(To learn more about Marcy Arlin’s Artist, Immigrant blog series, click here.)
What do you love about theatre in the U.S. for yourself and in general?
Well, for one thing you never know what you’re going to get here. I’ve been severely disappointed and I’ve been wonderfully surprised, sometimes, both, in the same show. I’ve seen things on stage here that will stay with me forever because of their brilliance or originality or simply because of the story that was being told. As an actor/artist/storyteller I find myself constantly seeking out inspiration. For me it is extremely important to constantly feed my soul and nourish my creativity and I find nourishment in abundance here. That’s why I love NYC so much. And I do love NYC. There’s so much to see and learn from. Even shows that I don’t like, I find that I learn something from the experience that will allow me to grow. Not to mention the talented and brilliant theatre artists that inhabit this city. I have had the great good fortune to have met and worked with some brilliantly creative people here and for that I am very grateful.
One of my goals is to immerse myself completely in acting, in theater, in creativity; and that is all possible here. I’ve worked on great shows and not so great shows but I am always learning and growing, and that’s why I’m here.
What do you miss about working in your homeland?
I miss my family. I miss the food, the weather, the ocean. I miss the culture which is music… musical, colorful, flavorful. There is so much creativity in Trinidad and Tobago, which, in my opinion, needs to be harnessed and developed, and I would love to do that in some way.
How have your combined, in your work, both country’s theatre training and culture?
In Trinidad, everything is loose and easy. Island life is fun and playful. The music, which is a large part of life there, is happy and joyful… Carnival is a celebration. I bring all of that to my work. I spent years in school training my body, voice and mind. I learned and developed discipline, and then I allowed that to fuse with a sense of play and joy and fun. When I am performing I am like a dolphin in the ocean playing with his pals. For me, acting is a celebration of life and I feel that comes from the Caribbean sunshine, which runs through my veins.
The fun and the discipline are the two main elements for me. A teacher of mine used to say “Passion and Clarity” –– neither of which a performer can do without. One without the other is rendered meaningless. I got the passion, the warmth, the intensity and the sense of play from home. I got the discipline and technique that is essential for clarity from my training here. The combination of both makes me the performer that I am.
How do you see yourself/identify yourself as an artist in terms of being an immigrant? Does it matter to you?
I’m from a little island in the Caribbean. My journey to New York from there was pretty epic, taking me from Oklahoma to Chicago to New Haven then finally here. Along the way I had issues with visas, being in and out of status, dealing with lawyers. The visa issue hung over me like a cloud for years. I think it is impossible to make a journey like that without it affecting or changing you in some way. I am an immigrant. I understand that story intimately. I feel I am a better person and actor from having passed through that. A sort of baptism of fire. I’ve had several opportunities to tell the stories of immigrants with The Immigrant Theatre, Desipina, Theater 167, and The Play Company, and many times I play the outsider or the mysterious stranger; the immigrant story is very much a part of who I am and I embrace that. It is a beautiful story and immigrants are a strong and determined people. It is important to recognize that and to tell that story today especially with what is happening with the government and with immigration reform.
How does it affect your getting work? (accent, ethnicity, etc.)
A couple years ago I was spending some time in Trinidad, trying to get a Shakespeare project going there. I wanted to do something to help the community and high schoolers appreciate Shakespeare and be close to my family. Unfortunately I was met with a lot of resistance. I was torn as to where I wanted and needed to be. In the warmth with my family? Struggle in the cold in NYC? I returned to NYC and got a job working in a restaurant to pay the bills, when I got a call to audition for a play. I read the play and couldn’t make heads or tails of it; it was going into rehearsals the day after my audition. But I went in and auditioned and got offered the part later that evening. I quit the restaurant the next day. The play, Invasion, was produced by The Play Company and went on to win an Obie for best play. It turned out to be one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had in theater. It was a cast of four and we bonded like family. Erica Schmidt, the director, was absolutely amazing. This show reminded me of where I needed to be and what I was supposed to be doing. I learned later that I had missed the initial auditions because I was in Trinidad. Someone else had been cast but they had dropped out for another “bigger” project. My name only came up because of the stage manager, with whom I had just worked with on a previous project. The right thing happens at the right time IF you are open AND ready for it. The casting director, Judy Henderson, then brought me in for my current show, Bunty Berman Presents for The New Group. So for me, always be open and ready, aaaand who knows….
