Originally from São Paulo, Brazil, Jessie Liang has appeared in a variety of theatrical and television shows including Netflix’s The Night Agent and Virgin River, The CW’s Supergirl, and Arts Club’s 2020 touring production of Kim’s Convenience. More recently, she was the Assistant Director to Redbone Coonhound (Arts Club) and her play, Surrender, was workshopped as part of vAct’s MSG Lab 2022-23, as well as presented at Ruby Slippers’ Advance Theatre Festival 2023. A Studio 58 acting alum, Jessie also coaches actors and teaches Business of Acting workshops. You can connect with her @jessieliang21 on social media.
Share a time that you had to deal with racism in the course of your career:
I am immensely grateful for the privilege to have attended theatre school, though there are moments I think back on that definitely stalled me instead of set me up for success. Having Taiwanese parents but being born and raised in Brazil and eventually attending an American school throughout all my formative years meant that my first language was Mandarin but quickly replaced by Portuguese and English simultaneously. I was repeatedly told by instructors they couldn’t understand me because of my accent and to use Mandarin to connect to text, even though I stated I know and connect better to Portuguese. It wasn’t until our voice instructor helped me understand it was not in fact an accent, but a rhythm that I have that sounds different to North American speakers that I realized how insidious it had been to hear “my accent is too strong”. It was an incorrect assessment from faculty I trusted and was in no way helpful in building my acting skills. This isn’t outwardly racist, but it points to how learning institutions can only benefit from diversity in their own staff – whether it be in age, experience, gender, backgrounds, or languages.
Share something that you are proud of achieving as an Asian Canadian working in professional performing arts:
I’m proud of representing my Taiwanese heritage and multicultural background in a society that doesn’t seem to be aware of Latin-Asian populations, having done so in multiple mediums and various roles. Asians are not a monolith, and being an artist is rarely just one career lane either, so I’m very happily living a life that contains multitudes! I can only hope that my joyful existence inspires others to do the same.
What does it mean to you to be an Asian-Canadian working in the performing arts?
It means that I can honor my family and my cultures visibly, while proving to governing bodies and other organizations that hold power that it benefits everyone to hire diversely, fight for equity, and invest in stories from the POV of marginalized or minority groups.
Albert Tsai (蔡松伯) is a 1.5 generation Taiwanese-Canadian Artist based in so-called Vancouver, British Columbia. He is active in the Film, TV & Commercial industry, working in both major and indie productions. Outside of acting, he is an accomplished Street Dancer, regularly traveling to other cities to compete or learn, organizing local dance sessions to build the community, and occasionally teaching classes to the next generation of dancers. He’s also a proficent singer, having started when he was 7 years old.
Sherry J. Yoon, Artistic Director of Boca del Lupo, is a theatre creator and director with a passion for creating new performances through collaborative pursuits. With Boca del Lupo, Sherry has co-created more than 35 productions, including: Fall Away Home, an intergenerational site-specific production in the forest of Stanley Park; Photog, a large-scale show that toured across Canada and was created with interviews from prominent conflict photographers; and You Are It, as part of the Silver commissions from the Arts Club Theatre that investigates the complex dynamics between female friendships. During Sherry’s tenure, the company has received numerous awards, including the Rio Tinto Alcan Performing Arts Award, and Jessie Awards for Outstanding Production, Design, Actor, Ensemble, as well as the Critic’s Choice Innovation Award. Her productions have toured festivals and venues across Canada, Europe and Mexico. She co-created an online exhibition of Expedition, an iterative collaboration between Boca del Lupo and the Performance Corporation, and working on Net Zero, an interactive theatre installation about climate change that involves the audience charging a battery with a stationary bicycle. She is also a freelance director who has worked at the Richmond Gateway Theatre, Bard on the Beach, the Vancouver International Children’s Festival and at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa Canada.
Suchiththa is a multi-disciplinary Sri Lankan/Canadian actor, producer, creator and educator who has recently been drawn to multi-sensory theatre as well as physical theatre. As an educator, he holds a M.A in Musical Theatre and until very recently was the Associate Producer, Education for Shakespeare in Action. He was most recently seen as Kamal in Bombay Black at Alberta Theatre Projects and as Henry Riverbrook in Dauntless Theatre’s production of This Earth of Majesty, an adaptation of Richard II. Other Select Credits include Ariel in The Tempest (Citadel Theatre), Fakir in The Secret Garden (Theatre Calgary) and Ifty in Pocket Rocket (Lost and Found Theatre).
Select producing credits include 3Tempests (Dramaturg and Producer, SIA), Nona’s Malaika (Digital Theatre, SIA), Harabogee & Me (SIA). Since Covid19 hit, he’s been involved in collaborating in new works, which include Sweeter by Alicia Richardson, Sister Warriors by Roselyn Kelada-Sedra, Leopards and Peacocks by Gitanjali Lena and Off the Beaten Path by Tory Doctor.
As an Asian immigrant to Canada, I’ve had a number of interactions that implied that I simply didn’t “fit”. The first of these came from a director casting a Midsummer Night’s Dream who said “wow that monologue was great, can you do an American Accent?” He later went on to say that it was very important that everyone in the play sounded like they were from the same place. I bent myself into pretzels trying to figure out why he thought that.
The second time was when I saw a bunch of casting calls for Asian actors, but when I asked questions about the casting, I was met with “but you’re not Asian, so you shouldn’t submit”. It was then that I realised that “Asian” only meant East-Asian. Ironically, I had the opposite experience in the UK where they meant Indian when they said Asian. I was excluded either way as a Sri Lankan, and “didn’t look South Asian”.
