Seeing Without the Blinders

by Hanson Tse

in Diversity & Inclusion,National Conference

Post image for Seeing Without the Blinders

(This post is a part of the Diversity & Inclusion blog salon led by Online Curator Jacqueline E. Lawton for the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach in Dallas. Check out further Diversity & Inclusion interviews on Jacqueline’s blog. If you are interested in participating in this or any other Circle blog salon, email Gus Schulenburg.)

TCG Online Conference Salon Diversity and Inclusion Program Arc Asian American Theatre JACQUELINE LAWTON: First, tell me about the work you do as a theatre artist or administrator.

HANSON TSE: My acting has always been strongest in dramatic narrative. Although my career highlights are predominantly in theatre, I have always been more of a filmic actor preferring to explore the complex subtleties of emotional, nuanced expression.

Almost 3 years ago, I made a difficult but truthful decision to leave the business, which was not serving me and what I had to offer as both an actor and a human being. As as result I’ve been fortunate to see both the biz and society with lucidity. As much as we like to see theatre as being a different and positive part of society, it is very much woven from the same cloth.

Almost four years ago I founded the theory and practice of WAMBI Exploration (Wisdom through Awareness and Mind Body Integration) which draws heavily from the deep insights of acting as a practice of self-knowledge and cultivation as well as movement practices, mind-body therapies such as Cranio-Sacral Therapy, Taoist chi gong, and many others. As WAMBI they comprise an entirely unique philosophy of practice which fuses as a singularity the great endeavors of human understanding eg., science, religion, medicine, philosophy et al.

In essence, it examines our human nature in relationship to both itself and the world around it. What we find through this exploration, perhaps so obvious as to be elusive, is that all things are profoundly connected in life and that the ultimate judge of how you live is health itself. The way you act, think and feel which essentially is the art of acting, have deep, inherent lessons for every other aspect of your time on this earth.

Additionally, I am an Executive Producer on an exciting upcoming film, 701, by director James Fox and writer Tracy Tormé.

JL: How do you identify in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, and heritage? How has this identity influenced the work that you do?

HT: First and foremost, I have always identified as a human being so when I began pursuing a professional acting career I found it frustrating to limit my entire self to something so conceptually limiting as an ethnicity. We are all in this to explore and express our humanity, nothing less. Our ethnicity, culture, or what have you is simply the clothing that we wear meanwhile acting is about playing dress-up.

While we carry the identity of our ethnicity or culture, it is too easy to allow them to define and to limit us. People in the business of theatre must remind themselves that they are at their core boundless. That is when their work will fly, whatever particular channel it may take. If they don’t understand that concept, they have some work to do to figure it out. It’s not about being the best actor you can be but the best human being. Those two things are not separate in the least.

JL: How has this identity impacted your ability to work in the American Theatre? Have certain opportunities been made available to you owing to “who” you are? Have certain doors been closed to you?

HT: Most doors have been closed to me for whatever reason. I spent a very long time fighting for a career that ultimately I realized would never see me for who and what I was in part because we have all submitted ourselves to our own assumptions about ourselves provided by society rather than explore deeply our true natures.

I believe the most beneficial course we can take in this business is to endeavor toward total excellence. It does no one any service to do any less. If everyone did that, i.e. producers, directors, writers, and actors, we would not be discussing the triviality of race right now. We would be challenging society toward a greater understanding. And the only way to do that is to challenge ourselves toward a greater understanding of ourselves.

JL: Do we need racial, ethnic and gender based culturally specific theaters? What is gained by having stories of a certain community told by artists of that community?

HT: Most importantly, we need quality work that advances our understanding of the human experience. We need to experience ourselves and how we live with clarity and perspective so that we may learn how to better who and what we are. Theatrical story-telling is at its best when there is something to be gained, when we are inspired to be a better version of ourselves.

Cultural theatre is not relevant unless it is of the highest quality because in that quality lies the universal expression of the human condition. If work does not contain that component, I couldn’t care less about it. If it does, it’s compelling and attractive irrespective of its gender, racial, or cultural specificity. We appeal to people by appealing to their humanity.

If you have a truly compelling story, tell it to its entirety. The people will come. They will laugh, cry, and be inspired. Honor the work and your true self. There is nothing else to do.

JL: What is the current state of Asian American Theatre? (This can address recent offences and/or great accomplishments.)

HT: The work which essentially defined my career, Steppenwolf’s after the quake, was a triumph in Asian-American theater. The director, Frank Galati, is a tremendous theatre artist. His artistic interpretation and Steppenwolf’s reputation helped to elevate our show into a wonderful piece that managed to touch many people around the country. William Hurt when we saw the show in Chicago was so touched that he stayed behind to profusely thank each of us as we emerged from backstage. It’s not about race, it’s about the universality of integrity, passion, and the human experience.

The problem in the end is not culturally-specific theatre or even theatre as a whole. The true problem is us, the true problem is society. Theatre decisions are made based on politics and financially-minded commerciality. It’s time that theatres dedicate themselves to the best quality work they can while expressing something of greater value. We all see Hollywood’s terrible decisions and all theatres want to do is mimic their model of superficiality. It’s time each and every one of us begin to pursue humanity’s potential. That means recognizing that we’re caught in a false game and choosing to play a better one.

JL: What can theatres do to better serve a larger and more inclusive community?

HT: What everyone needs to do, not just theatres, is pursue deep understanding of the human condition. Artists and business people in the arts must heal themselves and develop personally and spiritually to truly understand the reality of existence. Only then will we have something new and of significant value to express. Until now, theatre has been like society’s wagging tail. I would like to see theatre be the tail that wags the dog. We must stop reflecting our limitations back to us and begin to reflect our greatness. That begins by discovering your own true greatness. The effects will ripple through our society. The time has come to build a new, expansive world and we each have a lot of work to do.

Hanson Tse originated the lead role of Junpei in Steppenwolf’s after the quake by Frank Galati, adapted from Haruki Murakami’s novel of the same name (Steppenwolf, Long Wharf, La Jolla Playhouse, Berkeley Rep) and originated the role of Vince Lee in Naomi Iizuka’s Strike-Slip at the 2007 Humana Festival (Actor’s Theatre of Louisville). He was featured in ABC’s 2009 Diversity Showcase. Television appearances included The Unit and One Life to Live. He is the founder of WAMBI Exploration (Wisdom through Awareness and Mind Body Integration), a theory and practice exploring the human potential and an Executive Producer on the upcoming film, 701. He currently resides in Medellín, Colombia.

Jacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena.