Who: HanJie Chow
Interviewed and photographed outside: Lincoln Center Theater
Every year, thousands of hopeful young actors land in New York City. While many have traveled from around the country, others, like HanJie Chow, have flown across oceans. We chat to the actor, and now-costume shop associate and photographer, about carving out a multi-faceted career in the theatre after landing here as an international student.
I notice a British accent! Where are you from and what brought you to NYC?
I’m originally from Singapore, but I grew up in various parts of England before ending up in Norfolk. I also spent a few years in Wales and the French Caribbean. I came to NYC to pursue acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
How was your experience of being an acting student here?
Acting school is such a grueling process! Personally, I feel that part of the goal is to not feel embarrassed; I learnt so much about myself and really grew into my own person. One of my highs was being invited to join the third year acting company. Getting to work on shows back to back for a whole season was such a valuable experience, since opportunities like that don’t come around so frequently in the "real world."
Did you seek out any other kind of experience outside of school?
Outside of my regular class schedules, I took it upon myself to expand my own curriculum by joining the behind-the-scenes team at New York Theatre Workshop. One of the highlights of my very first semester of training was getting to work on Othello (with a stellar cast including Daniel Craig, David Oyelowo and Rachel Brosnahan) and getting to see these professionals on and off stage. It was a real education on…. everything.
How did you land your job at NYTW?
Reckless enthusiasm. NYTW came up when I was researching New York City theatre companies and Jeffrey Wallach, the brilliant costume shop manager, took me on and provided me with an invaluable opportunity. Upon graduation, I became the costume shop associate.
What other endeavors have you been able to pursue?
I was brought into the fold at Ars Nova to photograph some of their productions—via a mutual friend who knew I had an interest in photography. Shortly afterwards, I became the production photographer for Ars Nova’s Off-Broadway run of KPOP and other events.
Full circle! Did you expect you’d stay in New York after school?
Having nurtured relationships over the years, it was hard to stomach the idea of leaving New York. Those years of sowing seeds, nurturing my connections, and further refining my skillset helped to cement my career in the New York City theatre scene.
Most recently I worked on the Off-Broadway run of Sing Street and although I wasn’t performing, I was still very much knees-deep in the process, working on the costumes with Bob Crowley. Currently, I’m working on Endlings by Celine Song, Sanctuary City by Martyna Majok, and the Broadway transfer of Sing Street—so I’m hoping these upcoming works and future engagements keep me here in the city!
What kinds of things do you weigh up when it comes to deciding whether to stay and continue pursuing a career here in the U.S., or return to the U.K.?
Comparing the opportunities on both sides of the pond, I've gotten far more exposure here as a male minority actor than I would have back in England. I also felt a deeper appreciation and acceptance here in New York too.
Do you find that working theatre-related jobs continues to complement your acting career?
Working in costumes and behind the scenes has definitely informed my endeavors as an actor. It has educated me on what goes into a production, and that the "actor" is just a small part of it all. I’ve crossed paths with so many artists that I’ve learned the importance of being a positive energy in a room, and that "talent" can only go so far. I know what kind of presence I want to be.
These other theatre jobs aren’t necessarily "survival jobs"; they keep me engaged in the community, and keep me current and up to date to the goings-on in my industry. A casting director once told me that being educated in the industry goes a long way, and I firmly believe in that.
After almost six years as an artist living in NYC, what is something you're really proud of?
Definitely a sense of community. There’s still a ways to go, but I’m very proud of the pace at which I’ve managed to establish myself as a multidisciplinary theatre artist.
Visit hanjiechow.com/ to learn more about HanJie.