'Hamilton' tour cast opens up about AAPI representation in the arts

You’ve either seen "Hamilton" or at least heard of it. It’s the Tony award-winning musical that has been selling out on Broadway for years and generating a lot of buzz around town recently. Often recognized for its diverse cast, this year’s Angelica tour features six actors of Asian descent.

David Park, who now stars as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson has been hoping to land a role in the show since 2017, when he won the lottery and got front row seats. He stuck around after the show to meet Lin-Manuel Miranda, the star and creator of the show with some bold words to share.

Six members of Hamiltons touring cast are of Asian decent.  (Supplied)

"I was like, ‘Hey Lin keep this show open for a while because I want to be in it someday,’" David said. 

Fast-forward to November 2021, David’s vision manifested into reality. However, pursuing a career in the arts isn’t all that common for Asian-Americans. Like for swing performer Kendyl Sayuri Yokoyama, whose parents are in the medical and science field. Although she didn’t go in that direction, Kendyl knew right away theater was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. 

Breaking into the industry wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows for these actors though. Ethnicity being front and center.

"In school you kind of study roles and as an Asian actor, you're studying roles that you could play that normally a non-Asian person plays or you're doing 'The King and I' in rep class and that's not who I am," said David.

Kendyl added how cutthroat Asian-specific roles have gotten, "I auditioned for Addams’ Family years ago for community theater and they were like, ‘Sweetie you can’t be Wednesday because your parents have to be Asian.’ Even I was nervous to not be Asian enough for Asian jobs. That’s how competitive we all made us to be. There’s only one spot for an Asian person."

Thanks to shows like "Hamilton" that focus on color-blind casting, there are more opportunities for all. As swing performer Reanne Dawn Gutierrez Acasio recalled, "Families can look however they want nowadays and I’ve never run into an issue with, ‘Oh we have an Asian Schuyler sister, a Black Schuyler sister, a Latina Schuyler sister, they don’t look like a family.’ That has never been, I don’t think that has ever been an issue at least vocally."

As David also pointed out, "In this show, every person is seen at some point and that’s also a beautiful part of it. That’s why at the end of the show, we bow in a straight line."

Hollywood is making changes too, bringing more diversity to the screens. We’ve all lived to see movies and shows like "Everything Everywhere All At Once" win an Oscar for best picture or "Beef," which has continued climbing up the Netflix rankings, something Kendyl said "changed everything for all of us."

"We see all these streaming sites making all these shows and some of them get canceled after a season. But I think that that is actually the remedy, where if we give a lot of people a lot of different backgrounds the opportunity to tell a story and tell it the way they want to tell it. And let the people decide what they want to consume," said David.

In response, Kendyl admitted, "I think that’s getting me out of this victim mindset like, ‘Oh Asians don’t get repped enough.’ They do now."

The most important people are showing their support too, traveling from near and far to watch their children hone their craft. Like Reanne’s family, who witnessed just how passionate she is about performance. 

"They came all the way from Germany to see me as Eliza and it makes me so emotional because I finally got to show them. And just having them in the audience and loving it and telling me that they’re proud of me, which I don’t get that a lot," said Reanne.

In Asian cultures, being affectionate can be uncomfortable. That’s why we show love in different ways, by showing up for each other. As David explained, "Most of the time it’s like ‘I’m here. Like my time, my energy, my attention is currency and I’m giving it to you.’"

It’s not that affection isn’t shown in Asian families. Sometimes it is shown but indirectly. Reanne gave a perfect example, "Of course they didn’t tell me this until after they were on the plane like ‘I don’t want to say it to her in person’ but my dad was like, ‘Your mom and I are so proud of your accomplishments and we’re so proud and excited for what’s to come for you.’"

Most Asian parents today don’t realize how big of an impact face-to-face communication has. David backed that up by adding, "Things like saying, ‘I’m proud of you’ in person. It matters in person and not in text. I mean, it’s impactful regardless, but things like that, they don’t really understand because that’s not how they grew up."

Direct or indirect, that support can make all the difference for these actors living life on the road. "Touring is a hard gig. We don’t have a lot of things that I don’t want to say people take for granted but are automatic ways to recharge your mind, body spirit," said David.

With that, Reanne emphasized the importance of taking care of yourself by doing things on your own time, "I think it’s very important to be able to anchor in something that’s outside of ‘Hamilton,’ outside of work because so much of our energy and time goes into this job that when we do have a moment of respite, we need it to recharge and rest."

For now, this trio will continue being their authentic selves while entertaining audiences across the country and inspiring the next generation along the way. 

"This Korean-American family came up to David and had a little boy who was like, ‘he wants to do what you want to do,’" Kendyl shared. On that note, David thought, "If someone also saw that but translated it to ‘If he can do that, maybe I can do this thing I didn’t think I could do before,’ it can be so much more than acting and being a representative of that."

The trio also had some advice that could go a long way for younger, aspiring actors.

"I want to tell little youngins that you can just prove yourself wrong, that you have nothing to prove to other people and we are truly our own worst enemies," Kendyl said.

David said, "Just live your life and pursue things that make you happy. Pursue your passions genuinely, earnestly and I think from there like whatever you want to do, like you can do it."

And Reanne reiterated, "Have other things that bring you joy and fulfillment that’s outside of this industry. You don’t have to rely on the industry to make you a person to give you validation, to make you worthy."

That all comes with a final message from the trio: "You are worthy, you are worthy. Period. And if acting is what brings you joy, do it. Don’t let anyone tell you not to."