I’m struggling.

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It’s been a pretty rough month. First, the trivial: I am getting my ass whupped in Fantasy Football (49ers suuuck, so long playoffs), as well as the most current – my poor parked car got smashed Saturday night. I woke up Sunday morning to see the hubcaps leaning against their naked tires along with the entire left side scraped and dented. Claim agent said it looked like a drunk driver in a big car, slammed in my car and ran. I blame Saturday night, Dodgers winning and myself for parking in a corner of a busy, two Stop signs intersection. SIGH. THE IRONY: it was a parking spot RIGHT in front of my apartment! I knew the busy intersection well but I took the chance because parking in KTOWN is an achievement in itself. AND I stayed in Saturday night to prevent myself from going out and spending money. INSTEAD, I’ll be paying a steep deductible to get my car fixed as well as losing the expensive buy in for my Fantasy league.

Circumstantially, I’m struggling. 

Also, it was my birthday at the top of the month. I chose not to cry this year, which I didn’t. I splurged on a birthday tattoo and after it was done, I HAD NO BUYER’S REMORSE. I spent a lot on the artist and his design aesthetic and I love my tattoo. You can call me boojie, but I needed to treat myself externally so it’d distract me from what I felt internally.

Emotionally, I’m struggling. 

I’ve been going through some family drama. In such emotional turmoil and angst, I had a moment of clarity one morning. I suddenly found an explanation to my birthday blues and to my desperate need to be an actor. Yes, I didn’t cry this year on my birthday (nor last year — let’s celebrate the little successes) but it didn’t mean I wasn’t wary of my birthday.

I have a complicated relationship with my mother. I follow the usual trope of “my parents really fucked me up,” and I’ve grown up broken. Look, I am a firm believer of what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger and I refuse to be a victim of circumstance, but after years where suffering and brokenness are compounded on top of each other, it’s easy to feel weighed down and drowning all the fucking time.

My mother made it known early on that me and my sisters were a burden. As a child, I felt the complete reluctance when I wanted my birthday party at Chuck E’ Cheese. During the party, my mom frowned the entire time, worrying about the increasing total cost and never failed to remind me how much time, effort and money she put in this little party. I never had a birthday party after that.

This is just one example of my relationship with my mom, and yet it’s indicative of the underlying conflict I have with her. Here’s a woman that gave me life and yet showed distain in the mere obligation of raising me.

Hindsight is a gift and I know as an adult she had a lot going on. She was a Viet Nam refugee, uprooting her life to a foreign country, working full time, going to school at night while raising 3 kids in a one bedroom apartment for a good 10 years. Because of hindsight, I can forgive my mom and let any resentment towards her go.

But as a child when I wasn’t able to make sense of what I was feeling, that feeling that I didn’t matter left a very lasting scar into adulthood. That’s why I feel the way I feel towards my birthday. I don’t matter, so why celebrate? I’ll just take up space and waste people’s time and money.

It’s interesting to note that I also tend to fall for guys that don’t value me and easily discard me. Last year I was ghosted and the year before that, I was just another ho on his ho-tation. Maybe it’s a Freudian slip, and I like guys that remind me of my mother, because they give me this feeling that I don’t matter, a feeling I’m all too familiar with. And I’m confusing familiarity with love. Isn’t that sad?

So what does this have to do with acting? Where’s the connection. For a story to affect me so emotionally to the point that it’ll guide my life long decisions, where its characters were the contributive factor to this, shows me that they matter. They are essential and necessary. You can’t have Indiana Jones without Indiana. You can’t have Star Wars without Han Solo. YOU JUST CAN’T. THEY FUCKING MATTER.

So, unconsciously I wanted to be an actor to matter.  I wanted to be integral to a story that could affect people’s hearts and minds. And then they’d remember me, value me and maybe want me.

But no one ever told me just how emotionally taxing it would be.

Emotionally, I’ve BEEN struggling. 

It is hard to compete in this industry, let alone in this world right now. Where superficial, immoral and antagonist people win without any consequences, it’s hard to find a place where I fit and won’t lose my soul. Why, why are shitty movies being made? Why are unskilled influencers getting paid beaucoup money? Why is the GOP so hateful and yet have all the power? I’ve been frustrated with myself for wanting so desperately to eat at the cool kids table, knowing full well they are soulless and corrupt. And I know full well that I’d defy them and refuse to abide by their standards (or lack thereof). And yet, I am lamenting at my circumstantial brokenness because it feels almost like a punishment to want to be good and fair and free.

