Ray Koh (he/him) is a Filipino-Canadian, first-generation immigrant, proud graduate of Studio 58, and is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Vancouver, BC. He acknowledges his privilege to live, work, and play on the unceded, traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. Previous works include ‘Surrender’ (vAct’s MSG Lab), ‘In The Shadow of the Mountains’ (Ruby Slippers Theatre), and ‘What’s Your Wish?’ (Children’s Theatre of Richmond). For more personal information about Ray, you can follow him on Instagram & Twitter for more updates on his art/life/works: @_raykoh
In regards to experiencing racism during my acting journey… There were definitely moments in my career where a few folks have made me feel like I was simply the token ‘diversity’ card of the project that I’ve been asked to be a part of. One memory in particular- it was during the summer season with a very popular theatre company. I, (along with a large number of other actors), auditioned, went through the long process of it all, and essentially ended up getting cast. Super exciting, right? But when I went to share this exciting news with friends, a girl whom I thought was going to be happy for me, ended up being the total opposite. Now- my bad for having any expectations for reactions in general. But what she said as a response was, “You know, in the past, (this theatre company) has gotten lots of complaints about their casts being all white, no representation or lack thereof… And so from then on, they just hire POCs just so they’re not in trouble anymore. And all of my other friends who are white and are good- if not better- actors, performers, dancers… They’re not getting any work.” And at that moment, I didn’t know how to respond. I unfortunately let it go… But now? Should I hear anyone say something similar, I would love to tell them, “Okay? And? Are you that insecure about your ability to perform and entertain, that you have to put down an entire community just to feel better about yourself? Let’s unpack that. Because as far as anyone can remember, especially if you ask anyone about their childhood, responses about someone’s favourite show or movie has a cast that was predominantly white. So people like you have BEEN seeing people like you your whole lives. You’ve been taught that you should always be the Hero in the situation. Which is so wrong, because there are other people who look very much different, that are just as worthy.”
Something that I’m proud of achieving as an Asian-Canadian working in the professional performing arts is the ability to let other young Asian kids see me and go, “Hey! He looks like me!” There’s nothing more heart-warming and satisfying to the soul when hearing that, because younger me needed someone like that. During my childhood, I never felt like being an actor could be a possibility for me, because I truly didn’t believe that society was ready for it. Or that we were good enough. Or if we were, it was only in terms of what Western Culture deemed beautiful from the Asian community- so I felt that a majority of their Asian standards were either half-Asians with Western looks, or Asians with an ‘exotic’ look… But even then, the characters and actors that I would see would be quite limited. And so the lack of Asian representation back then in most media was one of the largest struggles. But now, being part of the new wave of artists and introducing the mentality that being Asian isn’t just one look, and overcoming those boundaries and beliefs have been the most rewarding by far.
As an Asian-Canadian working in the performing arts- to me, I think it means simply taking up space for who we are. We can do that very actively and consciously- like telling OUR stories of OUR culture and background. But also, not. For example; I, like many others, have my own right to tell immigrant stories because I am one. I’m a first-generation Filipino-Canadian immigrant- I even proudly say that in my bio about myself. Of course, I think it’s because I feel there’s a certain obligation to remember my roots and where I came from when creating art in this field. But I also have to remember that I am so much more. I remember that, while I can share and represent what it means to move half-way across the world and leave my ancestral roots for a chance at a better life- I can also simply be the guy next door who wants to find a cute love story. I can do both and be VISIBLY me. Because I know representation matters, and allowing other Asian-Canadian kids the chance to witness stories that we can all share and relate to… That particular representation is the definition I choose for myself as an Asian-Canadian working in the performing arts.