What are you doing now? Here and/or abroad?
Right now I’m working on a brand new musical at The New Group called Bunty Berman Presents written by the wonderfully talented Ayub Khan Din. It’s set in 1950’s Bollywood and it’s going to be really good, I think. It’s nice to have plays that give brown actors a chance to be seen on stage in NYC. Asian, South East Asian, Middle Eastern and Hispanic actors are severely underrepresented on stage in this city which is so beautifully diverse and that is nothing but a crying shame. There is a lot of talent within these communities and the more prominent theatre companies need to step up, get with the times, and diversify! There is no excuse anymore.
At present I am not doing anything abroad. The goal and dream is that in the near future I can start a training program in Trinidad and maybe take shows down there to expose young people to the beauty and relevance of theatre.
What is your residency/citizenship/visa status? How does it affect your life as an artist?
I am a legal resident. I have my green card. Thank god. It was a huge struggle and took like what seemed forever to get it. A huge investment of time, and money. I missed some important events because I couldn’t travel. My sister’s and brother’s weddings, and my grandmother’s passing, just to name a few. Now that I have my green card it’s like living again. My life was put on hold, I was forced to miss opportunities that could have boosted my career, but in the end, I believe there is a divine plan and purpose for everything, and that everything happens for a reason. My job is to keep learning and growing. Now that my life is in order in terms of my status, I am free to work and take any job, travel, and visit family. I got my freedom back. I got my smile back. More importantly, I feel very empowered. By the grace of God I made it through that struggle, everything else pales in comparison, and I am a better person, actor and artist because of it. Because I tested the limits of my strength and faith, and the journey continues…
Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte will next be seen in BUNTY BURMAN PRESENTS at The New Group. He has appeared in The Play Company’s Obie award winning INVASION (SoHo Rep/The Flea), MARAT SADE (Classical Theater of Harlem) and THE WINTER’S TALE with David Strathairn (Classic Stage Company). Other NYC credits include JACKSON HEIGHTS TRILOGY at 777 Theatre, BUMBUG: THE MUSICAL at Theater Row, Desipina’s production of LONELY LEELA at HERE Arts Center and ANOTHER LIFE (Irondale Theater). Andrew starred in the original musical BAKWAS BUMBUG (The Wild Project). He also appeared in Pulitzer finalist Rajiv Joseph’s THE LEOPARD AND THE FOX, Pulitzer finalist Rollin Jones’ world premiere of THE JAMMER (NY Fringe Fest) and KINGDOM OF LOST SONGS (Lincoln Center Directors Lab). Other theatre includes THE CONSEQUENCES at Wellfleet. Television appearances include PERSON OF INTEREST, NURSE JACKIE, LAW & ORDER: SVU, TURKS, EARLY EDITION and THE WORKPLACE (PBS).
Education: MFA Yale / BFA De Paul
Marcy Arlin is Artistic Director of the OBIE-winning Immigrants’ Theatre Project. Member: Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab, Theatre without Borders, League of Professional Theatre Women, No Passport, and Fulbright Scholar to Romania and the Czech Republic. She curates Eastern European Playwrights: Women Write the New. Her project East/West/East: Vietnam Immigrants Out of War, is a binational, Vietnamese/Czech/English theatre project based on interviews with American and Czech Vietnamese. She created Journey Theatre with survivors of war and torture. Directing venues: 59E59, QTIP, LaMama, MESTC, Vineyard, Oddfellows Playhouse, Artheater/Köln, Nat’l Theatre of Romania. Co-Editor Czech Plays: 7 New Works. Teaches theatre at CUNY, community-based theatre at Yale, Immigrant Theatre at University of Chicago (her alma mater) and Prague Quadrennial, Brown, and NYU.