I have been feeling like I just don’t fit anywhere in this world. And my circumstances have reiterated that feeling. I’ve been going to therapy to reconcile this internal conflict as well as to turn off the noise. To me, it is such an overwhelming problem and yet my therapist said this so easily, “Your brilliance is not meant to fit.”

I question the validity of this statement because emotionally it’s not ringing true to me. I’ve never thought of myself as brilliant so to believe it is too far a leap to make. And to hear that I was never meant to fit is hard to accept because for so long I’ve wanted to belong and yet never questioned if I ever should.

EVERYDAY, I’m struggling. 

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Representation Matters

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Photo by Olenka Kotyk on Unsplash

They’re blond, they’re pale and their problems all get solved, resolved. Laugh track in the back, everything’s fine and they hug it out. Everything ends on time. Everything fits in the 30 minute slot, once a week, prime time.

It’s not just a TV show, it’s not just about a functional extended family fun full house florescent glow, it’s a window. For an impressionable young and dumb kid, this window was a glimpse into what she thought was reality. Not fiction, but a depiction of actuality. An understanding of what was acceptable, desired and admired.

And then she compares herself and ultimately cries in despair. Because as she looks from one surface to another, a TV screen to a mirror, she notices, they don’t match. She’s not pale, she’s not blond. Eyes shaped almond, not big and round. Family far from functional, she concludes, White is right and I am wrong. 

As time passes and progresses, this kid’s growth is stunted, regresses. She’s taller in height, and her physical size expands, and yet she stands, stooped. Back bent, eyes down, arms curled in as she attempts to take up less space, a girl with no face. Lacking in self worth and self confidence, the overwhelming monolithic, prolific, ubiquitous monster of a beast of the media has pushed her to resist her own existence, because it’s loud and clear, there’s no space for her here. I don’t belong, I don’t fit, so let’s just make myself disappear. 

You Never Know

So with my last post I had said that the director gave me the kiss of death, “You’re so cute,” as consolation for not getting a part in the show I had come in to audition for that day. However, though I wasn’t a good fit for that particular show, someone in the audition room thought to forward me another project they were doing. They scheduled me for an audition and guessed what people? I BOOKED IT.

Also, I’ve been working with the youth for quite a long time and I’ve developed a strong desire to empower them through storytelling. The project I booked is such a better fit for me in terms of character development, but also due to their mission in sharing the character’s story to the people that need to see it, the youth.

Anyways, I’m on their website under the Arts Education tab. MEANT TO BE.

http://www.eastwestplayers.org/youth-arts-education/

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I’M STRONGER THAN I THINK

So, I botched another audition … 😦

Before any audition, I always kinda downplay any excitement or gratitude regarding the opportunity. Thoughts of — oh this is just protocol, it’s a long shot, they already booked someone, you’re not going to get it, you have no credits, you have no experience, they don’t know you … help soften the blow when I actually don’t hear back from casting directors. Call it self preservation, but it’s gotten me through 7 years of constant neglect and false hope from Hollywood.

At least I thought so anyways. I didn’t realize the longstanding detrimental repercussions to my sense of self worth and self awareness.

So there are two parts of me: 1. the intellectual, measurable, on paper part of me, and 2. the emotional, can’t put my finger on it but can feel it part of me. I’ve realized recently that there’s a huge gap between the two. What I know and understand about myself isn’t equivalent to how I feel about myself.

Most of the time, I don’t like myself. A lot of the time, I feel I have nothing to offer to this world and my life is meaningless. I have no talent, I am ugly and stupid and there’s a ton of people smarter, prettier, nicer, anything-er than me. I am nothing.

This is the type of thinking that is the result of all my “self preservation”.  In the name of protecting myself and my sensitive ego, talking myself down from any opportunity, I am little by little chipping at any sense of self worth and self confidence I may have had.