Coming to Canada as an actor was an eye opening experience. I’ve gone from being an immmigrant to a citizen, an unknown to a less-unknown peformer and creator. I heard excuses upon excuses for why the entertainment industry in Canada wasn’t diverse – “people of colour just don’t submit”, “there aren’t enough good BIPOC actors”, “we can’t just give them ALL the jobs”. What did I do? I decided to start a Facebook group where actors of colour share casting calls with each other. We have to choose to lift each other up, or none of us will get to partake in the storytelling that we’re so drawn to.
I’ve been invited in to changemaking as well. As part of Shakespeare in Action, I was part of a core staff team that developed an Equity Strategy for bringing greater equity to theatre productions, starting at the audition process and running all the way through to post-production. Through engaging in this strategy, I’ve discovered where my own assumptions and biases fall apart and have had to challenge my own preconceived notions of fairness. We all grow when we each grow. AND. We each grow when we all grow.
I am Asian. My voice doesn’t always fit and it is important. Not everyone will believe that. That’s ok. I’ll keep raising up more voices to join me in finding a way to co-exist.
Kellee Ngan (she/her) is a writer, editor and arts administrator based on the traditional, unceded territory of the Squamish People. She has over 15 years’ experience in the arts and non-profit sector, including her previous role as Operations Director at Rumble Theatre. In addition to her work supporting artists and organizations, Kellee engages in her own creative projects. Her writing has been published in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies, including Good Mom on Paper (Book*hug Press) and Making Room: Forty Years of Room Magazine (Caitlin Press). She has also created and collaborated on work for live and digital performance (Rishi & d Douen, Rumble Theatre/Carousel Theatre for Young People). Kellee holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia.
Valerie is an art director specializing in campaigns, design and illustration for socially conscious and sustainable companies, non profits, as well as progressive organizations. Prior to creating her own company, Cabin + Cub Design, she was the award-winning head designer and art director at Adbusters Magazine for five years running. She currently is the art director at This Magazine and Point Blank Creative. When not designing, she can be found taking pictures of pinecones and mushrooms in the forest, playing board games with her kids, and making arts and crafts.
Helen Yagi has worked in Film and Arts PR and Marketing for several years for the Vancouver International Film Festival, Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, and Boca del Lupo. She has also been the publicist for many award winning Canadian directors such as: Bruce Sweeney, Loretta Todd, and Charles Wilkinson; and local film and arts organizations including: Theatre Replacement; Puente Theatre; and the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Helen was also an Associate Producer on a feature documentary about fashion modelling, How to be a Model, which premiered at the VIFF and was broadcast on CBC TV. A visual art photographer when she’s not promoting movies and theatre, Helen has exhibited her work at the North Shore Arts Council, Firehall Arts Centre, Roundhouse Community Centre, and the Vancouver Museum.
Maiko Yamamoto is a Vancouver-based artist who creates new, experimental and intercultural works of performance. Many of these works are built through a career-long practice of collaboration and include theatre projects, public art works, and performance installations.
In 2003, Maiko co-founded the Vancouver-based performance company, Theatre Replacement. For TR she has created over 20 new works, many of which have toured to festivals and venues around the world. These include: BIOBOXES: Artifiacting Human Experience, Yu-Fo, Train, Sexual Practices of the Japanese, Dress me up in your love, Town Choir, MINE and Best Life. She also curates and produces the PushOFF platform, and in 2018 began a new project-based artist residency program for experimental makers, COLLIDER.
In addition, Maiko teaches performance and mentors artists for a range of different companies and organizations, both in Canada and abroad. She has helped artists to develop new work through programs like MAKE, a residency initiative spearheaded by 4 arts organizations in Ireland, the National Theatre School of Canada’s Acting Program, Action Hero’s You Can Be My Wingman residency, and why not theatre’s ThisGen Fellowship. She also occasionally works as a curator and writes about performance for a variety of publications.
She holds a BFA in Theatre from Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts and a Masters of Applied Arts in Visual Art from Emily Carr University of Art + Design. She’s currently working on a new public art work, Curtains, an installation/performance piece in collaboration with Vanessa Kwan and Justine A. Chambers.
Jivesh is an award-winning multi-disciplinary artist, and facilitator of Indo-Caribbean descent. His work has toured Nationally and Internationally. Jiv is the founding Artistic Producer of Pandemic Theatre, and became the Artistic Director of Rumble Theatre following three years as the Associate Artistic Producer at Theatre Passe Muraille. He was a member of the Cultural Leader Lab with the Banff Centre and Toronto Arts Council. His public service work has included collaborations with the Ad Hoc Assembly, The Canadian Commission for UNESCO, and as an advisor to the National Arts Centre. His current cultural practice centres decolonization through aesthetics.
Raeesa Lalani is an arts professional, leader, and artist, flourishing as the Artistic Director of the Prismatic Arts Festival.
After an extensive varsity volleyball career at university, the arts industry called her back as a professional, as Raeesa has long been active as an actress, singer and has been known to tickle the ivories too. She obtained a B.A. in English at Dalhousie University followed by a graduate degree in Journalism from the University of King’s College.
Her education and experience in the field of journalism and broadcasting for many years was the starting ground for her work in arts presentation leading to expertise in understanding media and communications, telling stories, outreach and audience development, fundraising, and social media development.
Raeesa feels immensely fulfilled being part of an organization that has enabled her to grow personally in the arts but also be a part of a greater cause that continually strives to help the growth of Indigenous artist and artists of colour through advocacy, opportunities, and making space for voices who have been traditionally excluded and underrepresented.
She is active as a board of director for multiple non profit organizations, as she believes it is important to give back her time and support to members within her community!
Raeesa would like to acknowledge that she was born and raised on the traditional land of Stoney Nakoda in Wichispa Oyade and has now found her home on Mi’kma’ki land in K’jipuktuk.