Interview Cedric Yau, the Producer of Around the World in 80 Days

The Off-Broadway Production Around the World in 80 Days, has zoomed to a galloping start, opening on May 30, 2013 at The New Theater at 45th Street. Around the World in 80 Days is a comedic play by Mark Brown based on the Jules Verne novel, starring Guy LeMonnier as Phileas Fogg. Shirine Babb, Jimmy Ray Bennett, John Gregorio & Stephen Guarino round out this ensemble cast of five, who portray 39 different characters. Rachel Klein directs. The play is produced by Cedric Yau. We are honored to have the chance for an exclusive interview.

Q: Tell me about your background. What is your childhood story?

My ancestry is mostly Chinese, my parents were born and raised in the Philippines, and I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon–so I had an upbringing that was neither fully Chinese, fully Filipino, nor fully American. I found that I often find myself the bridge between worlds.

Q: From a child to the man you have become today… Who did you have in your life to support you?

My parents, Leo and Bella, have been huge supporters. They have allowed me to try out many different avenues without pressure to follow the traditional path.

Q: What did you want to be when you grow up? Why?

Not sure if I should be embarrassed by this, but when I was 8, I wanted to be Donald Trump. I remember reading various articles about him and was in awe of the combination of fame with fortune.

Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in the theater industry?

It was a combination of being in New York, and trying to figure out why there aren’t many Asians on film, television, and the theatrical stage.

Q: Who is your idol? What makes him/her your idol?

George Soros and Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Both are philosophers turned speculators. A spectator watches without thinking, and a philosopher thinks without watching. Speculators do both.

Q: What are your thoughts on Asians being the minority within the theater industry?

In economics terms, it’s both a supply and demand phenomenon. We’re still at a point where most young Asians are children of immigrants, and one doesn’t cross an ocean so that their children can become actors and artists. Hence the notion of Asian kids being able to play classical music at the professional level while in high school, but then going on to become doctors, lawyers, or engineers.

In that sense, while Asian talent exists, finding and recruiting it is not easy for producers and casting directors. On the other end of the spectrum, there are still the stereotypes and archetypes–Most non-Asian writers still have preconceptions of what an Asian person should be. Usually, that involves being an immigrant and having an accent.

I am proud that Around the World in 80 Days will soon bring James Jin Seol to the stage. He was by far the most memorable person we had in our last round of auditions. He is hilarious and brings exceptional comedic timing, accents and dialects, and physical comedy to the 16 roles he performs in the show. The fact that he is Asian actually heightens some of the jokes by adding an ironic twist.

Q: Who have you worked with and how was it working with them?

Ken Davenport and Roy H. Williams have been my mentors in this process. Both are very forward thinkers and mavericks in their own ways.

Q: Who would you like to work with in the future?

Seth MacFarlane. I have a project, Kungfusical: The Greatest Backstory Ever Told, that I believe would be awesome to develop with him. It features Jews in China, an ambiguously gay shaolin temple, and a day saved by Kung Fu Jesus. The South Park creators have their Tony, so why shouldn’t The Family Guy have one as well.

Q: What advice or words of inspiration do you have for upcoming theater actors and producers?

The people I have seen succeed are the ones who are in the business because they have no alternatives. I struggled as an actor because I always had something else I could be doing. You really need to have that internal drive to perform that supersedes anything and everything else in life, including eating. It is not enough to enjoy the work, you have to be willing to suffer and sacrifice for it.

Q: Why did you produce Around the World in 80 Days?

I wanted to create a production everyone could enjoy in a way that has never been done. My designers and I worked to transport people into the Steampunk-inspired world of Jules Verne. Starting with the panoramic floor-to-ceiling murals, we went to build a set that unfolds like a Swiss Army Knife. The costumes and lighting feature a lot of eye candy, and the sound system is state-of-the-art. When you add the amazingly talented cast and the hilarious script, you end up with a show that is an unforgettable experience.

Q: What is your current/next project?

My new producing partner, Master J. Hamilton, and I are working on a late night show called 4×4, which will feature 4 acts, 4 nights a week. It will feature great singers from the 80’s and 90’s and be slotted in after Around the World.


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