And at the most recent audition, this self preservation led to self sabotage. I came in the room not confident, kept fumbling over my lines, and worried that that cuter, younger, smarter, more talented girl in the waiting room is going to kill it and I’m the old hack that never stood a chance. This thought literally manifested into my performance where I completely looked like a noob. After my performance, the director literally said, “Awww you’re so cute.” Ugh, KISS OF DEATH. “Awww you’re so cute” is subtext for “you can’t act, but hey consolation is you cute.” The casting associate asked, “how long you’ve been in LA for?” I meekly replied, 7 years, and his eyebrows arched which translated to: “you’ve been in LA for that long and you still can’t act?!” To add salt to the wound, that cute girl in the waiting room got a callback. I did not.

Look, I know it’s probably not as bad as I have described it. I AM being dramatic, but I am showing how far this negative thinking can go for me. It destroys me and its incessant voice is on loop ALL THE FUCKING TIME. To the point that it blinds me from the intellectual part of me.

On paper, through class time and the observations of my peers, I know I have talent. I know I’m good and have good instincts. I’m relatable, personable, intelligent and inspiring. It’s fun to watch me. And yet I’m so blind to these facts that when someone else, even a stranger, recognizes these features about me, I’m always so … SURPRISED.

This year it’s happened three times already. The first time was when I booked a lead role in This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing. I wrote about the experience in a previous post.  I was surprised that the director and co director trusted me to play a character, the most difficult character to convey, a character I thought very much unlike me, a character I had a lot of trouble understanding and relating, and yet … I killed it. I never even had the capacity to think that that was even a possibility of booking a lead role let alone do it well. They saw something in me that I wasn’t even aware was there.

The second time this happened was last month. I’ve been volunteering at a youth leadership camp for years and one of the traditions at the camp is for two staff members to do a two-person scripted scene. A scene that addresses the existential question of a life worth saving. Heavy stuff, a dramatic piece that I’ve always been intimidated by and never really had the confidence to do it. It was suggested that one of the counselors, a New York theatre graduate, super talented and so funny, should be one of the characters. But when this opportunity was brought to her, she said she would only do the scene if I did it with her … I was shocked. What???! Someone I respected as an actor and admired for her work and thoughtfulness wanted to work with uncombed, unpolished, rough around the edges me? She cray. She’s stupid. WTF? …Wow, once she said that, the idea appealed to me, her confidence in me gave me confidence and guess what? We killed it.

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And then the third time happened yesterday. I took a spin class for the first time. I had no idea what it entailed, I had no idea how to adjust my bike and fit it to my strength, I had no idea I would sweat that much! I wanted to quit, I wanted to stop, I wanted to yell at the instructor to stop yelling at me. But then he said, “YOU’RE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK!” And he kept saying that along rock music I’ve heard on Guitar Hero. My knees felt weird and weak, there was too much resistant, I felt like I was pedaling against mud, against a wall, it felt hopeless for a good 2/3 of the class. But that instructor guy said it again, “YOU’RE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK!” So I kept moving my feet, pushing myself, pushing my legs and knees and eventually, I kept up and sped up.

So what have I learned from all this? That intellectual part of me needs to shout louder and longer for my emotional part of me to feel its truth. For its truth to really resonate within myself and manifest itself into my best self. Instead of surrounding my mind with negative thoughts in the name of self preservation, I must shout what I know about myself in the name of BEST SELF preservation. 😀

Also, I think I will be talking to my therapist to figure out a plan of action to sustain and maintain positive thinking and mental reinforcements of myself for myself and with myself. Wish me luck! ❤

 

 

 

 

Unanswered Questions

First off, I just want to say I’m ok.

Secondly, I’m not ok.

Anthony Bourdain’s suicide really threw me into a melancholy funk.

Lately I’ve been reevaluating my Why. Through Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk and his book, Start With Why, I learned that if I get clear with my Why — the bigger picture, the reason I get up the morning, it makes setbacks, challenges and failures easier to stomach. Also with the big picture clear, that last failure isn’t viewed as debilitating but as a necessary step closer to achieving the dream. Inspiring stuff right?

After a lot of self reflection, I realized that my Why was: To tell my story so that I can connect with others at a human level, regardless of sex, religion, background, etc. Carl Rogers, an American psychologist said, “What is most personal, is most universal.” Representation matters! My last blog post explains how this rang true for me. 

