Interview with Eileen Rivera as Olivia of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ by Leviathan Lab

Eileen Rivera

Reporter: Linn Yen

Writer: Alice Chin

Hong Kong. 1960’s.  The set, which looks like a dilapidated Chinese courtyard/mansion with peeling red paint and glowing lanterns, creates a dream-like landscape a la famed Hong Kong film-maker Wong Kar Wai.  We’re at the Arclight Theater in the Upper West Side for a preview of Leviathan Lab‘s inaugural production of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’

We had the great opportunity to speak with Eileen Rivera, about her career and challenges she faced in playing her role, Olivia. Eileen plays Olivia in Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT, Leviathan Lab’s inaugural production. Runs until November 19th at the ArcLight Theater, 152 W. 71st St., NYC.

AsianInNY: Could you please introduce yourself and tell us your role?

Eileen Rivera: Yes, I’m Eileen Rivera and I play Olivia.

AsianInNY: And how did you get involved in Leviathan?

Eileen Rivera: Oh goodness. I’ve been acting for a long time, since the early nineties, and I was in the Asian American theater community in New York for awhile. So when Ariel started the company two years ago I was already aware of it, involved, and while doing this I’m also doing social media for Leviathan.

AsianInNY: Wow, you’re a very valuable member of the team!

Eileen Rivera: Yea, it’s like learning my lines and making sure that twitter and facebook release the same picture and that somebody writes for the blog and that the website is updated. So yea, it’s a lot.

AsianInNY: It seems like a close knit group here. What’s it like working with the rest of the cast?

Eileen Rivera: It’s great. It is very close knit. A bunch of us have known each other for years. I’ve known Jojo since ’95. And Roque, I’ve done shows with him in ’95. I met Marcus in the 90’s and I met Nelson last year when he directed me in another play. So we’ve all worked together or if we haven’t we’ve known about each other so it’s been really like family.

AsianInNY: We can see your chemistry.

Eileen Rivera: Oh good!

AsianInNY: So about the play itself, what’s it like translating Shakespeare into 60’s Hong Kong?

Eileen Rivera: It’s fun! There’s not much that we have to think about. I think it’s more visual than anything we have to do because it’s all about doing it play as is and letting the story speak for itself. But it is fun to wear the clothes and it’s fun to do the dances. It’s very subtle whenever like, I’m at the top crying “baba” and “gege”. It doesn’t hit you over the head.

AsianInNY: So you felt the transition was really organic?

Eileen Rivera: Oh yea. And that it was more visual and less something that we actors had to do.

AsianInNY: How would you compare this show to previous works that you’ve performed?

Eileen Rivera: This is a good one. I’ve been in the business a long time and this is my first professional Shakespeare play.

AsianInNY: Congratulations!

Eileen Rivera: Thank you. It’s really fun for me. I’m really fast at learning my lines but this was a bear. This was like, “I can’t make it up! if it’s ‘why’ or ‘how’ I gotta know which one it is!”. So it was kind of stressful for awhile where that’s concerned. I tend to do new plays so I’m always doing something where the playwright is actually in the room and helping influence what actually ends up on stage. This is different. It’s like, he wrote it for a reason. Don’t do it, let it do you. So I’m just going to have to trust that he did things for a reason. That doesn’t mean we’re not cutting to even inserting a contemporary word every now and then, but that’s what’s different.

AsianInNY: Do you find it to be more challenging than a contemporary play?

Eileen Rivera: Only in the way I just said about learning lines. But otherwise it’s the same. Otherwise it’s just what’s happening and telling the story.

AsianInNY: You’ve been working in the industry for awhile now. Do you see any changes or developments as for as opportunities for Asian American actors?

Eileen Rivera: Yes and no. It’s hard to say. I’m involved APAC, Asian American Performance Action Committee, and we’ve been having forums about the underrepresentation of Asians on broadway and off broadway so this is on my mind a lot. I’ve seen a lot of more well trained Asian American performers in town and more visibility, but the visibility is still limited in a way. There are more of us to sort of say, “Hey you all know us, don’t you see there’s less of us? You all know us but there’s only one at a time [in a play]”. Like we’re visible because we work and we’re talented and yet we’re never in the same cast unless it’s something like this. So the struggle continues.

AsianInNY: Thank you for speaking us. Do would have any closing statements about the show?

Eileen Rivera: Oh gosh, I don’t. Sorry… Come see it. Of course! Come see it!

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