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Talking Back #6: Christine Bunuan

Since our incredible kick-off, The Chicago Inclusion Project has continued to explore how we will sustain our efforts and where we can make the greatest impact. Fully aware that we don’t have all the answers, we seek out others who may be passionate about our cause, and reach out to those who have experienced our intentions first hand. For this reason, we’ve interviewed the actors who were involved in our first reading of The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan, performed on June 1, 2015 at Victory Gardens Theatre. Christine has some inspiring and thoughtful remarks.

Christine Bunuan

This specific casting of “The Time of Your Life”...Did it tell the story, in your opinion?

I absolutely thought we told the story. It was wonderful to see such a diverse cast and, of course, everyone brought so much to the table. It didn't take me out of the show at all. I actually don't see why a director wouldn't cast this show this way in the first place.

How did it feel to read the role(s) you were given? Would you have asked to be seen for it?

It was nice to read such a lovely ingenue role. It has been a long time since I read for something like this. I've learned over the years that my strength is in young, quirky, funny, spitfire characters. I love playing these kinds of roles. However since this role, I've looked at the industry differently. It reminded and gave me permission to think outside of the box and look at different ways that I can grow as an artist. I appreciate this experience for that. I have done a few staged readings of new plays since then that are far more challenging roles that have stretched me both as a dramatic and comedic actor.

Listening to it or watching it, did anything take you out of the story?

Not really. Everyone in the room was right there with us, laughing and enjoying it.

Was working on “The Time of Your Life” different from working on other plays for you? If so, how?

As far as the process goes for a show, it wasn't a whole lot different. I think the biggest difference for me was working with people that I don't normally get to work with, people whose work I have admired so much over the years. That was a joy.

In your opinion, what is the state of representation on Chicago stages right now?

I feel like I see more diversity than I did when I first graduated from school. It has gotten better over the years. I think for the longest time, minorities were struggling and fighting to get seen, be heard and prove they are just as good. And now that we have a stronger presence and have shown that we can also produce solid work, it's great that Chicago Inclusion Project is starting to have a dialogue with the leaders of our community and encourage them to be more aware of the casting choices they make. I think there still needs to be a conscious effort to colorblind/non-traditional casting before it becomes second nature. I also think the actors have to stop limiting themselves and looking for work that request only their "type" or wait to get a special invitation to ask to be seen for a role. Actors also have to take initiative [of their careers] and make it what they want. All parties have to constantly move forward towards awareness, growth and improvement in painting the new and true picture of American Theatre.

What are triumphs we’ve seen? Who has been doing it right?

In the years that I have been here, the focus has been on just getting minority voices to be heard and seen. Now that the voice of diversity is vibrant and very present, it's definitely time to start really creating a true melting pot.

There are theatre companies who are doing it right. One that really sticks out right now is Baliwick Chicago. I think it helps that they also have two fierce female minority leaders, Lili-Anne Brown and Kate Garassino, running the ship. I feel like I have to give credit to all the theatre companies who started to give voices to minorities…like Silk Road Rising, Teatro Vista, Teatro Luna, Black Ensemble, Rasaka, Congo Square, About Face just to name a few. If they never spoke up and did great work and paved the way for minorities to have a voice, we wouldn't have this conversation now. Chay Yew at Victory Gardens and PJ Paparelli (may he rest in peace) at American Theatre Company came to Chicago and brought a freshness to this picture and have really made an impact with presenting "American Theatre" that is truly diverse in a single show on their stages. Chicago Children's Theatre is another theatre company and one of the most important ones because they are catering to the next generation of theatre goers.

What are challenges we still face as a community? What would you like to see done about it?

The other challenge is the actual outreach to the theatre goers. The Equal Employment Committee at Actors' Equity hosted this workshop called "Getting Minority Butts in Seats" several years a few years ago that discussed the challenges of getting the minority audience to support theatre both as a patron and a financial supporter. We are also competing with the digital age. How do we cultivate the next generation to look up from their devices and make human connections? Outreach programs in schools and in the different communities are vital to the future of theatre.

Also education that invites minorities to join in. I have taken many classes and have been the only or one of two minorities in the room. I do think actors need to take charge of their own careers but also inviting minorities in their classes couldn't hurt either.

Each artist said “yes” to this project for different reasons. What were yours?

The reason I said yes was because of the strong message behind diversity in Chicago. It is a difficult challenge because the communities themselves are still so segregated. Hopefully we can continue to break down the barriers, and celebrate our likenesses as well our differences...just see people as people in our work on stage and daily lives.

...Anything else?

I appreciate what Chicago Inclusion Project is doing for the theatre community. Thank you for inviting us to be a part of the conversation.

Christine will direct and perform in a fundraising concert for the Chicago FIL-USA Lions Club on October 3 and will co-host the Global Pinoy Singing Idol USA Finals 2015 on October 10th, benefit Couples for Christ and ANCOP (Answering the Cry of the Poor) Foundation. Inspired by The Chicago Inclusion Project, Christine is hosting a party to start the conversation on ways to strengthen the presence and support within the Asian American community in Chicago.

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