Looking back at my whole creative journey thus far, I can confidently say I’ve really lived out the pursuit of my Why. As an actor, I use myself and my personal experience to connect to characters and bring them to life. As a writer, I’m writing my own stories unapologetically via scripts, essays, novels. As a storyteller, I’m sharing my experiences live with others. I was connecting to so many different groups, to so many different people. I felt seen, heard, understood.

And then Bourdain dies.

Here was a guy that was MY WHY manifested! He was literally going around the world and sitting in people’s kitchens swapping stories and connecting with diverse individuals. Watching Parts Unknown, you can’t keep count how many times he says, “I’m so happy.”  Here was a guy that was recognized and rewarded in every aspect of his life. And yet, he willingly ended it.

His death reiterated that happiness and fulfillment can’t be found externally, but must be found within. And so I was deeply saddened for Bourdain because how alone he must’ve felt. How he just couldn’t find lasting internal happiness. And how perhaps, he must’ve felt like an asshole, because out of everyone, he should’ve been happy right?

Obviously I don’t know Bourdain, so really all these conjectures are projections of my own preoccupations. Because if it happened to him, who is to say it won’t happen to us. To me.

So what if I’m telling my stories. So what if for that one brief moment, someone heard me saw me understood me. It wasn’t lasting. In between those very brief fleeting moments, long dull aches of hopelessness fill the gaps. Long intervals of failures, feelings of emptiness, indifference and abandonment fill most of my waking life.

I’m incredibly conflicted. My Why has carried me through these past 7 years in the pursuit of creative fulfillment. A desire that determined the course of my adult life thus far. A desire that is still really strong. But as more woke as I get, as more obstacles stand in my way, as more shit hits the fan in this crazy political climate we live in, I’m filled with a sense of  … what is the fucking point.

How do I become part of a system that is so rigged against me without compromising who I am?

But also it gets more complicated than that …

Is it worth to keep trying at the cost of my personal life?

Do I need to be an artist? Do I need to make money as an artist? Do I even need to be in LA? I DON’T KNOW. I have no answers. I’m still thinking. I’m still living. I still wake up and get up and do. But it’s with great uncertainty and dread. I’m ok but I’m not ok as well.

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Memorial for Bourdain in front of his restaurant, Les Halles.

 

 

Dear Donald Glover

Hi. I don’t know if you remember me, but we briefly met on October 2, 2012. It was my birthday and I was celebrating it with a few friends at Blind Barber. We saw a guy in the corner that looked like you, but we weren’t sure. My friend Krista was insistent that it was you. My friend Ana and I thought your nose looked too big to be yours. Krista won and wanted to approach you. I was like, oh shit. I want to get in on this if it really was to be you. But I was also so in my head worrying if it wasn’t you and if we were gonna offend or flatter a random black guy.  We approached you timidly and Krista did all the talking, “We’re fans.” And OH MY GOD, you smiled and it WAS YOU! You said thanks and we went on our merry way and I couldn’t stop telling people Childish Gambino was at my birthday party. #coachella2012 #asiangirlseverywhereucla

ANYWAYS, sorry. Wtf is my point. To be honest, I was a fan then, but after watching Atlanta and reading up on the analysis and layers of each episode, I am just really really GRATEFUL to you now. To the point that I felt compelled to write you this letter. Of course it’s more to process and articulate my complicated relationship with American television, but also to acknowledge my personal growth from such an influential and ubiquitous medium, with your show having the most unexpected profound effect on me.

Both parents worked so I grew up on television. Television was the easiest way for me to understand the world. But at an early age, I noticed a huge disconnect between my reality and what I saw on screen. First off everyone on television was WHITE. Had normal names. Ate American food. Second, I revered everyone I saw on the screen. Wanted a Full House family. Crushed on Zach Morris. Harrison Ford was my hero. At such a young age, I never expected my fandom would lead to harmful effects on my mental psyche.

But it did. The big difference that stared in my face, myself. My non-whiteness. As much as I loved the white people on television, as much as I hated my Vietnamese self. My Vietnamese name. The Vietnamese food I had to eat at home. I avoided anything remotely Vietnamese to the point that as an adult, I never crave Vietnamese food. NEVER. NOT EVEN PHO. (I crave burritos though, carne asada all day).

