OMG, it’s the NY Times! (acting career update)

Forgive me for gloating, but I want to take a moment on this blog of mine to totally geek out and celebrate the team at Main Street Theater (MST) and myself for our work in staging the first “digital premiere” of The Book of Magdalene (promo video on YouTube here)! Today is the last date of the play’s digital run, and while it’s been a strange and difficult pandemic world for live entertainment to navigate, I am truly hopeful that more plays will be recorded going forward. Is it that I don’t believe live theater and events will ever return? Absolutely not. In fact, I am kicking myself for not going to more concerts pre-pandemic (but immensely thankful that Netflix has not one but two concert films of Ariana Grande’s). It’s because when I get to be part of a purposeful, meaningful, and hopeful new work, and also get to embody more diverse representation on stage, I want to share it with as many of my family and friends as possible. Although we filmed at MST in Houston, I had friends who could watch in San Francisco, London, Atlanta, and more. Many of them shared their impressions of the show with me, as well as messages that stuck with them, things that puzzled them, and general feelings of excitement and happiness for me. I am super gratified by all of these but especially the last part, because in those periods where I was stuck in traffic going to auditions and wondering if I should give up on my love for performing, I kept going with the encouragement of many of those same cheerleaders. This lead role was of course a win for me personally, but I also see it as a win for my support network and their love. I did not let them down.

Digital poster art for The Book of Magdalene, a play by Caridad Svich.

Recognition from family and friends is number one, but it certainly got easier when the play was reviewed and covered in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Houston Press, and so many more esteemed outlets! For better or worse, recognition in one of these long-running outlets is an immense mark of legitimacy. I can confidently say for everyone at MST and myself that we were beyond thrilled! I’m grateful to all those who took the time to see and think critically about our show. I’ll share a few wonderful quotes below, followed by a few more behind-the-scenes photos…including my funny mug in the NY Times!!

“The dicey thing about putting theater online is how easy it is to, accidentally, make it seem like something else: a panel discussion on Zoom, maybe, or a not-great video. But Caridad Svich’s spare and immediate new drama, ‘The Book of Magdalene,’ feels every inch a play…even before a giant cicada puppet makes a fabulous cameo.”

Laura Collins-Hughes for the New York Times, February 19, 2021

“Symbolism-intensive and purposefully poetic in diction, “The Book of Magdalene” is not the sort of play to which I ordinarily warm, but its stageworthiness is self-evident, and Amelia Rico, the director, and Afsaneh Aayani, the set designer, have served Ms. Svich outstandingly well. Good cast, good costumes, and a giant insect puppet whose unexpected appearance (in both senses of the word) will startle you. Even if you don’t care for magical realism on or off stage, you should consider giving this one a shot.”

Terry Teachout for the Wall Street Journal, February 18, 2021

“[Len] is played by Jennifer Wang, whose beautifully luminescent performance is the anchor of this dreamy, poetic play…Delicately directed by Amelia Rico, the production features design that cleverly hints at the dystopian society without going full-out Mad Max. The sets by Afsaneh Aayani are spartan and effective and the costume design by Victoria Nicolette Gist is positively ingenious, featuring garments that are both familiar and odd. Both the lighting (by Grey Starbird) and the sound (by Janel Badrina) compliment the video format and provide nuance in the moodier scenes.”

Nella Vera for CultureVulture, February 2, 2021

“The austere set design, by Afsaneh Aayani, lends a proper touch of surrealism to Svitch’s verselike rhythms. (Both the Times and the Journal were rightly taken by a rather large cicada puppet’s scene-stealing walk-on.) Rico’s alternating between close-ups and wider shots, coupled with Grey Starbird’s haunting lighting design, help foreground Len’s inner turmoil.”

Chris Gray for Preview – Houston Chronicle, February 25, 2021

For the photo slideshow above, I of course had to highlight our amazing cicada puppet by Afsaneh Aayani!

I hope to have more happy updates for 2021, but even if there aren’t any more mentions in the papers, I am already super grateful for these memories to carry me through the rest of the year. Thank you!

grace and gratitude (acting career update)

In spite of all the complaining I could’ve done about 2020 and its ills, I chose to check myself. My family is well enough, all things considered, and that matters more than anything.

Anything beyond that I’ve considered a plus. And one huge plus I got to experience, coming to a screen near you, is The Book of Magdalene, a new play by Caridad Svich. It’s a new work that was written in the summer of 2020, so it’s literally of the times. Main Street Theater in Houston, Texas put up the “workshop digital” production of the show, and I had the honor of playing the lead role of Len. I was cast in December last year, and our show streams from February 11-21, 2021. I got to explore so many feelings in the performance, and all together, I deeply enjoyed the thought-provoking but ultimately hopeful show. Caretaking, providing solace (or is it?), feuding with friends, seeking answers to the big questions in life…a true treat.

I’m in the first row, first from the left. Around me are my talented castmates! Names are in order from left to right, top to bottom.

A little behind-the-scenes tidbits from me: In accordance with the new reality we’re living in, our cast rehearsed over Zoom videoconference first. (Many a “you’re muted” utterance occurred.) We then filmed in a black-box style theater with a small but passionate group consisting of cast and crew, supported by a wonderful theater staff. (I am so grateful my costume was, let’s say, forgiving, given pandemic anxiety snacking.) We upheld stringent safety and health standards in response to the pandemic, and of course, there was no audience. While the communal experience of watching stage lights go up is not available to us in the near future, the benefit is that anyone around the world (with an internet connection stable enough for streaming video) can experience this new work. It excites me and also makes me nervous: will people enjoy the performance? Will they walk away with that tingly feeling that we seek from live events?

I have to remind myself that none of that is in my control. What I can do (or could, I should say, given we’ve finished filming) is trust my director and crew, and give my 100% when performing with my castmates. I like to think I did all that, and I look forward to hearing what friends, family, and audience members say! From the entire team behind The Book of Magdalene at Main Street Theater, we’d be grateful for your support of this show and the arts.

For now, get hyped by reading this wonderful writeup of an interview with Caridad on The Theatre Times; she has a compassionate intellect. Finally, I’ll leave some amazing production photos here by RicOrnel Productions!