Celebrating AAPI Joy: Meet Yuko Kudo
This month we are spotlighting AAPI artists in our network and beyond, and we are thrilled to introduce you all to our first spotlighted guest - Yuko Kudo.
SAG-AFRA & EMC
Japanese Immigrant Artist based in NYC
Professional Multi-Hyphenate Human
Moxie: Hi Yuko! We are so excited to feature you! Ok, first question - what do you consider yourself within the arts community (i.e. actor, director, producer, choreographer, multi-hyphenate artist, etc.)?
Yuko: Hello! I am a Professional-multi-hyphenate-human.
(But if you really wanna know…. Creative Producer, Multi-disciplinary-Artist, Actor, Writer, Pianist, Photographer, curator/moderator/facilitator, and a student.)
M: How does your identity as a human inform your work as an artist?
Y: I think one can’t exist without the other. My experience up until today has helped me form who I am as an artist, or multi-hyphenated-human. And because of that path, I can create what I create - I can’t exist without creating. My work won’t exist without my experience or my identity, which include the process of unpacking and relearning, which has been my primary work for the last few years.
M: What does the word "representation" mean to you as an artist?
Y: “JUST” representation means hope, possibilities and compassion. It means we embrace each other as humans. It means that we see each other as humans. It means that more people can dream. It’s more than just, “There’s XYZ % of so-and-so population on TV/Theatre”.
As an artist, I want my existence to represent love and humanity, and I want my work to represent stories of humans.
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 New York City?
Y: I often tell people that there are three reasons why I moved to the United States.
I wanted to be the voice of the Disney princess.
I love Sister Act 1 & 2, and
I wanted to be the next Mariah Carey.
I started playing piano at 3 years old back in Japan. I never considered pursuing a career in art in Japan at all. Never even crossed my mind - except for voiceover! That I was always curious about... Anyways, after I finished high school, I moved to Tokyo for a year and studied English. Then I moved to Los Angeles in 2003, and to NYC in 2013 to try to pursue a career on Broadway. I stopped auditioning completely in 2016, because I didn’t see the point any more.
But that’s when my real career as an artist and multi-hyphenated-human started.
I founded the “I AM” Series 2017-2019, a space for artists who are traditionally underrepresented, offering performance opportunities, workshops and monthly circles. I’ve produced three one-woman musicals, got involved with multiple international productions, and now I’m an executive producer for a documentary series “Untapped Storytellers” and the “Love+Live+Life” Podcast to share the voices of artists, primarily artists and creatives who are the global majority- women and immigrants. I believe in intersectionality and human-first culture-building through arts. I am currently a member of Artist Envoy, led by Emmy Award Winning Filmmaker Lisa Russell, to change the way artists are represented in UN/NGO sectors, especially during this year, the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development.
M: Who are your arts heroes, or who do you look up to in your career?
Y: Baayork Lee, Mr. Rogers, Lisa Russell, Deeyah Khan
M: Did you have a mentor along your arts journey, or someone who guided you in your career path - if so, what was that like?
Y: I had lots of unofficial mentors, and I learned from everyone I could learn from. But, I have to thank Baayork Lee, who I think is a mother of all Asian theatre actors. I was so fortunate to be a part of National Asian Artists Project (NAAP), when I moved to NYC. She created a home for so many of us, AAPI in the theatre industry. Even when I decided to stop auditioning, she tells me that she sees me and she’s cheering for me. I cannot be more grateful for her.
M: If you could rewrite the rules of commercial theatre (Broadway, Off-Broadway, etc.) today, what would your vision of the future of professional theatre look like?
Y: Humans first. That’s the golden rule that I want the commercial theatre industry to implement. Obviously I have a lot of opinions, but these are a few hopes:
Basic human rights are protected for all the workers from the actors, crews to the FOH - that looks like healthcare, child care support, mental health care, equitable pay, etc. for all workers.
Education/access/equitable opportunities for creators. More education for productions, have more mentorships or PAID internships for young professionals and folks who are starting out, immigrant artists etc.
ACCESS for the audience - which could mean physical access or financial access, just make theatre more accessible for audiences.
M: Where do you find joy in your craft - what brings you hope and elation in the arts, especially in these times?
Y: I find both joy and hope when I can connect as a human, when we can see each other as humans - when we can treat each other as humans. Art is language that speaks human. Art heals us. Art brings us together. Art is us and who we are is art on its own.
I want to create things that speak to our humanity. I want my collaborations to come from the heart and not from the head.
I feel so grateful to be able to surround myself with people who care about humans and the livelihood of humans. It’s so beautiful to see that things are changing.
As horrible as it was, the pandemic has brought a lot of things to the surface- injustice, inequality, lack of infrastructures and more needs for love, both for the world and the Creative Industries. It’s so exciting to see people speaking up, people holding each other accountable and making actual changes. More people are learning to become a supporter of not only art as products, but artists as humans.
I’m so excited to see these changes and it makes me feel hopeful.
M: What sort of stories do you want to see next on stage?
Y: I want to be surprised! I don’t know what stories I have yet to hear - I want to hear the stories of humans. I want to hear something that makes me want to learn about the person, or the history. I want to hear something that makes me want to dance in the rain. I want to see stories that will make me feel allllll sorts of things!!
You can find out more about Yuko and all of her incredible projects here on her website.
You can follow Yuko on social media at @yukoislovelivelife .