First of Two Articles
By Precious Lee Cundangan
Manila, Philippines, October 9, 2012 — There are no small parts, only small actors; and Art Acuña, a US-based theater, film, and television actor, whose recent performance as restaurant manager, Harry Shaw, in the television series “The Kitchen Musical" received an International Emmy nomination announced just yesterday, is anything but narrow-minded or narcissistic.
With his extensive professional experience and slew of awards (Obie, Urian, Cinemalaya), it is good to know that the greater the artist is, the more simple, humble he gets. Despite his flourishing career in the US, and his peerless acting skills that have transcended the boundaries of different art forms, Art has remained low-key and down to earth. He has been opened to all types of roles, secondary or top-billing roles; and in each role he brings the same professionalism and gravity in his performance.
Art arrives for the interview with BroadwayWorld wearing casual clothes and a wide, sincere smile; he gamely answers our questions about the ins and outs of the Broadway industry; the impending Singapore transfer of “God of Carnage” with Lea Salonga, Adrian Pang, and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo; and his thoughts about Filipinos and Filipino-Americans making it on the Great White Way.
Unlike Art who is fairly known in the theater circles in the US, some Filipino theater actors, both in the US and in the Philippines, want to break into Broadway. Art explains the process, which includes securing an accreditation from the Actors’ Equity Association, and the difficulty it involves.
According to Art casting problems would be one of the road blocks when it comes to having Asian actors performing on the Broadway stage. American audiences vary from one state to another; some audiences may not be forgiving when Asians are cast in roles that are not of their ethnicity.
“In every play there’s a specific audience one needs to cater to,” explains Art, “Often people do minor jobs in order to join a play, and eventually cross that hurdle. But the quickest way for Asians to be tapped for Broadway is that they have to learn how to sing and dance because somehow audiences are more forgiving when it comes to actors that are singing and dancing while playing a different ethnicity.”
Art, who was supposed to be cast in the highly-controversial workshop production of La Jolla Playhouse and Duncan Sheik’s “The Nightingale,” explains his stand on the production’s mainly non-Asian casting, and he has only this to say, “There’s a reason that the story used specific ethnicities, and I understand that in some productions this is inclusive of intents, barriers, and colors.”
Although he is still based in the US, Art has decided to try out working in the Philippines more than a year ago. According to him the transition has been interesting so far, although he admits that they are completely different systems (US versus the Philippines) altogether.
“In New York or elsewhere in the States, the actor’s employer has a certain set of regulations: the actor is well-protected and often given lodging,” Art explains. “Every country has a facet in its system and target audiences that is different and interesting. There are also little differences between doing theater in the US and in the Philippines. Here, each theater company is different from the rest. But both theater practitioners in the States and in the Philippines are alike in terms of professionalism.”
Art further elaborates his impression on Philippine theatre via his working relationships with director Bobby Garcia and his co-actors Salonga, Pang, and Yulo in Yasmina Reza’s black comedy “God of Carnage.”
For Art, working with everybody in “God of Carnage” can be described as professional and playful; he further elaborates it by saying, “Bobby’s instincts are good, and working with him and with my co-actors has been a great collaborative effort among ourselves. We enjoy each other’s company, and we miss each other.”