This self hate perpetuated a lack of self-confidence, a constant feeling of, I’m just not good enough. And this toxic voice was on loop even into adulthood. Ironically (or maybe obviously?) I grew up to be an actor. As of right now, an un-bookable actor. 😦 With the lack of opportunities for my look, coupled with the extreme difficulty of just breaking in the industry, every failed audition only verified what I already thought of myself — I suck. I’m not good enough. I don’t belong here.

And then Aziz’s Master of None came out. Oh shit. Here was something that told a similar story to mine. And it was on Netflix! The accessibility, the exposure, the camaraderie I felt for similar experiences. I remember thinking, this is it! They get me! They see me! They’re speaking my language! 😀

And then I saw Atlanta. And wtf. Where I thought Master of None did it for me, your show surpassed it in such a deep and meaningful way. Donald, I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but your show is very black. I hear it’s also very Atlanta. I’ve never been. I’m also not black at all. (Actually I wanted to be black too when younger. To me, black people have a sense of anti-establishment and self assurance that me, a scrawny pushover rule follower severely lacked). But where Master of None told me a story I already knew, Atlanta affected me in a way that was transformative. o_O

Because your show is sooo specific and sooo ethnocentric and yet someone like me can relate to it, even more so than to Master of None, it made me realize that it’s not only ok to tell one’s story (a story not to be compromised and watered down to pander to a wider audience), it’s NECESSARY to tell one’s story. Because Donald, for the first time ever, Atlanta made me feel proud to be myself and to tell my story unapologetically.

So, thanks. Thank you so much.

❤ Thi

P.S. Yo Donald, below is a pic of my friends and me that night at Blind Barber. It was 90s hip hop Tuesdays, I think. Do we look familiar? I’m the second from the left. Krista is first, then me, Ana and Annie.

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SOS

Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash

It used to burn. Burn bright, emitting incandescent, iridescent light. All the colors of the rainbow, it flickered, it’s fickle, it was alive.

It was, anyways.

Sun up sun down, doors open doors close. I speak but there’s no sound. The walls close in, I push back. I keep pushing back. Push. Push. Push. The wall looms over, rigid, unyielding, monolithic. Its plaster thick, prolific, sadistic. It surrounds me. Bounds me. Tight. Crushes me, suffocates me and shuts out that evanescent light.

I can’t breathe.

So what? What is the point. Point the gun at me because modernity has crushed my soul, my spirit, my waning light. It is replaced by that harsh cold florescent light. A black mirror reflected refracted, cracked, distracted. Everyone is around, but they’re not physically here. They can’t hear. They can’t see.

I’m waiting.

Eyes shut tight, waiting for the inevitable end. The black deep dark abyss gapes wide with no ends. My spirit weakens as it teeters over the edge. She waits for someone to talk her off of that precarious ledge.

It’s not too late.

A familiar face. A twinkle in the eye. A friend. A HUG. Real, tight, surrounds me, bounds me, and I can’t breathe. But this is different. This is real. I feel. I almost don’t believe it. It’s surreal. Arms encircle, wrap and hold me tight. Chest to chest, there’s emanating radiating warmth that ignites. Resurrected! Yes! It’s in sight! Rejuvenated! Yes! Seeping light! Elevated! Yes! Above great heights!

Yes! My spirit glows once again.

Hey There Lonely Girl


By herself. All alone. Pink pants, stressed shirt. She’s stylish, self conscious. Lips colored with faint fig chapstick, eyeliner lines thin, makeup at a minimum. Red wires wrap her torso, she’s encased in music that’s turned down low. Below the Saturday streets, she waits for the train to take her where her eyes go. She looks up and through the tunnel into the great beyond. Great abyss, great darkness interrupted intermittent with flashing, florescent neon colored lights. Saturday night. Train’s faint light finally in sight. Doors open. Out and in out and in. Stop. And go Stop. And go. But the girl sits. By herself. All alone. Two seats to her one self. She doesn’t look down, she doesn’t look sad. She looks interesting. She looks like she has something to say. But she sits on the outskirts with the window seat beside her empty. There’s no one to talk to. So her mouth is closed as her body encloses that seat empty. She looks beyond it. Beyond her window reflection. Black tunnel, black backdrop, blackness reflected back on those burning bright eyes.

