Interview with Jojo Gonzalez as Feste the Clown of “TWELFTH NIGHT” by Leviathan Lab

Jojo Gonzalez

Reporter: Linn Yen

Writer: Alice Chin

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’Leviathan Lab is an Asian American professional creative studio invested in advancing the careers of Asian American artists.  The re-imagination of Shakepeare’s classic play features an all Asian American cast, starring Tina Chilip (Flipzoids, Joy Luck Club) as Viola , and OBIE-award winning actor/musician Jojo Gonzalez (The Romance of Magno Rubio”. “The Smurfs” and “PanAm”) as Feste the Clown.

We had the great opportunity to talk to Jojo Gonzalez, who plays Feste and his thoughts regarding his role as the clown/fool as well as his experience as an Asian American actor.

AsianInNY: Have you ever been in an All Asian cast?

Jojo Gonzalez: Yes, first one was with National Asian American Theatre Company and that was ‘School for Wives’.    Dogeaters.  That was an all Asian Cast.  The Romance of Magno Rubio.  I’ve done a lot of work with MA-YI THEATER COMPANY.

AsianInNY: How has this experience been different from previous experience?

Jojo Gonzalez:  This is the 2nd comedy, but I’m working with friends, so it’s a lot of fun.  It’s just like hanging out.

AsianInNY: Was it challenging to re-imagine Shakespeare into 1960’s Hong Kong?

Jojo Gonzalez: The thing about Shakespeare is that the the language is massive.  It often feels like acting in a different language.  We could be doing it in German and it would still be the same.  It’s peeling off the layers of the onion.  Once you understand what the character is, that’s the brilliance of Shakespeare, by the way – once you’ve gone inside the character, you actually understand what he’s saying, what is written.  Whereas, if you read it off the page, it’s very hard to understand.  That’s why if you’re an actor, you have to study Shakespeare – because it’s like an endless acting workshop.  Endless.  It’s very challenging. I’m scared of Shakespeare.  It terrifies me.  I’ve done Richard III, Midsummer Nights Dream. This is my 3rd full out production.

AsianInNY: Does putting it in Hong Kong and setting it in the 1960s give you more pressure or does it ease it a little bit?

Jojo Gonzalez: It’s actually easier.  Now you imagine your character in the 60’s.  Character that I play , Feste – He’s a clown.  What kind of clown is he? We’re looking at images of Bob Dylan. We’re not talking about a circus clown. They call him a fool, but he’s not really a fool.  He’s like the voice of reason in the play, much like the way folk singers are voices of reason.  A lot of the time we tend to say, he’s a drunk, he doesn’t know anything.  Yet, he calls the establishment on their mistakes.  He tells it like it is. He puts everybody’s feet back on the ground.  Fools are the very core of a character.  What’s happening to the fool or the clown is not funny to the clown.  It’s painful.  If you slam into a door, to everybody else it’s funny, but to that person slamming into the door, it’s painful.  Understanding those inner workings helps a lot when you start playing with the words.

AsianInNY: So do you prefer to play these sort of roles?

Jojo Gonzalez:  I would play any role that is offered to me.  As an actor, you always have those “dream roles”.  But it’s what you make it.  Who was it?  Was it SIR LAURENCE OLIVIER that said: “There are no small roles, only small actors”.  It doesn’t matter if you have line.  What can you do with that one line?  It doesn’t matter if you have one whole page.  Shakespeare has all of these monologues.  It’s massive.  When you’re doing a monologue, it’s actually a character’s thoughts.  When we’re walking around with the problems in our head, we don’t do (gestures).  People are very quiet.  People just stare into space.  But you can’t do that on stage. The stage has to be more active. Knowing what’s going on inside the character and presenting it onstage using the text of Shakespeare.  A lot of the time, once you get to the core of the clown, the job gets easier.  It’s easier to make it funny.  There’s a very thin line behind tragedy and comedy.  You just have to push it, tilt it a little bit..and there you go.

AsianInNY: What you showed us today was fantastic.  Just one more question.  I know you have been working in the industry for a while.  Have you seen any changes as far as opportunities for Asian American actors?

Jojo Gonzalez: Yes and No.  I feel like a lot of the breaks that Asians have had were brought about by Asians.  When I started out, it was very hard to get a part.  My challenge, I can only speak from my experience, was I couldn’t get cast as Asian.  I’m Filipino.  I’m not “Asian” enough when I go for the Asian parts.  There’s an image of what an Asian should look like and how Asians should act and behave.  Especially for Asian men, it’s very hard.  For Asian women, it’s gotten a little bit easier. The roles that we’re able to do, they’re still few and far between. It’s still an uphill battle.  It’s also how you define improvement? Is it because now we have Sandra Oh on television.  Is that  improvement?  Why do we not have a full out Asian cast? Why do we not have East Asian major parts in film, television, and stage? Why are there still non-Asians playing Asian roles?    It’s still a challenge.  So doing Shakespeare with a full out Asian cast is a very strong political statement.  It’s that we can do this too.  Every acting student has to study Shakespeare.  Every actor at one point or another has to do Shakespeare.   We can do it too and we’re very capable.  And this is an incredible cast.  Really really strong cast.  I think people will really enjoying watching this.  What you saw today was just a tease.

AsianInNY: Thank you for your contributions and for sharing your thoughts with us. Would you like to introduce yourself one more time?

Jojo Gonzalez: Hi, I’m Jojo Gonzalez and I play Feste at 12th night at the Arclight theater with Leviathan Lab Productions.  Come see it.  You’re going to have a lot of fun!

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