Celebrating AAPI Joy: Meet Sam Bui
Vietnamese & Hawaii'an American
Moxie: Hey Sam! How's the west coast weather treating you these days?
M: Ha! Love the dry heat. So, let's start in with these questions - what do you consider yourself within the arts community (I.e. actor, director, producer, choreographer, multi-hyphenate artist, etc.)?
S: I’m an actor and a writer.
M: How does your identity inform your work as an artist?
S: My identity is unique with a specific voice, yet multifaceted enough to empathize with many archetypal characters, so it makes me feel like I can represent AAPI’s in any realm of Americana. It makes me want to bring more representation, but in a way that normalizing AAPI’s seen doing things or living the same life as everyone else.
M: Tell us a bit about your arts background - what got you interested in pursuing a career in the arts, what has your journey been getting to NYC, etc.?
S: I acted growing up and just kept pursuing it - I loved pretending to be other people, seeing how best to be a vessel for their voice, but also learning from the character and bringing those lessons to the audience. I went from working in the film industry as a producers’ assistant and PA to taking a leap back into acting, not knowing much about theater, I chose NYC to be my teacher and to let it beat me and ask me if I still want to do this, far from home, in the cold...and I still do.
M: New York winters are rough! Where would you say that you find joy in your craft - despite the cold weather - what brings you hope and elation in the arts, especially in these times?
S: What brings me hope is when I look into the audience and I see someone “get it”, something grabs them - there’s wonder in their eyes. In these times it’s as simple as hearing someone go “mmm”, or Gen Z-er go “that hit different”. I love that. It says I’m hitting the soul, which is seeming to be harder to find these days in such a bleak era.
M: Who are your arts heroes/who do you look up to in your career?
S: I love the people who grind hard at this job. I love people who start from the bottom and remember how hard it is and help the newbies doing the same. And people who say “I don’t need Broadway to validate me as an actor” and they pool together $20 each with their friends and rent a 20 person playhouse for the day to perform. I admire those people that are gonna do the work no matter what.
M: Did you have a mentor along the way, or someone who guided you in your career path, and if so, what was that like?
S: Anthony Abeson. What a sage, a legend, a god among men, and yet the sweetest of people you’d wish was your uncle because he’d cuss you out like a pirate, knowing you could do better, then tenderly look you in the eyes and say “I see you, I know, I’m here.” The man has coached hundreds of fantastic artists, never has he advertised, and barely raised the price of his classes. He still auditions so he keeps emotionally empathetic with the actor. I’m gonna name my kid after him.
M: What does the word "representation" mean to you as an artist?
S: It means showing me doing things every other actor can do in any other character - but it also means that if you’re gonna tell my story, I better get consulted, but also I want you to show the nuances of someone like me but different. No two Asians are the same, so I better see a Democratic Asian and a Republican Asian, so that everyone knows we’re not a monolith.
M: If you could rewrite the rules of commercial theatre (Broadway, Off-Broadway, etc.) today, what would the future of professional theatre look like?
S: I’m still learning what that means, but I imagine it would be...umm...less abuse of actors? Hahaha, like, some of my friends wake up at 4am to go sign a clipboard only to go home, take a nap, come back, and not be seen at all. That’s grueling in the mind and on the body. Also, why is entertainment the primary repeat offender of the crime of ghosting? A simple mass email of “sorry, please keep in contact with us for future projects, all the best…”. Something simple and kind. We have enough ghosting in private life.
M: What sort of stories do you want to see next on stage?
S: I’d love to see John Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, but set in the LES with an Asian guy and an Italian woman. If it’s modern day, then mix it up. And more stories from the Pacific. We got some great stories. For goodness sake, we had royalty there, why isn’t there a play about them?
To follow along with more of Sam Bui's adventures as the travels during quarantine, you can follow him on Instagram at @samthebui or @bk.ez