Thoughts On Being An Asian Actress

By Chantria Tram

Having gone through theatre school as one of the very few Asians in the program (we all acknowledged each other in the hallways as if to say “Hey! You’re Asian too! Congrats!!”), and reading plays that were beautiful but not quite reflective of the Asian experience, it was quite refreshing to read the script for my latest project entitled, Model Minority.

You see, as an Asian woman, I’ve dealt with my fair share of unreasonably high expectations from my parents and community. I was expected (and trained, I can say) to be a proper “lady,” to speak quietly and politely, to learn how to cook and clean for my future husband, to pursue a career that was “normal” and “successful” and all this to hold up an unrealistic and inaccurate image of my family’s reputation. I think this is most true with first generation immigrants. I was so frustrated and fed up with this idea that I ended up producing a one-woman show that was ultimately a huge confession to my parents. The show was called Someone Between and chronicles the struggles of a daughter as she tries to reconcile the traditional values of her Khmer parents with her own emerging intercultural beliefs. The play touches on sex and racism, taboo subjects I would never have the courage to discuss with my parents in real life.

Then I was offered the lead role in Model Minority. I found the character, May Chen, fascinating. All she wants to do is be a good daughter, sister and girlfriend. She’s a nice girl who follows the rules. She’s had a plan for her life since forever and it has always been, as her friend Livia would say, “the straight path.” But beneath the surface, she’s deeply conflicted with the sense of wanting to be free, truly free of the obligations and expectations thrust upon her. I mean, who doesn’t? The one day she loses everything, the world as she knows it and her sense of self is taken away from her. When stripped of the expectations that have defined her throughout her entire life, she begins to find out what kind of person she really is… and that person is not exactly the proper “lady” my mom raised me to be.

In retrospect, I think this is why I connected with acting in the first place. I was searching for a way to break out. Like the character of May Chen, I wanted to be free. I used to be extremely shy and took up very little space, not wanting to impose or intrude on anyone. I can still feel myself reverting back to that tendency when I’m in a new setting. I have to push through that every time. Acting gives me permission to do everything that I am afraid of; taking creative risks, acting like a fool, making mistakes, letting go of control, risking judgement and criticism and most of all- revealing myself, to be open and vulnerable. This goes completely against my sense of “Asianness.” And I can’t lie, it’s pretty damn liberating.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chantria Tram is an actress living in Toronto. Most recently, she played the lead role in the web series, “Model Minority” which can be watched at or on YouTube.

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