EDITOR'S NOTE: Welcome to the third episode of TeaTalks. In this monthly column, Seth Johnson and Olivia Grace Murphy, the founders of Flexible Grey Theatre Company and guests discuss issues important to the LGBTQ+ and other under-represented communities in the performing arts world. Excerpts from the conversation appear in print, with links to the audio files below.
TeaTalks runs on the last Tuesday of the month.
In this episode, Murphy and Johnson chat with four Asian-American performers and artists, Mark Quach, Minda Rocha, Jacob Hemsath, and Thi Le.
Welcome to TeaTalks, a monthly interview series where we, Seth Johnson (Artistic Director) and Olivia Grace Murphy (Company Manager) of Flexible Grey Theatre Company, dig into the hot topics in the DFW theatre community and spill the tea. Usually these topics will revolve around the LGBTQ+ community or other marginalized groups in the arts. In this month’s edition of TeaTalks, we discussed the inclusion of Asian-American performers, and why we’re not seeing roles for AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) performers on stage.
We sat down with Mark Quach, Minda Rocha, Jacob Hemsath, and Thi Le on a late Sunday evening to discuss this topic. Beverages of choice included Seth’s signature a Moroccan Mint tea, hot chocolate, and red wine. We also just launched our Patreon! Flexible Grey Patreon subscribers will have special access to our cookie break conversation, “the way the cookie crumbles.”
Note: These are just excerpts from the conversation. For the full TeaTalks experience, please listen using of the links below.
TEATALKS: So we were chatting a little bit before the recording began, and one of the questions that I posed out that I think would be effective for our listeners at home was: what is your preference as far as being defined as a performer... do you prefer Asian performer? Asian-American? Do you just prefer “of Asian descent”? How would you like to be described?
MARK: For me, um, between Asian and Asian American I don’t... as long as that’s the word that’s being used I’m fine with either/or. Rather than, oh like that guy—that Chinese guy. That Vietnamese guy, or ‘that guy, you know, the one who kind of looks like he’s from Asia’? As long as it’s Mark Quach who is Asian or Asian American, that’s fine. But not like, oh you know, “that guy” you know the one I’m talking about? Or just use my name, Mark!
JACOB: I would definitely say Asian-American because I am mixed, so I think Asian-American is very fitting for me personally, but I’m wouldn’t be offended by any means if someone said Asian.
TEATALKS: We also discussed the challenges of simply being an Asian American in this particular part of the country.
OLIVIA: So Minda...in the South, how do you feel like your experience might be different being a mixed-race actor of color in the South specifically?
MINDA: I feel like they don’t quite know what to do with me because...for those of you who don’t know me I’m half... my dad is Mexican, my mom is Filipino. My dad is Mexican-American and my mom was born in the Philippines. And so I look very, I guess a lot of people would say “ambiguous.” I’m also like, almost 5’11” and I have rounder eyes. I have browner skin, but for some people they don’t know that I’m Asian, or that I’m part Asian, or I don’t look “Asian enough” I think to some people. Because I’m not traditionally, like my family is very small, they like to say they’re very delicate-looking which is great... and I’m just like, a very tall, different-looking kind of person and I think it’s hard for them to place me somewhere a lot of the time. And I will say I haven’t, I don’t know about you guys, I haven’t played a person that identifies as a part of my heritage, either Mexican or Asian, without being accented. Except once.
JACOB: Okay, I’m going to hop on this train next because this has been my struggle. So I am half Korean and half white. And so I’ve had a really interesting process and I’m not going to say “oh no one’s casting me...” because I have had many wonderful directors and producers who have cast me in lots of shows and I am very blessed. But the hardest aspect has been, I am unable to play any race that’s anything specific so far. I am Asian-American but I’ve auditioned for things that are specifically Asian-American and have not even gotten a callback... But the other side of things is, I do, because I’m mixed, people love to use “ethnically ambiguous” people love to use that phrase.
MARK: They do. They eat it like a cake. #ThatsTheTea
JACOB: I know, right! But I mean… I look Latino. I’m not even going to deny it… So it’s interesting. I’ve gotten things where people say “hey we’re looking for Latinos, people recommended you, can you do it?” And then it’s like… oh, um, no. I’m not Latino. Sorry. I’ve had a very interesting rollercoaster.
TEATALKS: So what is the solution? How do we stop the trend of being labeled as “ethnically ambiguous” and start speaking with more authenticity? Thi has her own take.
THI: What I have seen and observed is people are afraid to talk because they are afraid to offend. I personally, if somebody asked me “oh what is your heritage, where are your parents from, where are you from?” I am more than happy to share. I’m not going be offended that you ask because it’s a great way for me to share my heritage and let you know, oh, yes I am Vietnamese, thanks for asking! Rather than like, you mislabeling me and assuming where I’m from.
TEATALKS: That was a big part of this conversation—being mislabeled, or not being listened to altogether. Mark attributes this to the “silent Asian experience.”
MARK: Yeah, the silent Asian experience, it’s just like every time we have a voice or we want to speak up about something it always gets undermined or pushed aside or people don’t really take it seriously because there aren’t a lot of us. And I feel like just like in history, we’ve been trying to fight and we’ve been trying to like, say something but people don’t take us seriously.
THI: I think a lot of things that I have heard as far as like, whenever I speak up like, oh Asians are minorities too, people say “oh, but you’re the privileged minority.” And it’s more in the business setting because I’m in a business school right now. But it’s basically just saying that like, you, you may be a minority but you get more opportunities than other people. But like, in the field I’m actually trying to pursue in theatre, there really isn’t very much for me to do other than just accept the roles that I get cast in. And my mom is always saying “you should just write your own thing” and that would be great, but my mind doesn’t always work that way… I would prefer to have these roles available.
MINDA: That is always an interesting thing that I feel like recently…there’s a point I think where when I first got here I was like “I’m here, you know, I’m a young actor, I’m ready, I want to do any role I can do. I just want to be active and be part of the community.” BUT there’s also a point as a person of color, and an Asian-American actor where I draw the line… and decide that I’m not doing these kinds of roles. That cuts off a line for you. It’s going to kind of push aside what you can and can’t do and how often you’re going to be booked maybe. And that’s a sucky reality. But it does suck to hear, when I talk about that to my other friends that they’re like, “you know, you should have your own show, you should write your own show. You should be like Mindy Kaling and make your own show!” And that’s wonderful… but that’s not for everybody.
TEATALKS: So work needs to be done, that’s for sure. But our guests seemed optimistic.
MARK: I’m glad that now in 2019 there is more of that [representation], but I feel like we can do more. We’re heading in the right direction absolutely, but we can do more.
TEATALKS: The theatre needs to create more space for AAPI artists. Period. These four performers had so much to say that we couldn’t possibly fit it all into the article. We dove into dream roles, the importance of asking questions, what shows have not aged well, and so much more. We hope you listen to the full interview and join us for next month’s TeaTalks, which will be on an entirely different topic. Until then, #ThatsTheTea.