Jade Cagalawan: Interview With A Multifaceted Arts Manager
Jade Cagalawan is the Arts Education & Professional Enrichment Programs Manager for East West Players – the Nation’s premiere Asian American/Pacific Islander Theatre. She first heard about EWP as a wee college student, learning about its origins and realizing that yes, AAPI can have their stories heard on stage, film, and television. She has also been an AEA Stage Manager for 4 years now, working with notable Los Angeles theatre companies such as Geffen Playhouse, A Noise Within, and of course, East West Players.
In addition to working with EWP, she is also an adjunct lecturer for Cal Poly Pomona, and community organizer in Long Beach. She received her MFA in Stage Management from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and her BA in Theatre from Cal Poly Pomona. 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 Jade, thanks for talking with us at TheatreArtLife! How are you doing, and how are you coping with the pandemic at the moment?
I’m a lot busier than I expected! Other than all of the virtual events we have going on at East West Players, I decided to take on maybe too many different hobbies. I randomly got a little too into plants that I became known as being a plant lady. I would go on Facebook and go into the marketplace or different groups and would seek out free trimmings. It got to the point where I would sell plants I grow or propagate, and donated the money to different organizations.
Your career has led you to stage management, producer and managerial roles, so how did you get your start in the industry, and what first inspired you and drew you to the Arts?
If we want to go way way back, it was when I was maybe 3 years old, and my family would obsessively watch the behind the scenes documentary of Miss Saigon. Looking back at it as an adult, I realize now how problematic that show is, but it did inspire generations of AAPI performers to come. On top of that, Lea Salonga also sang for multiple Disney movies, so in my weird kid brain I thought “This is for me too!”.
On top of that, growing up my grandma would tell me about how she was always “the boss” in the workplace, and she’d say that it’s always better to be the boss, no matter where I go to work. So in my head I thought “ok, I’ll be some sort of manager or something in theatre”. Aaaaand now I’m here.
How did your path progress from starting out in the industry to where you are now, and what did that journey look like?
I had no idea what I wanted to do in college, other than be a Theatre Major. I just knew I wanted to be a part of it. Honestly I wanted to do all of it. I played around with the idea of being an actor and a sound designer, and somehow it led to me having an interest in directing. The chair of the department at the time, Bill Morse (RIP), said that I should be a stage manager if I’m interested in directing. I think that this was his way of gaining another student stage manager because everyone hated doing it. I wasn’t good at it, but everyone for some reason trusted me to do it, so I kept doing it.
I did enjoy it though, and I actually enjoyed it more than directing. I loved being able to see the entire process from auditions to closing.
In college though I also took Peer Theatre classes – this was when my “goals” felt more solidified. It was a class where we’d go to a middle school in the Pomona Unified School District, and teach them acting and writing exercises. This would eventually lead us to write and perform with them. I really enjoyed it, and while I wasn’t THE greatest teaching artist, I felt like I really bonded with my group. One of the students I taught, I thought she hated me, but when she’d act with me she was always laughing. I remember when we had our closing performance, she and her mom told me thank you and hugged me. This stuck with me, and it was the day that I knew that I wanted to continue working in this kind of capacity.
After college, I went off to grad school in Stage Management at UNLV because I felt like it was the right thing to do. I wanted to get my Masters because I knew I wanted to be in academia. I don’t want to say I regret getting the MFA, but other than being qualified to teach college classes, I don’t really use my masters. I did work as a freelancer though for some time, not just in stage management, but in other roles like company management and producing.
That was when I finally got to work with East West Players.
I remember I had sent my resume to them a bunch of times prior to that back in 2010 I think (super embarrassing). I had applied to different internships that I definitely wasn’t qualified for, and even positions that I, again, was not qualified for. I finally met their Production Manager, Andy Lowe, late fall of 2017. We talked about different positions that they had available and he said “we don’t have anything available for stage managing, but we might have an open position for a show called Allegiance, but that won’t be until January.”
I remember leaving it a little bummed because I was thinking that I was “so close yet so far”, but I was also really happy that I was able to finally get into that building and meet a member of the staff. A couple months later he hit me up and said, “Hey are you interested in being our Company Manager?” I was like oh ok sure! I remember being really nervous and constantly thinking “Oh god, what if they’re mean? What if they don’t like me? What if I’m super terrible at this job? They’ll never want to work with me again!”
About a month or so into working there, they would tell me often about how I’m doing a good job, and they’re so happy I was doing this show with them.
I was super surprised. I was like, “Wait really?” I came to realize I never really heard a genuine thank you that wasn’t just out of saying it up to that point. After that show they kept bringing me back for other things. And then in October of 2018, they posted the Arts Education Manager position. I didn’t think I was qualified for it. But, again, Andy said that I should apply for it, give it a try. I kind of brushed off what he said, and then two months or so later, he and Snehal emailed me asking for my resume. I was hired in January of 2019, and I’ve been with them ever since.
What have been some of your favourite moments or career highlights so far?
I’ve definitely had a lot of fun working in different capacities, working with different notable people. I think one of my favorite instances was actually working with the dancers who would perform at the Bond Bar in the Cosmopolitan in Vegas. They’d dance at the bar and the “party pit” aka the gambling tables adjacent to the lounge. It was very interesting in terms of people watching, it was a “very Vegas job”, and the people I worked with were easy going. I’d say the hardest part of it though was being their body guard essentially. I had to make sure hotel security was close by in case any drunk guests got too aggressive. That was definitely not fun when it would escalate.
And conversely, what has been the biggest obstacle or challenge you’ve overcome in your work?
There was definitely inequity in terms of access to opportunities, and it even starts from higher education. I came from a Cal State that is known for engineering – I didn’t expect people to look at me and go, “Oh yeah there are great stage managers from there.”
But, I always knew I had something to offer, and would apply for anything and everything.
I came to realize that a lot of opportunities were given to students from elite universities, and while I understand to an extent, there needs to be more consideration for students who go to community college and even Cal States.
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?
I would tell myself to not beat myself up too much, that I’m doing my best and that everything will fall into place, just be patient!
And looking to the future, what can we look forward to next from you? Are you working on anything at the moment?
Through the East West Players Arts Education programming, we’re doing a Theatre for Youth podcast to replace the physical tour that we used to do. In mid-May we’ll begin distributing The Fantastic Kim Sisters, which is about the first K-pop group in the US, The Kim Sisters.
They performed on the Ed Sullivan Show more times than The Beatles, and they had their own show on the Las Vegas strip.
We’ll be doing “listening parties” with the students, so there will be different activities interwoven into the listening of the podcast. I’m also excited to say that we were able to partner with Kids in the Spotlight who is editing together the video (another great organization that people need to check out!), and CSUN’s Deaf Studies department, who signed the podcast so that it could be more accessible to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing members of our community.
Check out our professional enrichment classes being offered at eastwestplayers.coursestorm.com
You can also read more about our youth programs at eastwestplayers.org