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Randy Reyes Embraces his Passion for Storytelling
as an Actor, Director and Theater Educator

Randy Reyes embraces his passion for storytelling as an actor, director and theater educator. After attending the acting program at the University of Utah on scholarship, he was accepted to the prestigious Juilliard School. Once he graduated, he stayed in New York to pursue his acting career, but was frustrated with the lack of roles for an Asian American actor.

Randy Reyes
Randy Reyes. Photo by Lia Chang.

I sat down with Reyes for lunch at Mai Sushi in New York last Fall, to talk about his life in the theater and how he came to settle in the Twin Cities.

“I found it very frustrating as an Asian American actor trying to get jobs,” said Reyes. “The television shows and movies I was auditioning for were terrible parts, there was nothing exciting. I felt like the Asian American Theater Companies in New York—well, I have a better relationship with them now that I am in Minneapolis than I did when I was here trying to get a job, coming out of Juilliard—I found them very insular. It takes a while to have them embrace you. I was shocked. I thought one of the Asian American Theater Companies was going to be my home, at least. I ended it up doing a lot of regional theater work which took me out of town, and then I would have to come back and start all over again. Those parts were at least interesting. I was doing a lot of Shakespeare.”

He soon discovered his artistic home in the Twin Cities at Mu Performing Arts, Minnesota’s only pan-Asian performing arts organization, which is the second largest Asian American performing arts company in the United States. He wears many hats at Mu Performing Arts, including actor, director, artistic associate and community liaison.

Flower Drum Song
Randy Reyes and the cast of Mu Performing Arts' production of David Henry Hwang’s
revival of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song. Photo by Michal Daniel.

“A lot of things came together,” said Reyes. “First of all, I was frustrated. I had been here for ten years, including school. Career wise, I wasn’t progressing the way I wanted to. I needed a change. I didn’t want to live the way I was living. I was getting jobs and going on unemployment, getting jobs, going on unemployment. I thought, ‘I’m in my 30’s and I don’t want to live in a tiny room. I don’t want to keep getting unemployment. I want a higher standard of living. I want to own something. I don’t want to keep throwing money into a pit that I never see anything from it.’ My girlfriend was from Winona, MN. I was in talks with the Guthrie [Theater]. I was getting hired there as an actor and I was doing a lot of education work while I was there. Joe Dowling was interested in creating a job for me as a theater education director so he offered me a job. It was the hardest thing to do, to move out of NY, but in looking back, it was really a great move for me. You feel like you are leaving your dreams, but the idea of success had changed for me. I bought a car. I live in a condo, which my girlfriend owns. We have space. And I am doing a lot of theater.”

M. Butterfly
Eric Sharp and Randy Reyes in David Henry Hwang's Tony award-winning M. Butterfly
at the Guthrie in 2010. Photo by Michal Daniel.

Reyes has performed for the Guthrie, Mu Performing Arts, The Workhaus Collective, Thirst Theater, Chicago Ave Project, and Mixed Blood, MN Fringe Festival, and has had leading roles in Little Shop of HorrorsThe Damn AuditionM. ButterflyYellow Face, Music Lover,The Romance of Magno RubioFlower Drum Song and The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Little Shop of Horrors
Sara Ochs as Audrey and Randy Reyes as Seymour in the Mu Performing Arts production
of Little Shop of Horrors. Photo by Michal Daniel.

He has been at the helm of Thoroughly Modern Millie and City of Angels at the Bloomington Theater and Arts Center; King of Shadows at the Pillsburyhouse Theatre; the Workhaus Collective’s production of God Save Gertrude at the Playwrights’ Center; WTFCowboy Versus Samurai and Circle Around the Island with Mu Performing Arts at the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio; Suitcase ScienceVOICES, and The Value of Life at the Science Museum; ZOMO/RAVEN for the Mill City Museum’s Go Read Day; FOUND at Augsburg College; and Antigone at Macalester College. As the Artistic Director for The Strange Capers, a theater company that does outdoor Shakespeare in the spirit of a gift, he has directed productions of Twelfth NightAs You Like It, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Reyes teaches acting and movement at the University of Minnesota BFA Actor Training Program and has taught at NYU Grad Acting Program, Wagner College, University of Utah, The Guthrie Experience for Actors in Training, and Augsburg College.

