouiser. She did everything right, only to have it turn out wrong. But she hangs onto her values, even if it’s a struggle to live through each day. Then the universe rewards her, by giving her love in the form of Owen Jenkins, “a blast from the past”.
What challenges, if any, have you faced with playing your character?
I trained at HB Studio in NY many years ago. I continue to take all kinds of classes because I love learning. During the summer, I was in a seven-week full-time musical theatre intensive at Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York. I have been an actor most of my life and am now a different person than I was at 20. I wanted to really dig deep to discover and explore those changes. Alan Langdon, one of the acting teachers in the program (who was Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s acting teacher), talked of doing scenes and shows as “a journey to yourself.” And if our work is fruitful and we are brave enough, we can share that revelation with audiences. As our wonderful director Laurie Woolery says, “It’s about bringing our humanity to these roles and relationships.”
What distinguishes this production or role you have compare to other characters you’ve played in the past?
I enjoy doing comedy and always thought it was something I did well. Surprisingly, I’ve done very few sitcoms or comedies on stage. I even wrote a comedy that became a sitcom pilot but for some reason, rarely got the chance to do much comedy.
I finally made a webisode called, “Miss Mah Poo,” a take off on Miss Marple, so I could do some comedy.The three other shows I’ve done at East West Players were “The Chairman’s Wife,” by Wakako Yamauchi, where I played Madame Mao Tse Tung; “The Joy Luck Club,” by Amy Tan; and “A Little Night Music,” by Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim. I think doing all-female productions have a different energy. It’s cozy and relaxed. “The Joy Luck Club” was mostly women and “The House of Bernarda Alba,” which I did at the Mark Taper Forum, was 16 women, with the fabulous Chita Rivera at the helm.
Why do you think theater is important?
Theater is an intimate experience. It’s like getting to witness a shared humanity in person. The people aren’t bigger than life, there’s nobody there to cut to an establishing shot. You’re right in their living room, in their neighborhood or in the beauty shop they go to every Saturday. It’s like spending an evening feeling your feelings with the characters who are living them on stage. The characters in plays are regular people in regular circumstances that become extraordinary. They are you and I. I go to theater a lot. If it’s 7:00 and I don’t have anything I have to do, I look for a show to see. With the time limits of when I’m in NY, I might see five shows in one weekend. I just love the feeling of the lights going down and come up on the Petri dish we are going to examine that night. It’s fascinating and I never tire of it.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to pursue acting?
If acting is something that calls to you, follow it. Follow whatever calls to you. Don’t let logic or external advice stand in your way. It’s a tough road, but it will call upon you to examine your own humanity. It will call upon you to train and continue training to not only hone your skills—acting, singing, dance, study of literature, art, music—but to learn anything you can, so you’ll have things to express. Imagine training as a violinist with no music you’re inspired to play! Stick your ego in your back pocket and throw yourself into learning, rather than looking for praise.
Anything else you’d like to share?
In a recent conversation with our wonderful voice and dialect teacher Leslie Ishii for “Steel Magnolias,” I said other theatres have created “labs” for minorities to develop plays. However, most of those never make it to the main stage. This reinforces the idea that people will foster your ideas and creativity but underscore the fact that it’s not good enough to be put on the main stage. This is where the existence of theatres that cast and do Asian or Asian Pacific Islander material is vital. It allows us to stand up and be seen and valued.
How can fans stay updated about your projects?
Fans can see my demo reel and short films I’ve made by searching for Karen Huie on Youtube or Funnyordie.com