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Tuesday January 1, 2002

New Vistas: Acting on Your Dreams

Christine Lee

"It's one of the tragic ironies of the theatre that only one man in it can count on steady work--the night watchman" --Tallulah Bankhead

A career in arts is far from an easy stroll - from landing a lucky break to running a production crew, these jobs initially offer few financial rewards and require a long, persistent journey for most.

For Asian Americans, a career in theatre offers other obstacles including overcoming stereotypes to finding an interested audience. The following is a brief account of a few Asian Americans who have found their own niche in theatre.

Currently serving as the Executive Director at Contemporary Asian Theatre Scene (CATS), Christine Padilla's typical day can vary from coordinating marketing efforts to business development to preparing for an upcoming show. CATS is a San Jose, Calif.-based, nonprofit theatre presenter, and aims to present theatrical works dealing with contemporary Asian-American issues and concerns of the community at large. Padilla's main focus was previously in music and events marketing, but she became involved with CATS after working with them through the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA) on the Asian American festival last year.

Pamela Wu, producing director at the San Francisco-based Asian American Theatre Company (AATC) said theatre can be instrumental in raising community awareness. 'Asian American theatre is very important in that we don't see a great deal of movies being produced by and for Asian Americans. My particular wants when looking at plays is that it's written by an Asian American and has Asian Americans in it.' Wu's responsibilities as producing director include selecting plays for production and running the workshops the theatre provides.

The fact that there are few highly recognized Asian Americans in mainstream film and theatre makes theatre groups such as CATS and AATC instrumental in providing an outlet for Asian Americans to express their stories and perspectives. Many Asian American actors/actresses become frustrated by the lack of Asian-American roles in mainstream theatre. 'There just aren't that many opportunities for Asian American actors and the roles are very limited,' said Paul Juhn, an actor and writer in New York City. 'I have gone in for movies and TV shows, but most have this Asian slant to it, are very ethnic, and, yes, require an accent. I've even had experiences where I didn't look 'ethnic' enough.'

So how do aspiring artists go about getting into theatre?

Having a good agent who understands your goals is important. 'I am fortunate enough to have an agent who works for and sends me out,' Juhn said. 'I typically average two auditions a week, but right now is sort of a down time.' In the meantime, expect to work odd jobs to keep your bills paid. When all else fails, start your own group ? like Juhn. 'It's about empowering oneself. No one in this industry is going to write the perfect role for you. Some friends of mine and I started a theatre company last year called Mellow Yellow Theatre Company. Our focus is bringing in work that is now, and more than just the experiences of Asian Americans coming over to America. We're here. Now what happens?'

For writers who are looking to get published, the Asian American Theater Company is listed in writers' associations and with Asian American professors. 'I also speak with literary managers and many scripts get passed along that way,' Wu said. 'The most important thing is to make sure to get training, whether its through a theatre program or classes.' And while training is important, networking remains critical. 'Just go hang out at one of the theatres. If you are here ushering and helping out, and mention a play that you have, you have a better shot because you have had some personal contact,' Wu said.

Padilla also stresses the importance of networking, 'Stay involved with the community, network and go to as many events as possible. The Asian-American arts community is extremely supportive,' she said. 'Check out the different grassroots efforts in Asian American arts and get involved.'

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