Monique Holt – Actor (2002)
by Monique Holt (2002)
First of all, I am an Asian and a Deaf actress. Deaf actors & Asian actors are in a similar struggle to break through typecasting. I must admit it was fun being typecast once in my lifetime. I played the Youngest Daughter with all Asian actors in “Friends” produced by Pan Asian Repertory Theatre. It was not about me being Asian but about my ability to integrate into this play.
I like the fact that I don’t have an Asian name as long as I don’t put my middle name on my resume. It throws casting directors and directors off balance and it has given me the opportunity to play different ways at the auditions. With an Asian name I feel the auditioners would have a preconceived notion of how I would behave; as my name is not obviously Asian, I feel I have more opportunity to play different roles.
As an actor, I feel I have a better chance of obtaining a role when I present the role as I envision it. . But I have learned to do some research on what directors, writers & casting directors envision because it is all about give and take in this profession. What I bring to the audition has helped them to see a little new interpretation twist with my envision into their envision. It forces them to rethink that maybe their envision was not “it” but something else. I just have to show my face more often.
As a theater audience member, I have witnessed more Asian actors on Broadway as part of the ensemble, which is actually good news. However, the only time you see an Asian starring in a lead role is if the role demands it – Miss Saigon. But still they don’t do it for The King and I.
As a member of the film audience, I have witnessed more Asian actors in the media more than ever; however, they are not hired back or used again and again like many other white or black actors. They disappear. Like Margaret Cho, Tia Carrere, Lucy Liu, Bai Ling, Joan Chen…
Margaret Cho, is a stage comedienne. Finally, she got an offer to have her own television show but it ended up that she had to fight to stay in the “bigger media” of television. Eventually, she gave up and went back to the stage of comedy.
Lucy Liu succeeded as “the bitch” in Ally McBeal; then she disappeared. She finally reappeared with Woody Harrelson in the movie Play It To The Bone in Drew Barrymore’s Charlie’s Angels and now, with Antonio Banderas in Ballistic, her character has a non- Asian name [Agent Sever] which is exciting …
Some actors with foreign names have to speak the “mother tongue” but some of them don’t know how because they were raised here in America. Does that make them unattractive? They had to hone other skills, like Tia Carrere who actually could speak Chinese and sing well. Yet, I haven’t seen Tia making more than three movies in one year, like Halle Berry or Cameron Diaz …
I believe that the industry including more people of various races with various backgrounds into this game, helped me get in the game. When I first started working professionally, I had no idea where to start. I only went for “Deaf” or “Asian” roles. Now I know better and I just show up if they are looking for an actress to play or have the ability to do this… I learned to trust the casting directors to make the best decision for the production. I am not afraid to speak my mind because when I do, I usually perform better for them since they know where I stand. So to compare from my early days to recent five years, it is amazing how many doors are now ajar, just wide enough for me to put my feet in. The writers felt different languages and different abilities include the people with disabilities who have the abilities to cope in the real world and they want to show the audience how we do it. It’s refreshing.
Regarding the work of others, it has been difficult for my friends who are black actresses. . They have found themselves stuck in hard places. Because of MTV andVH1, stereotype casting is escalating to an almost unbearable level. They have often been asked to do a nude scene … or play the maid, babysitter, prostitute, mean “bitch”, or the helpless victim of domestic abuse, with almost no morals or value left. Very few roles have been offered that haven’t demanded this degrading presentation.
My perception of current opportunities is that they continue on a rollercoaster track. One year, opportunities are scarcely there for Deaf actors. Then all of a sudden, there are about ten auditions for specific Deaf roles in the following year…
However, the people of different races and disabilities still need to fight to keep the doors of opportunities open. Sometimes it is helpful when other people of different races win – that’s when actors of the same race but with different disabilities also win. Here’s a real example: Michelle Banks, a beautiful Black Deaf actress with no union cards, moved to Los Angeles last year. She literally got very little work. When Halle Berry, Denzel Washington and Sidney Poitier got recognition for their work, she finally got some work and union cards. If not for them, Michelle would get work and union cards at a much later date, trying to convince the producers and casting directors that a talented Black Deaf actor can do as good a job as a talented Black Hearing actor, using a different communication approach.
Regarding the workplace, I have liked almost all of my experiences, all good and bad, in the companies I was hired to work with.
Basically, everyone still has to prove they can do the role. “Able-bodies and able-to-tell-the-story in all forms” actors have the same judgments being cast over them, despite their celebrity or being unknown or wet-behind-ears status.
I love when the director/stage manager reacts to me directly which gives the cast a better understanding of our interaction. This can later influence how the creative team adjusts and lets me in to pitch in my interpretations and/or suggestions. They usually begin in an awkward way by asking for information in how to deal with this “unusual” casting, but once they understand, it becomes clear for them. The staff is the key to opening the door and exposing people to see things in a new light.
Some actors are curious to work with me because of how my character eventually will interact with their character, or because of my quirky personality or the languages I use. Reactions vary: some actors are shy, some disinterested, and others are enthusiastic about working with me. Meeting the cast for the first time is like going to college for the first time: we are like new freshmen trying to join in, or analyzing the rest of the group.
I believe the key remaining barriers to achieving inclusion are Producers and money. My using the word “Producers”, includes the influence which extends itself downward: for example, the casting directors who are not comfortable in casting actors outside the stereotype. There were several commercial auditions for which I tried out. They often were not looking for non-speaking or Asian actors. They would roll their eyes as if to say “Duh? Don’t you see you are not young enough, white, hearing, and we are not looking for Deaf nor Asian…” But when I did my cold reading, they ended up enthralled with my work, telling me I was wonderful. I did not get the job for this particular spot, but I got the next job from those same casting directors and directors. The writers and producers need to be enlightened to be flexible in how to cast people of unusual talents or who differ from their original visions. There is commercial potential in casting outside of the box: if the producers want to increase their audience, they have to attract everyone, meaning all kind of people! In short, for actors, who want to be in, they have to bring in a sense of humor. Not grievance or sarcasm into their work, which will hurt them in the end.
For the last few years now, I am exploring the translation of Shakespeare’s plays and how to present the true text in American SHAKESPEAREAN Sign Language. The sensibility of the meaning in prose and verse. His plays present “universal problems” of living human beings with all their strengths and weaknesses. It is amazing it still applies to the past, present and future. I am also trying to share my love for Shakespeare’s ironies in life. Plays that present “universal problems” can be cast in a “non-traditional” way, which lets everyone in the audience relate to the characters and situations.
Also, I write lyrics and am trying to figure out how to set up my own live “blues & hard rock” band. 😉
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