Friday, May 6, 2016

Blog Hijack: A Conversation with Jae Woo

In today's Blog Hijack, playwright Haley Jakobson sat down with actor Jae Woo to talk a little bit about life and theater!

Name: Jae Woo

Hometown: Auckland, New Zealand

Education: Boston University School of Theatre, BFA in Acting

Favorite Credits: Deep Love of Nightgowns produced by Nuyorican Poets Cafe (Boy), Caenis produced by Pace Gallery (Greek Chorus) Gallery, Tragedy + Time (Alvin) in Serials produced by The Flea Theatre, Julius Ceaser produced by LAMDA (Brutus), Merchant of Venice at Boston University (Shylock), The Crucible (John Proctor), The Normal Heart at Boston University (Hiram Keebler), Endgame (Nagg) produced by Boston University, Fitz Bunny The Musical produced by Auckland Theatre Company (Ensemble)

Why theater?: I am a Korean-New Zealander who has spent the last five years in the United States. Identity has always been a conflicting question to tackle. Growing up, my Korean friends would say I was “too white to be Asian” and my white friends would say “you’re too Asian to be white.” When I was eighteen, I was cast in a play called The Bone Feeder, where I played an Asian man struggling to find his identity. Playing a character whose story mirrored mine was groundbreaking. I was able to voice my own struggle through this character, and through the play I eventually found that these two different cultures could exist in harmony. For me, what makes acting so important is that it gives me the opportunity to meld myself with another character. Through portraying others, I feel an expanded sense of who I am, and a deeper understanding of humanity. This is the most enriching reward that this profession can give. Before I found theatre I was too afraid to even ask questions about who I was and where I belonged in society. To find out that there were stories like mine, I realized that I wasn't alone. And to think that I can make others feel the same way, and make them realize they are not alone, that is truly what motivates me to be an artist in the theater.

What kind of theater speaks to you?: I did a show in New Zealand where I played a mentally challenged marathon runner. It was the first time I felt true compassion for someone else, and that person wasn’t even real. I was fifteen. The entire audience cried. This was the first time I realized how impactful this form of story-telling could be and it was a call to action for me. Most recently, I performed in two separate pieces of theater that tackled sensitive subjects: difficulties minorities face in the United States and rape culture. I am drawn to works like these because they have a deeper purpose than just entertainment, they inform audiences of societal issues that aren’t easy to talk about, and by shedding light on them, they incite change.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A Hip-Hop dancer and choreographer! I’ve been dancing Hip-Hop for fifteen years now, and due to my background in dance I am often cast in movement based productions. At Boston University, I was the artistic director of a competing Hip-Hop dance troupe called Fusion. Since graduating, I regularly travel to teach dance workshops around the east coast. I have experience in historical dance, contemporary, modern, street tap, and ballet. Like in theatre, dance is an avenue in which I can reach a deeper understanding of the body and soul.

What’s the dream?: In the coming year, I want to play a lead role that isn’t specifically Asian. Americans have so little experience seeing an Asian play anything other than an Asian. I am really interested in the work that National Asian American Theatre Company does. They produce non-Asian plays with all-Asian casts. I want to put myself out there as not just an Asian, but as a human being. Some time in the future I really see myself being a mentor to aspiring asian-american actors. Theatre has provided so much for me, and it is my duty to give that back to others.