I am sharing the complete interview with Maricar CP Hampton below:
What are your thoughts on Asians being underrepresented on Broadway? Is it an issue of racism? How do you think we can get over it?
No, I do not think that it is an issue of racism. There is not a straightforward answer to this question. Does “underrepresentation” mean content or people?
America is a free market economy. We live in a capitalist culture. Just like other businesses or industries, Broadway is a commercial business. It takes strong leadership and passion to spearhead producing a show on Broadway. It comes with tremendous responsibility, which includes raising a significant amount of cash and convincing investors that this venture will yield profit. And one must demonstrate—based on track record, projections and scenarios—how such a venture would provide a return on their investments. It is profit-driven.
We, obviously, want to see ourselves represented on the big stage called Broadway. Stories about us, about people like us. In my opinion, if we want more content about Asians on Broadway, then we need to produce it ourselves. I cannot hold the commercial establishment responsible for the lack of content about Asians. For example, Hispanic Americans represent a larger part of the national population than African Americans. But, there is more commercial theater about the African American experience because there are African Americans who rise up to leadership roles as producers producing theater about them. They are important members of the commercial theater establishment. Asians with wealth, on the other hand, do not take risks in the theater. Generally speaking, they are too fiscally responsible and probably do not view commercial theater as a sound financial investment because of the uncertainty of the return.
I do hold some of the large non-profit institutions accountable (some with Broadway productions). They are the flagship theater companies that position themselves to the NEA and various foundations as producers of “diverse content representing their community,” and are recipients of large sums of taxpayer dollars from the government and tax-deductible donations from foundations and other sources. But their programming, casting, and hiring of artistic staff prove otherwise. These theater institutions are the ones with the fiduciary responsibility—not the private enterprise—to be inclusive, to develop and produce diverse content and programming, and to cast actors of color non-traditionally. Sadly, this is not the case.
Finally, I think Asian actors are getting a better share of roles on and off Broadway. Asian Americans represent 6% of the national population. Is this reflected on stage? No, not yet. But it will be. And if we want a larger share of the pie, it should be up to us.
I think we need to start producing work on stage that mirrors our part in the 21st century America—the global village. If we want to capture a bigger share of the roles that are being cast on Broadway, we need to expand the way we portray ourselves. Then we can better influence mainstream producers, directors, casting directors—the commercial theater establishment—in the way they see Asians. As Americans. Perception is reality, as they say.
What is it in theater arts that appeal to you?
The theater is a profound venue for expression, story-telling, and creative collaboration. To me, personally, it is also a venue to explore the universality of the human condition—how all of us are connected regardless of race, religion, creed and gender. That is my interest and my passion.
What are some of your inspirations in creating/ producing your projects?
Extraordinary circumstance, characters, relationships and language inspire me. Especially plays that have a meaningful social message. I go to the theater to be enlightened. I want to have gained a new perpective or insight ... or take with me something to think about when I walk out of the theater. And I want to share that experience with our audiences with the plays we present.
As an actor, how do you prepare for a project?
It depends on the play and/or part. And every actor’s preparation/process is different. I ask a multitude of questions and it begins with, who am I? What is the world of the play? What is the core circumstance? What is my relationship with the other characters? What do I want from each of them? Why is the play happening and what is my part in the event? I break down the scenes ... and investigate the life underneath the words. If it is a period piece, I do a lot of research. I imagine the world--the social and economic background of the play, dialect, character and impediment work--and immerse myself in it. Basically, I strive to craft a specific world and a specific person with rich history. It's not always easy ... and I don't always succeed. But, the beauty of doing stage work as an actor is that the exploration never stops. The exploration work does not end on opening night.
How do you see the future of Filipino theater actors in New York?
We are the largest Asian American group in the theater, on and off Broadway. We have a new generation of inspired directors and playwrights rising to artistic leadership—and making names for themselves—such as Nelson Eusebio, May Adrales, and Victor Maog. In addition, more collaborations and partnerships are being formed. So I am confident and enthusiastic that our artistic community will continue to thrive.
Any advice to the new generation of Fil-Am theater actors?
Read the book, Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke. And after reading the book, if you still want to pursue an artistic path—or rather, if you must—then march on! And while doing so, train … and train hard. Read the classics … it will help you explore and investigate deeper meaning when working on a contemporary piece. Most importantly, be insatiably curious. Replace certainty with wonder. Certainty is the death of art.