Someday They’ll Love Thi Nguyen

Oh Thi. Poor Thi. After a long day where a sweet toothy kid hiss and spits at you, after a fake tanned, long nail girl gives you a one star Yelp review, you come home to an empty home. Alone. Unnoticed, unappreciated, you swing back a glass to keep you inebriated. To drown out that little voice that says, “you’re not needed.” Which leads to the thought, “you’re not wanted,” to the inevitable, “you’re not loved.”

Maybe when you were young, you were dumb and you couldn’t see that Mom was barely scraping by. She didn’t have time. There wasn’t enough of her, spread too thin, you could never win.

But that’s ok. Let’s chase something that can be won! But ah, why life is such a delusion. That shiny city all glitz all glittery is an illusion. But it lured your stupid self into its provocative trap. Your mind rapt within it, your body wrapped in it, your soul warped from it. Thi, they don’t want you, they don’t need you. There’s somebody better, somebody brighter, a star. And it isn’t you.

Well fine! Because there’s this guy. And in his eyes, I AM the star. I’ve set the bar, I’m the one, the only! His arms surround me, holds me as I’m stationary and still, drinking up this moment in which I have forever wished and willed. But his eyes catch something better. Somebody better. Somebody blonder.

Oh Thi. Poor Thi. You’re blind. You’re lost. You’re confused. Why chase the ruse, when the risk is huge? But if my present, my now, is coming home to nothing, to no one, what else do I have to lose?

We Made Something Beautiful.

I woke up today with Damien Rice in my head. His sound is eerie, delicate and bittersweet. And that’s exactly what I felt this morning — bittersweet.

Early November of last year, I auditioned for a little play called, This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing. The audition was strange. We were to recite our favorite children’s poem and then participate in a group improvisation exercise. I was intriqued and recited Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. I thought Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss were too obvious. For the improvisation part, I recall pretending to cry and collecting my tears in a mug. In any case, I got a part, a main part, and yesterday was closing night, our last performance.

Today, the realization that it was all over had set in. Bittersweet.  That word is such an oxymoron. But alas, all good things have to end right? The transient part of it makes it all more special to me, makes me grateful for the people I met, the personal evolution I developed as an actor/person and the pride I felt in creating something magical. I was a part of something bigger than myself and it made me happy. Days weeks months lived well.

The play, written by Finegan Kruckemeyer, is about three girls who are sisters, who are triplets. They’re related and so close in age but so so very different. They get abandoned in the woods at age 12 by a broken hearted father who was influenced by the evil step mother. The oldest, Albienne, is all about venturing out and moving forward, discovering the world and new places (This Girl Laughs). The middle child, Beatrix, wants to go in the other direction, back to search for Father as to why he could do such a thing (This Girl Cries). As for the youngest, Carmen, she stays in the woods (This Girl Does Nothing). The play follows the girls in their decision and their journeys that were set forth from that fateful day in the woods until the ripe old(er) age of 31.

Damn. I’M 31 RIGHT NOW. I AM 1 OF 3 DAUGHTERS. MY SISTERS AND I ARE RELATED BUT SO DIFFERENT. This play pulled at me in so many different ways and I felt I could play almost all the characters. I related to Albienne because she was the oldest. I’m the oldest in my family. She’s also about taking charge and being a leader. She’s an extrovert, meeting people and building communities. ALL ME. I related to Beatrix because of her attachment to the father. I have a wonderful relationship with my dad. He is the most interesting man in the world to me and I’ve walked the Sai Gon river with him.  I wanted to be the narrator of the story, because I’m a storyteller and a substitute teacher, and this play was written almost as a poem/children’s story in which I slay every day in the classroom. The only role I could not see myself in was Carmen. And guess which role I got. CARMEN.

 

Developing the Character

It was a struggle to figure out Carmen. She literally stays in one spot for YEARS, for the whole friggin play (the most I ever stayed in one spot was a month and that was a mandated isolation due to tuberculosis). I am not about that and despise people who are inactive and lazy. I saw Carmen as weird, not being curious of the world. I saw her as selfish because she didn’t want to help others anymore, she just wanted to help her own kids. That’s another thing, she gets married and has kids. She’s a mom. I’m soooooo far from that in my life right now.