“Rick Shiomi, the artistic director of Mu Performing Arts, welcomed me when I moved to Minneapolis,” shared Reyes. “I found a home immediately with an Asian American Theater Company, a family that I’d been looking for 10 years. I’ve been working there ever since. We got a TCG, a mentor/mentorship grant so that I could learn about being an artistic director. Rick took me under his wing. That’s been amazing. I curate their festivals and new play readings. I train, I do outreach. We having a program called  The Mu Stories-going into the classrooms, usually ELL classes- doing a workshop, and they end up telling their stories and performing. It’s a very powerful program that Rick started and I’ve taken over. I also set up pre-show panels that take place a month before the show happens to talk about the issues in the play, post-show discussions. I also started my own theater company, The Strange Capers. We do an outdoor Shakespeare production, one a year so it doesn’t take up too much of my time. It’s been 3 years, we’re getting grants, funding and growing our audience. A lot of things are happening in Minneapolis that I think would have taken much longer for me anywhere else.”

In March, he directed Mu Performing Arts’ production of A. Rey Pamatmat’s Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them, which began preview performances on March 13 at Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. 4th St in Minneapolis, MN.

Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them
Randy Reyes directs Mu Performing Arts’ production of
Mixed Blood Theatre, March 13-April 1, 2012

In Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them, three kids — Kenny (Alex Galick), his sister Edith (Isabella Dawis), and their friend Benji (Matthew Cerar) — are all but abandoned on a farm in remote Middle America. With little adult supervision, they feed and care for each other, making up the rules as they go. But when Kenny’s relationship with Benji becomes more than friendship, and Edith shoots something she really shouldn’t shoot, the formerly indifferent outside world comes barging in whether they want it to or not.

Reyes said,”My mother worked two jobs to support us, so my sisters and I spent hours and hours every week fending for ourselves. Kenny and Edith have to take care of each other in the same way, the difference being that my sisters and I knew that our mother was coming home. Kenny and Edith have no idea when their father will make an appearance. This lack of adult supervision creates a bond among siblings unlike any other.”

LC: What led you to acting?
RR: My mom encouraged me to perform, sing and dance, whenever family and friends came over. I wanted to be a performer, a singer. I was a soloist for the church choir, until my voice changed. That was horrible. Really traumatic. My voice changed dramatically, really fast. I had to quit choir. It was very shocking to the system. I went to Sherman Oaks, a private catholic high school in L.A. There was a great drama teacher there and it was a way for me to perform without singing. It was a different form of performance that I really enjoyed. It fed that performance aspect but it didn’t necessarily have to do with singing. I started to sing again, and took some singing lessons just to get used to my new voice. All my training has been classical. I am a classical trained actor.

LC: What brought you to New York?
RR: Juilliard. I went to University of Utah in Salt Lake City for my undergrad in the acting program there. It was one of the only programs that accepted me with any kind of scholarship out of high school. I didn’t know what I was doing out of high school anyway, so it was good to be in Utah without any distractions. It was a really good program. The guy who ran it was great. There was nothing going on in Utah. I could focus. And it was safe. Then I got into Juilliard.

LC: Was Juilliard your first choice?
RR: As an Asian American actor, I didn’t see myself represented very much. I felt I needed a place like Juilliard to set me apart from other people. That was my mindset at the time. I felt the name would get me in doors that I otherwise couldn’t. I found that to be true.

LC: What are your three favorite roles?
RR: I did a tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Guthrie where I played Puck. That was really awesome. It was a huge tour. We had 3 semis coming to town. We went to these small towns that hadn’t seen anything like that. It was a cool rock and roll production. Very accessible and the kids loved it. Recently, I played Song in M. Butterfly at the Guthrie and Magno in Lonnie Carter’s The Romance of Magno Rubio at Mu Performing Arts.

LC: Did David Henry Hwang come to see you in his plays that you appeared in?
RR: David and I have known each other a long time. I did the final workshop of Flower Drum Song before it went to LA. I played Harvard. That’s when I first met David. That was the first all Asian American cast I’ve ever been a part of. I was still at Juilliard. He came to see Yellow Face and M. Butterfly. He gave notes.

