A Prism of Courage
Ran Xia continues her exploration of Asian Americans in theater with interviews with Vincent Rodrigues III and Andrew Cristi.
Remember Marcy Park from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee? That girl speaks six languages, plays Chopin and Mozart, excels in hockey and rugby...She's the poster girl of the Asian over-achievers: winning is a must and crying is a no-no.
Versatility is the buzzword here, which best describes Vincent Rodrigues III. He ain't no "doer of many and master of none," but thrives in everything he is: actor, martial artist, magician, and "a great bartender," he says. He calls himself lucky, having been able to showcase his diverse skills. That luck is surely fueled by his attitude of "be the best or nothing" and lots of courage.
"I was a black sheep of the family," he says, sharing his story about pursuing an acting career even though his Filipino family would rather him become a doctor. "My dad told me that I should give up if I couldn't find a gig upon graduation. Guess what, I booked the 42nd Street tour, and understudied a principal role playing three parts."
Playing multiple characters has been Vincent's constant theme. "I enjoy switching in and out of characters and figuring out their relationship." In college he performed in HONK! "I was a fish, a goose, a turkey and a bullfrog. I had a big singing and dancing number," he recalls. "I was young, scared, trying to stick out. But now I know good acting requires self-preservation and making yourself seem at ease."
Vincent seeks to break the mode of casting and play characters that Asian actors don't traditionally get. Simultaneously offered a part in Thoroughly Modern Millie and White Christmas, he chose the latter. "I wouldn't try to fit in the cookie cutter." He wants to create his own path and become someone irreplaceable. Vincent creates backstories for his characters to help achieve that. He plays Luke in the 1st national tour of Anything Goes as "a very stereotypical Chinese convert with an American dream. He likes to gamble, to make money." He also recently portrayed Jackie in Andrew Lippa's Wild Party which he describes as "a very dark and complex character; a con artist and a twisted man. He goes to his friends' parties and steals from the guests." To Vincent, acting is about honesty and passion, and getting rid of self-consciousness.
Theatre is a place where you tell stories with all honesty by putting together people of different colors: skills, ages…and of course, ethnicities. Asian American performers are underrepresented. One of the reasons, Vincent contemplates, is that "the differences between Asians are blurred. There's a whole spectrum of ethnicity groups among us unknown to most."
It's a vicious circle of Asian characters being a rarity; Asian actors being limited in a handful of "classic roles;" and people's unfamiliarity with Asian culture. On this subject, Andrew Cristi has some thoughts. "Producers might fear that audiences won't come if they cast minority actors." He says, "Race isn't a concern when you see a white actor but when an Asian actor is on stage you see race first."
Andrew calls himself a late bloomer in musical theatre, yet he's on a fast track of making it on Broadway. This winter he's playing a waiter, an elf and a cowboy in A Christmas Story. "I don't mind playing a stereotypical character, but it'd be tiring if I'm limited to only that." He revealed that it's harder for him to get appointments to Broadway auditions than Caucasian actors. "There are stereotypes in every culture, and some might say that we're hyper-sensitive, but it's not the same because for Caucasians there are more choices, and it's not fair when white actors complain that they can't get cast in Miss Saigon. Asians are the minority in musical theatre, so we need more opportunities. Theatre needs diversity."
To Andrew, diversity is a natural state. He speaks about the positive effect of Newsies' diverse cast on a young audience, "It's a powerful thing to see yourself represented on stage. Many people take it for granted." He was recently seen in Freckleface Strawberry, another great example of diversity. "I didn't have to speak in an accent because race has nothing to do with the characters." He wishes to play Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, but "my dream role would be something I originate," he states.
The world is a colorful place, yet sometimes our visions get blurry. Courage is a prism, through which we see all the beauty, in each raindrop that clears the clouds of ignorance.