Alex Chester: Interview With An Actor & Editor-In-Chief
Alex Chester is an actor, the Editor-in-Chief of the online magazine Hapa Mag, soon to be called Mixed Asian Media. She is also the director of Mixed Asian Media Fest – a celebration of mixed APIs through creative art forms happening September 2021. MAM just launched their Indiegogo Campaign. This May, Hapa Mag (MAM) has partnered with Blasian Project, LUNAR, and Loving Day to bring APIA Month Through the Heritage Lens via virtual activations.
Alex started acting as a child in Los Angeles and lives in NYC. Some acting credits include: Broadway’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Madison Square Garden, Little Red in Into the Woods with Prospect Theater Co and National Asian Artist Project (NAAP,) Minnie Fay in Hello Dolly with NAAP. Alex is also the first Asian American to play Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Fire Island Arts Project.
TV credits include: ER, 7th Heaven, The Closer, New Amsterdam, and be sure to keep an eye out for her in the new season of The Good Fight.
Alex also has been in several national commercials including: Popeyes, UPS, MLB, Ford Kuga, and H&M to name a few. Alex is also a member of the first NYC based All Asian American Sketch Comedy Troupe, Model Majority.
Alex is graduating this May with her BA in dance through St. Mary’s LEAP Program. She is the first person from LEAP to receive the Dean’s Award for academic excellence and community engagement.
As part of our series celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, we are shining the spotlight on our AAPI friends working across the Arts and entertainment industries.
Hi Alex, thanks for talking with us at TheatreArtLife! How are you doing, and how are you coping with the pandemic at the moment?
Thank you so much for having me. Well, on paper the pandemic has been really rough for me. I lost my father to cancer in March of 2020 and was not able to see him in person due to Covid. I haven’t seen the rest of my family in almost a year and a half. Lined up work disappeared and even this year a show I was supposed to do this summer was cancelled. However, some good has come out of my time at home. With the help of my amazing team at Hapa Mag (soon to be called Mixed Asian Media) we have really been able to expand and further our reach and goals.
Your career has spanned across various disciplines – you began as a model, moving into acting, writing and producing so how did you get your start in the industry, and what first inspired you and drew you to the Arts?
The first show I was exposed to was A Chorus Line when I was 4 years old and I remember just loving every second of it. My mom and grandma use to take me to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show when I was a kid. I had so much fun seeing people dress up in costumes and perform the show in front of the movie. We also had season tickets to the Orange County Performing Arts Center, so I was constantly being exposed to first National Tours.
I was a precocious kid, and I was that child that would be at the mall with my mom and grandmama and pretend to be a model. My mom decided to put me into modelling and through the dance studio I was going to I booked my first professional show Gigi playing the Little Girl. I was 5 years old and after I booked Annie playing Molly.
I loved so much being on stage and in front of the camera.
How did your path progress from starting out in the industry to where you are now, and what did that journey look like?
I continued to work as a model, and did a ton of Matel campaigns, I even did a photoshoot for a book Michael Jackson was writing. Myself and a bunch of other kids from the modelling agency I was at played all day at Neverland Ranch.
Meanwhile, I continued to pursue theatre and started working commercially as well. When I was 10 I played Mary Rogers in the West Coast premiere of Will Rogers Follies. At the time I didn’t fully understand why this was such a big deal. The fact that this theatre company hired a mixed Asian kid as a historically white presenting person really was ahead of its time.
It wasn’t until I didn’t book a Barbie commercial and Mary Lenox in The Secret Garden that I realized my mixed heritage was going to be a huge obstacle for my career. I was also told quite blatantly from the casting director of the Barbie commercial, that I just didn’t quite fit in. I wasn’t Asian enough, and then the creative team of The Secret Garden also told me I didn’t fit “traditional casting” and my eyes are brown, not hazel.
This narrative followed me and has continued to follow me throughout my career.
When I was a teen I was up for several Disney and Nickelodeon TV shows, I mean the contracts were being negotiated by my agents. I ended up not getting the jobs because according to feedback “you just don’t fit in with the family unit,” or “you’re too exotic looking and that would pull focus from the main [white] character.”
I also had a stint in P. Diddy’s pop group Dream. I could talk about this for hours. The music industry is probably one of the most disgusting, manipulative, and toxic entities within the Entertainment realm. I will briefly say that I was verbally and physically abused (running 6 miles a day and workouts, plus 8 hours or more of dance rehearsal is physical abuse,) was fetishized, and starved. I was 13 – 15 years old.
I did have some wins like co-starring on 7th Heaven, Boston Public, and I continued to book national commercials. I was the face that introduced to Europe the Ford Kuga. All the while I continued to work in theatre.
As an adult I have continued to pursue being an Actor and fortunately kept working. After moving to NYC that is when I truly began to process what it means to be a Mixed API within the white theatrical lens.
I’ve been fortunate enough to call myself a working actor in NYC and have performed everywhere from Madison Square Garden to 54 Below.
I briefly ran and created, with the help of Rebecca Lee Lerman and Kalen Sakima, a theatre company called WeSoHapa. The 3 of us created and produced cabarets featuring an all mixed identifying cast. This was born out of the lack of representation and inclusion I was seeing in the NYC theatre scene.