What are some of your future plans/ projects?
For DCT, we will present a series called COLOR BLIND in July, as part of our annual Green Room Series program. Traditionally, it is a presentation of new works in development that we are considering for a mainstage production. But this year, it will present scenes (traditionally played by Caucasian actors) from classical and contemporary pieces using actors of color. I want to further underscore that these worlds can be expressed from a non-White perspective, and that actors of color can play these parts. We will be inviting industry folks to come.
For the month of August, I will be in a full-length play at Theatre Row. I can’t talk about it yet … but we will be announcing it soon.
How did Diverse City Theater Company come about?
It came about as a way to satisfy my need to have a venue for my work. I grew up. The mission then organically evolved into a serving a much bigger purpose.
Are there are many theater groups organized by Filipinos?
Yes … Ma-Yi Theater Company (Ralph Pena and Jorge Ortoll); National Asian American Theater Company or NAATCO (Mia Katigbak); and Leviathan Lab (founded by Ariel Estrada).
What are your thoughts on Ma-Yi Theater Co.?
Ma-Yi is a terrific organization that develops new works serving Asian American voices. They are my friends. NAATCO is also another terrific Asian American theater company that produces classical pieces using Asian actors in the roles usually played by Caucasian actors. And Leviathan Lab is an up-and-coming theater organization that has already created critical mass of, and an inspiring collaboration among, a majority of younger Asian American artists.
How is DCT different from Ma-Yi Theater Co. and NAATCO?
Ma-Yi Theater Company and National Asian American Theater Company (“NAATCO”) are two of the most important Asian American theater companies in the country. Both companies have been around for over 15 years.
Ma-Yi started out as a Filipino theater company whose founding members are the revolutionaries and innovative theater artists from back home. It is still run by Jorge Ortoll and Ralph Pena who expanded its vision to provide a venue for, and serve all Asian American voices in the theater, which are underrepresented and underserved. What Ma-Yi did was very exciting—and important—because it formed critical mass of Asian American theater artists.
NAATCO—under Mia Katigbak’s artistic leadership—produces classical theater pieces using Asian American actors. Mia, through NAATCO, actually started the non-traditional casting movement for Asian Americans over 15 years ago. We owe her a debt of gratitude because her productions showcased—and proved—that Asian American actors can play these parts—Chekhov’s Ivanov and Seagull, etc. Through her productions, we were able to share our perspectives on some of the great classics.
DCT is not an Asian American theater company. The mission of DCT is to commission, develop and produce original plays that tackle not only race issues but also social issues such as age, gender identity, social politics, and examination of the American identity in the 21st century. I want to create a theater company that also promotes non-traditional casting of actors—one that reflects the colorful spectrum of our national culture and underscores the universality of the human condition.
What is your vision for DCT, and from here, where do you think DCT is headed?
The vision for DCT is to find, as well as commission, plays that explore what connects all of us regardless of our locale, race, sexuality, religion, age, gender or creed. With funding, I would like to form a global network of playwrights on the Internet, something like a playwrights exchange program worldwide.
In addition, we will continue our advocacy of non-traditional casting by producing theater pieces traditionally cast with Caucasian actors—classical or contemporary—with the inclusion of actors of color.
Most importantly, the vision is for DCT to be sustainable. Last year was a terrible year. In the current economic landscape, it is a “grow or die” situation for many theater companies our size. The future is bleak for many arts organizations. But for DCT, extinction is not an option. The task is to craft a sustainability model … a growth model. And it will not come from the traditional non-profit model. DCT will not be solely dependent on foundation grants, donations, and sponsorships. DCT will be self-sustaining while it is honoring and fulfilling its mission.
How do you see the future of theater arts in the Philippines?
I, sadly, am not that cognizant of the theater scene in the Philippines. My friends Bobby Garcia and Chari Arespacochaga are two of the country’s movers and shakers, so I am certain that the future of the theater arts in the Philippines is in great hands.
How else do you think can Philippine theater arts improve?
Perhaps produce more original works? Right now, I think much of the theater consumption back home are pieces from the Western world. I think it is great! I also would like to see more original works produced for mainstream audiences. But again, I am not immersed in the theater scene back home so I am unable to accurately assess or give a truly informed opinion.
About Sondheim concert, do you plan a repeat?
There have been talks about Los Angeles and Manila productions of the Sondheim concert. Nothing is confirmed at this time. But yes, there is immense interest from various parties.