I asked the directors, Bekkah and Lauren, why the eff did you choose me for Carmen? What did you see in me that resonated Carmen? Bekkah told me that I had a seriousness to me. Carmen has the most practical, blunt lines in the play. She usually has the last word in the scenes, the punctuated, emphatic end of a poem, because she’s wiser beyond her years, though she’s the youngest, she makes the most perceptive observations. She sees things the way they are and acknowledges them.

Is Bekkah saying I’m old? Alright alright so Carmen’s deep. But how do I show that? Bekkah gave me a note at the beginning, “Thi, your character does nothing, but you have to show different ways to do nothing.” MIND BLOWN. Bekkah kept posing challenging questions that really helped me get to know Carmen. Because how else could I? Carmen doesn’t respond when I talk to her. All I have are her words in the script, and that’s limiting. Bekkah asked, “What have you learned? What would 31-year old pregnant mom Carmen tell her 10 year old self?”

It took me 4 months to develop Carmen and I’m proud of what I came up with. But I really couldn’t have done it without the directors. Bekkah’s direction and notes made me more aware of things I could discover for Carmen, from her mannerisms to her internal expression of emotions. Lauren, the assistant director really gave me the encouragement that I was heading in the right direction in developing the character.

Al Pacino was asked once and I’m paraphrasing, “Which out of all the characters you’ve played, is most liked you?” And he answered, “Well, all of them. They’re my face, they’re my voice. It’s just some characters highlight different facets of me more than others.” Objectively speaking, Carmen is the least like me in personality, but what I’m most proud of is that I found myself in her emotions throughout the play. I felt everything she felt, because they were my feelings and I bared it all on stage. I grew as an actor because I was able to do that. I grew as a person because I found relation to someone that was so unlike me.

 

The Team

The play was produced by this 2 year old theatre company called Flat Tire Theatre Company. I had reservations coming into a group of people that all knew each other from college. Also, the average age among them was 25. What do they know? A WHOLE LOT. I was astounded at their skill set, their organization, their creativity, their work ethic, their kindness and their humility. Shae the stage manager, knew every cue, every set piece movement/change, she knew our meaning even when we were speaking gibberish. Martin, the publicity guy went all out to share about the show to the point that we had 5/6 sold out shows! The design team, Sam and Michael, and their resourcefulness and creativity managed to create a magical, imaginative world and tone with limited resources from dyed cloths, lights, free music and shadows.

 

photos courtesy Flat Tire Theatre Company, cast and crew

 

Something Magical

I have a lot of trouble with self promoting or even talking myself up. I think it’s due to years of Catholic guilt (I’m flawed and forever a sinner), first generation guilt (can’t validate your parents struggle as a broke ass actor), and Eastern values (it’s not about you, it’s about how you can serve the group). When I was a younger actor, I struggled with telling people about the shows or things that I had done or were a part of. There was a sense of shame that my acting wasn’t good, why would I want to burden people with that. I had social anxiety that it wouldn’t entertain people and they wasted their time seeing me. I was a coward, I couldn’t bear for people to see my art and judge it. So, I didn’t tell people. And when things I had worked on got unnoticed, shows I was in where no one I knew was in the audience, I felt sad.

I need that validation. I’ve always known that. But now in my 30s, I finally accept that part of me. But it’s not even about validation. It’s about being seen, being heard, being understood. Even if it’s with someone I don’t know. There’s an experience that was shared, a memory created and perhaps remembered forever.

No one in this production got paid. Cast and crew committed a lot of time and work and effort into this. Into something that closed yesterday. Something that is now gone.

After our first run through, day before opening night, Bekkah said something that really hit me that I was a part of something magical. She said, “We made something.” It’s not easy to make something. In a world of instant gratification and fatalistic destruction, it’s easy to consume, to destroy and to forget. What we made may have been temporary, but the fact that we made it, not for money, not for fame, but simply just to share it, has bred endless possible connections. Connection between performers and audience, connection among strangers through shared emotion and experience or time and space. Connection between colleagues, friends, and/or families. Those connections can be lasting. Those connections can be forever and even transcendent.

To me, those connections are something beautiful.