I also started a blog called MeSoHapa, all about my experiences as a mixed Asian American. Out of MeSoHapa I created Hapa Mag – a lifestyle magazine created by Mixed APIs for everyone. I was tired of not seeing people that looked like me in mainstream media. If you don’t see it, create it.
Hapa Mag is a completely volunteer run LLC with 18 people devoting their time and energy. There is a core volunteer admin staff: Sam Tanabe (managing editor,) Lauren Winn (creative director,) Michaela Ternasky-Holland (Producer of MAMF and consultant,) and Melissa Slaughter (Consultant.) We are currently undergoing a rebrand to become Mixed Asian Media. Under MAM we hope to be more inclusive of our mixed API audience and to expand our growing company.
My career has been an incredible journey with plenty of ups and downs, and because I have been in this industry since I was 5, I’ve really had to work on my own personal identity and who I am outside of performing (yay therapy.)
You’ve had such an interesting career across disciplines, is it possible to choose your favourite moments or career highlights so far?
Oh gosh, for theatre I would have to say that playing Minnie Fay in Hello Dolly directed by Lee Roy Reams with National Asian Artist Project (NAAP) was a dream.
I also played Little Red in Into the Woods with Prospect Theater Co/NAAP. I was the first Asian American to play Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Fire Island Arts Project.
Another Bucket List item was being in the original cast recording of Bubble Boy by Cinco Paul and having my name listed as an original cast member in the published script and libretto.
Another bucket list item for me was working with Mandy Patinkin on The Good Fight.
And conversely, what has been the biggest obstacle or challenge you’ve overcome in your work?
Constantly being told I am not enough of one racial identity or the other to be considered a human being. Or the white gatekeepers constantly boxing me into the Asian narrative. I am a third generation Japanese American. Dealing with blatant racism whether macro or micro in the audition room or worse rehearsal room and backstage.
This one casting director asked me to make up Japanese after I had let him know I do not speak that language. The many, many times I have been told to make myself look more Asian or present more white, or can you say the lines with an Asian accent (apparently we are a monolith.) How my Jewish identity doesn’t count because I don’t look Jewish (I was raised in a Kosher household.)
What advice would you give to your younger self if you could go back in time? What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
Stop trying to fit in. I tried dying my hair black to be more “Asian,” I went blonde too to be more “white passing.” Just be you. I have purple hair now and it was the best decision I have ever made. Go to therapy much earlier in life. Therapy, if you can find a therapist that works for you, is the best damn thing ever (USE THE ACTORS FUND IT IS A RESOURCE.) Figure out who you are outside of the entertainment industry. We as performers are so often defined by job after job after job. This does not equate happiness.
Figure out what makes you happy outside of the entertainment industry, get a hobby that isn’t singing, dancing, acting.
Be yourself. Stop trying to fit the boxes and the narratives others have placed on you. Stop trying to make everyone happy, and guess what, that is so unrealistic. You can’t please everyone and you can’t make everyone happy. The only control you have is how you act and react.
Surround yourself with well-balanced people or people that are working on themselves to be better humans. If a friend feels threatened by your success, by your boundaries, by your pain then take a step back. Uplift others the way you would want to be uplifted, and treat others with love and kindness. More than anything we all want to be seen and heard.
And finally, there is power in saying no. “No I will not do that accent,” “No, I am not comfortable with this audition,” and “No, I do not have the bandwidth for your free project.”
And looking to the future, what can we look forward to next from you? I understand you have partnered with Blasian Project, Lunar: Asian Jews, and Loving Day to bring a month filled with virtual activations and are launching your Indiegogo as well and will also be releasing a pop-up issue?
Yes! We have such an exciting month planned to celebrate AAPI Heritage. These organisations are doing such amazing work within their communities and Gen Slosberg from Lunar came up with this idea to collaborate. We have started calling ourselves the Mixed Asian Avengers. I think it’s so important to highlight the intersectionalities of being AAPI and how we are not a monolith, and what a better way than to host activations on social media where we can engage with our community and learn from each other.
Our pop-up issue is gonna be lit, we have an exclusive interview/photoshoot with Samantha Win who stars in Netflix’s Army of the Dead. Plus much more. And we just launched our Indiegogo Campaign.
Your magazine’s festival Mixed Asian Media Fest is happening online this September – can you tell us about that, and how can people attend and get involved?
Mixed Asian Media Fest (MAMF) is a virtual festival celebrating mixed API’s through creative art forms. Late submissions are happening on our Filmfreeway now if you have a creative art project you would like to submit. The one major rule is at least one person of Mixed Asian or Pacific Islander descent must be part of the creative team, producing team, and/or cast.
To stay up to date please follow us on IG and FB @MixedAsianMediaFest and please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions [email protected] and be sure to check out our website www.HapaMag.com/MixedAsianMediaFest Tickets TBA soon.
Oh! We are also currently seeking Sponsorships/Partnerships, if you think you might fit this please do not hesitate to reach out. We have a deck we can send you.
And what can you tell us about your appearance in gripping legal drama “The Good Fight” and your episode coming up in the new season?
Since the new season hasn’t started yet I won’t give anything away. But Mr. Patinkin was the nicest, complementary person ever. I had so much fun on set and everyone was so kind and made me feel welcome.
Websites: Hapa Mag (MAM)