Yellow Face
Randy Reyes and Kim Kivens in The Guthrie presentation of a Mu Performing Arts production
of Yellow Face, by David Henry Hwang. Photo by Michal Daniel.

LC: What are you teaching at the University?
RR: I teach acting and movement to the BFA students. They have an actor training program in the undergraduate program. In Utah, Kenneth Washington ran the program; he now runs the company development at the Guthrie. He also teaches at NYU and Juilliard, so he actually directed me while I was at Juilliard. He runs their training program. There’s a deep tie.

Magno Rubio
Randy Reyes as Magno Rubio in Mu Performing Arts' production
of Lonnie Carter's The Romance of Magno Rubio. Photo by Stephen Geffrey.

LC: How did you get into directing?
RR: I think I’ve always wanted to direct. I have that part of my brain when I’m in rehearsal where I think about things and sometimes it’s annoying. I have to stop myself in rehearsal when I’m an actor and remind myself to just act. I was always interested. I like to sit in rehearsals when I’m not even called and just be in the room. I get excited about tech. That’s when all of the theater stuff happens, lights, costumes. It’s something I’ve always wanted. The first professional play I directed was with Mu at the Guthrie at the Dowling Studio. Rick said, “Do you want to direct this play, Circle Around the Island?” It is by a Filipino-Hawaiian, with movement, theater, Hula. Really simple, but really elegantly told. Rick had a crazy trust that I could do it and just handed it over to me. From then on, I got jobs around Minneapolis because of that. Rick has also continued to hire me. It’s pretty consistent and I think I’m getting better every time. I know how to act. I’m very comfortable as an actor. I feel like I’m learning as a director. I learn about acting when I ‘m directing and I learn about directing when I am acting. I learn from other directors that I’m working with as an actor. So it’s great that I continue to learn and train as I function in every aspect of what I do in theater.
If you had asked me like 7 or 8 years ago, told me that I was going to be in Minneapolis and that I would have a thriving career there, I would have said you were insane. No way. I’ve grown so much there. Things might change. Opportunities might come up. I don’t see that Minneapolis is going to be the end all. I’m an artist.

LC: What has been the most important experience you’ve had in Minneapolis?
RR: My relationship with Mu Performing Arts was a part of my life that I was missing as an artist. I trained at Juilliard. I had a very good sense of myself as an actor in America, but not as an Asian American actor, even as a human being. My identity was more white that it was Asian, until I started working with Mu Performing Arts. It really set my politics. It really set my identity. How I wanted to be perceived not only as a human being, but also as an artist. I’ve brought that along in a profound way that affects every aspect of who I am. I bring that to all of my projects that I do in Minneapolis, and in general. I don’t want to be ignored anymore. Being Asian and the way I look, I want that to be part of the choice that we’re making in the play. I don’t care if it is a Chekhov play, a Shakespeare play, or even A Christmas Carol. I need to know that the way I look is not being ignored. That’s a lot of responsibility.

LC: How does the AA talent pool in MN compare to that in NYC and LA?
RR: Tinier. Small pool and young. No 50-60 year old men or women. We joke, there are 3 of us guys, and all the same age and we’ve all played each other’s fathers. Energetic and sweet. We’re trying to train Asian American actors. Trying to find ways of training.

LC: What are you most passionate about?
RR: I love telling stories. I love either having people tell me stories or me watching stories being told, me telling stories, or me pulling together a process of storytelling. That could be visual, that could be text. I don’t even care. I love being introduced to a world and taken on a journey and discovery. I love exploring all the different ways that can happen, all the different ways we can tell a story. I like it live. I like breathing the same air as my audience. I think that shared imagination is very addictive. I love that in watching live music. I love the live aspect of performance. It’s up to the audience to imagine. That’s the beauty of live theater.

LC: What do you see in your future?
RR: I’d love to run a midsize to large theater company. It’s a combination of devising new work and supporting new playwrights, and also doing classics in a very exciting way. I do want to act still. I don’t want to stop acting. I don’t think one has to. I want it all.

© Lia Chang

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