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. Writing my thoughts through this blog is just good practice and perhaps it will enlighten you or change your perspective. In a nutshell, I'd like us to start thinking more about radical inclusion and intersectional activism. There are so many artists who have been marginalized because of white supremacist/patriarchal ideology and it's a damn shame.
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, API 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 play (non-musical) with an entirely API 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 the culture." 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 of 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.
Never stop being curious, folx!
Ah, triggering. It can be such a tricky thing. Something that often triggers me is when non-API folx do some kind of generic Asian accent in my presence. I don't know if it's their attempt to be funny, to find some strange common ground with me or maybe they just want to piss me off. Whatever the reason may be, it always makes me cringe and I often pretend it didn't happen. Years ago I had been in rehearsals for an all API production of Hello Dolly! Like most actors, I work multiple jobs. During a catering shift I was chatting with a friend about the production and along comes my catering captain, an incredibly unpleasant, white-passing, queer human who I constantly tried to avoid. They barge into the conversation and say, "Oh! You're in that production of HERRO DORRY?"
Hmm, what to say to that? Lemme tell you what goes through my head when something like this happens. One part of me wants to fuck some shit up and call out this person's blatant racism and humiliate them in hopes they feel great shame over what they have done (Harsh, Andrew... Harsh). The other part of me just wants to run away and go hide in a hole somewhere. Let's be honest though; everyone gets triggered in life. EVERYONE. I know someone very close to me who gets triggered when someone whistles. The reason why is a sad story and I won't share it here because it's not my story to tell. Anyway, what to do when we get triggered is different for everyone.
I recently took a writing class and one of my peers asked, "Why is this character Middle Eastern?" when discussing my pages from a play I wrote. It triggered me. Why? Because I guarantee you, if the character in my play was white, no one would dare ask, "Why is this character white?"
Something that I have really felt empowered about lately is expressing myself when things don't sit well with me. The version of me right now is better equipped when I'm faced with a challenge. If someone triggers me and I know this person, I'm going to try to articulate, calmly, why it's harmful and how it makes me feel. It's up to the other person to accept my feedback... or not. And folx, I know these conversations are not easy to have, but they are important if we want things to change.
Because of my new awareness in regards to radical inclusion, I often get triggered in new ways. For example, when I go see a musical and everyone is thin and non disabled, it triggers me. When I watch a movie and everyone who has lines is a white person, it triggers me. When someone makes a stroke joke or imitates a Deaf or blind human, it triggers me. A lot of pop culture humor is rooted in ableism, racism, misogyny and homophobia. It's a nuanced discussion for sure.
But what does this mean? Am I not allowed to enjoy anything anymore because of this new awareness? I don't really see it that way. I very much still enjoy going to the theater or the movies, but I take this newfound awareness as an opportunity to push for more change. Radical change is necessary and it will only benefit our problematic thinking and the broken systems in place.
So as we strive to be more anti-racist, I'm going go ahead and challenge you to be more anti-ableist.
Think about it.
Let's talk triggering!
My buddy Marc Rosen passed away recently and I am grieving. Wanted to share one of many poems he wrote. He was in law school in hopes of being a disability rights lawyer.
To Autism Speaks
You say "We have to find a cure!"
A cure? For what?
Is it a cure for who I am?
Is it a cure for what I am?
Is it a cure for what I can be?
If not any of those, then what do you hate?
Is it because you hate my differences?
Is it because you hate that I'm not you?
Is my difference such a crime that it must be destroyed?
Better yet, can you tell me WHY?
Why do you hate me?
Why can't I exist as I am?
Why do you have to "cure" my healthy mind?
Why do you have to treat me as inhuman?
Who are you trying to help?
Is it the fetus you screen out and abort for having
the wrong genes?
Is it the adult you allow to die through your silence?
Is it the hole in your heart which you stain with your cruelty?
Do you blame a vaccine for my existence?
Am I some freak of science who has no right to exist?
Am I nothing more than the shadow
of your own twisted heart?
Do I only exist to remind you that
you can't live your life through mine?
Do I hold any value to you other than as a symbol of all you hate?
Or is it just that you fear that
you are one of my brethren?
That the very things you have spoken of as filth and disease
could actually hold purpose, value, and worth?
Would I then be nothing more
than your horrifying fun-house mirror?
These questions I pose to you, oh all-knowing "normal" people.
You say you speak for me, so why not give me some answers?