The Show That Changed My Life

Entry by Elena Juatco, Guest Blogger

I believe that theatre is beautiful because it has a way of changing you: changing the way you feel, the way you think, maybe even the way you act because it opens your eyes to a whole other experience that you cannot access in every day life.

When I was 15, I saw a production of RENT at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver. I loved the entire show, but for me, the moment that stood out was right after intermission when the entire company came forward, stood at the front of the stage and sang “Seasons of Love”.

I had never experienced such a huge form of human connection that involved hundreds of audience members and the most open-hearted group of actors I’d ever seen. My heart was in my throat as the company sang their harmonies, grooving with each other, loving each other, soaring through high notes and looking to the audience for support. People were hootin’ and hollerin’ from their seats, clapping their hands with the actors to the beat. When I came home, I ran upstairs to tell my mom that no matter what happens in my lifetime, “I HAVE to do that!”

Miss Saigon

Miss Saigon

The drive to perform was there. But I felt like this experience was only granted to an elite few. Who would grant me the opportunity to do something like that? I didn’t know why I placed so many limits upon myself, and then I saw the show that changed my life. It was the national tour of Miss Saigon that stopped by Vancouver the following year. My mouth was agape the whole time because it was the first time that I saw an Asian woman in a lead role on stage.

It changed something in me. Until that moment, I had no Asian role models in the performing arts. Not only was it a beautiful show with beautiful music, but also the lead woman playing Kim was strong, powerful, and above all, a fighter. I had an inexplicable connection to her.

The Universe was looking out for me because in 2007 after graduating from university, and after a lot of hard work, I performed my dream role as Kim in Miss Saigon with the most insanely talented and loving cast and crew at Drayton Entertainment’s Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend, Ontario.

Elena as Kim

Elena as Kim

To this day, I have people tell me how hard it is for actors of ethnicity to make it in this business. I ignore them because I refuse to let that be my excuse for anything. After Miss Saigon, I played a blonde Philia in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and just last year, Christine Colgate in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; a role that is traditionally played by a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl from Cincinnati, Ohio who reveals herself at the end as an aggressive New Yorker with a thick New York accent. For this production, the director, Max Reimer, changed Christine to a young Asian girl from San Francisco, California who reveals herself at the end as an aggressive Chinese real estate agent (I changed the accent from New York to a Mandarin one and it still got lots of laughs!).

Don’t let something as wonderful as your ethnicity, your look, your age, your background, your orientation, your sex, your big nose, your scrawny arms, your height, or whatever quality it is that you are insecure about be an excuse for you not to experience something wonderful. The world is much more open and inviting than you think. That’s something that I picked up from Miss Saigon. That and to always portray strong women … but that’s whole other blog ;)

What’s the show that changed something in you?

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