Why this blog?
So here's the thing. I'm a performer and emerging playwright. I have a lot to say and I'm hoping to put it in my plays and on this page. And sometimes I get super frustrated when I see a musical, play, movie or TV show and there's this severe lack of representation. I consume a lot of media and thankfully things are starting to move in the right direction, but when I talk about inclusion I'd like you to start thinking about the term radical inclusion. I have had a fortuitous life and I've connected with all sorts of lovely artists; artists who are Deaf, artists who are hard of hearing, artists who use an accessibility device like a wheelchair, artists who are non-binary, artists who are stroke survivors, and the list goes on and on. If these folx are generous enough to offer some wisdom, I am hoping to include it here. I wanted to create a space where I shine a light on these artists and perhaps change some minds and start more important discussions about true diversity, integration, inclusion, accessibility and how our industry needs to push itself further to allow more humans to flourish.
Also, this blog is imperfect and that's the way I like it. Perfect is boring.
"There is so much that able-bodied people could learn from the wisdom that often comes with disability. But space needs to be made. Hands need to be reached out. People need to be lifted up."
- A.H. Reaume
I am constantly trying to impress white people...
Let me explain. My college auditions. My summer stock auditions. The majority of my instructors and peers at NYU. My ex-manager. My ex-agents. My current agents. My current manager. My audiences, particularly regional theater audiences. The people behind the table at my auditions as a professional actor. My writing teacher. My writing classmates. The vast majority of them are white. Now I'm not making this point to make white people feel BAD. I just want to give you a better sense of how a queer, AAPI artist has felt his entire career. Most of the gatekeepers I have come into contact with have been white and that has fucked with my psyche. I have been programmed to feel as though I NEED to impress white people in order to excel in this business.
If you're a white person reading this, just imagine how it would feel if all your job interviews, training and peer reviews consisted of mostly Asian people watching you, asking you questions, coaching you, telling you how to do your job, etc. And imagine that continued for twenty years or so. That'd feel kinda weird to you, wouldn't it?
I did a show called VIETGONE in 2021 and it was significant because it was the very first time I was in a show with an entirely AAPI cast. The majority of our audiences were white. I remember feeling small and apologetic during our first preview. Why? Cuz the little white supremacy seed that was planted in my head from years ago continues to be watered whenever I'm reminded that white people saturate this industry, onstage and in regional houses. Thank Jeebus I had a fierce, MENASA lady director who told me (I'm probably paraphrasing), "Don't do it for the white people. Do it for you and your cast." I needed that kind of encouragement that acknowledged my inner struggle that is rarely discussed. Anyhoo, after that first preview I fucking slayed that show. I was a rockstar and I made zero apologies for existing and taking up space on stage.
So after almost two decades doing professional acting work, it's crazy how I am just now really stepping into my artistry and tackling the white supremacist idealogy that has been instilled in my head. I have often centered the feelings of white people as a performer, but I have come to realize that to be the best artist I can be, I have to center myself. Give less fucks. I'm not trying to impress anyone anymore. I'm going to be an artist for me from now on. Yay.
I picked up this book on a whim and it's been extremely valuable when writing characters who use the pronoun "they/them." Also, a handful of my friends are non-binary and this helps me understand them much more.
It will also give you a few giggles!
The Broadway show that changed me was...
the Deaf West production of Spring Awakening! So listen, I enjoyed the original 2006 production and was obsessed with that cast album... But seeing this musical revived in 2015 with Deaf and hearing humans integrated on stage was profound and somehow offered more clarity in the storytelling. I had previously thought signing was simply, "talking with your hands," but it is so much more. Humans who use ASL (American Sign Language) to communicate also use their eyes, cheeks, unique signing style and facial expressions. Additionally, it was the first time I had ever seen a wheelchair using actor exist on a Broadway stage. Epic.
After seeing the revival (twice) I desperately felt the urge to tell these Deaf actors how amazing they were, but I didn't know ASL. So I Google searched where I could learn and discovered The Sign Language Center. My first class was intimidating, but we started with very basic signs; the alphabet, colors, shapes... It kinda felt like adult kindergarten! There was no pressure to get it all right, but one thing that teachers at SLC really encouraged was to keep trying, no matter how challenging it got. Trying, learning, fucking up, repeat... Before you know it, my one semester turned into four and I continued to soak up whatever my Deaf teachers generously offered me as a hearing person.
In addition to learning the language, my teachers shared stories about how they faced discrimination, how the hearing community has historically tried to deprive them of their language and how navigating a (mostly) hearing world can be extremely challenging. Deaf culture is rich and vibrant and I'm continuing to learn more. I'm currently reading Nyle DiMarco's Deaf Utopia and loving it so far.
I hope I never stop being curious.