I envision a world of theater that is owned and run by the workers, the artists, the creators who are responsible for theater’s successes; where decision-making powers for the stories presented are in the hands of the artists themselves; not just people who inherited money, power, and influence. I envision more theater companies in every community across America, in which theater serves as a central hub of social and economic activity in every town and city in America, with theater districts of multiple black box theaters, larger theater houses, music, and poetry venues along pedestrian-only streets.
Julian de Guzman
Musical Theatre Performer, Scholar
San Francisco, California
Julian is currently a graduate student working towards his Master’s degree in Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University’s College of Ethnic Studies. He was born in Vallejo, California, and currently resides in Alameda, California. Julian traces his ancestry in the Philippines from Borongan, Eastern Samar, where his mother’s family was rooted, and from San Carlos, Pangasinan, where his father’s family is rooted. He is a Musical Theatre artist who appeared on Hello, Dolly! On Broadway, Newsies National Tour, among others.
Julian recalls how he realized that he wanted to do theatre; “After graduating I recognized over time that the concert dance world, while I respected the work and it taught me much about how to view, receive, and create art, musical theater translated to my broader desires to sing and act as well.” He received his BFA in Dance Performance from the University of California, Irvine. Julian talked about his enriching time with Newsies and how working on this was impactful to him: “On the Newsies National Tour, we had opportunities to visit with schools, after-school programs, and visiting youth homeless shelters. Connecting with young people, many who’ve experienced so much pain and trauma in their lives, yet continue to live each day with an appreciation for things that transcend our consciousness, combined with telling a story of solidarity on a nightly basis, recalibrated the role of theater to me as both an act of love and solidarity.” He also mentioned that his time with Hello, Dolly! Was one of his favorite works so far; “Hello, Dolly! On Broadway was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on stage as a performer. The mindless fun of the show, combined with sharing the stage with such iconic actresses, was an absolute blast. One of the highlights of my life.“
When asked about how he connects to the Filipinx culture when practicing theatre, Julian answered with: “I’ve learned to recognize culture as more than a noun. In the past, I would think of culture in terms of food, language, traditional practices like dance and music, and cultural materials like clothing or other objects of representation. However, I have learned that culture is more than material objects and narratives of heroism. Culture is solidarity. Solidarity is a verb and action. my idea of culture is more broadly based on telling the stories of our ancestors who endured the struggles of being colonial subjects.”
He further talks about how being a Filipino-American in the United States; “Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I had identified as Filipino American, and there were distinctions among Asian communities - Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Indian, etc. However, since entering the predominantly white space that is a commercial theater in New York City, I’d receive constant reminders that I fit the box as “Asian” in the industry, which was not a particular leading point of my identity the first 24 years of my life spent in California.
My Filipino identity in theater, ironically, developed as a response to what I felt was to be a predetermined category for me as “Asian” by the white hegemony that runs the Broadway industry. Over time I began to see and utilize my Filipino identity as a weapon of toxically masculine ethnic nationalism, exacerbated by my growing resentment of the only performing opportunities for me, which were stories rooted in archaic, orientalist, “yellow peril”-driven narratives.”
Julian came to visit the homeland in 2019, it was a time when he connected and learned more about his role and identity as a Filipino; “Visiting with an Indigenous tribe in Antipolo, where I truly had the opportunity to reflect and reconcile why my Filipino identity had evolved into a desire for a romanticized, exoticized notion of pre-colonial “warrior” culture and a desire for heroic, redemptive narratives and figures. Much of it was rooted in feeling isolated, constantly being a token in mostly white casts, driving a desire to “prove” my ethnic identity. Furthermore, contextualizing my family’s history of migration from the Philippines, my desire for “manhood” was an expression of the fossilized intergenerational trauma that comes with the process of migration to the United States. I chronicled these thoughts, reflections, and experiences in my first self-produced show, “...conflict-i.d.”, which I debuted in San Francisco in March 2019.”
We asked Julian about how he would envision a more inclusive theatre industry for Filipinos and he provided us with great insights that allowed us to question our current positions and notions about our community; ”Before, I always envisioned that theater should be a space inclusive of the diverse communities we have in America. With the advent of stories like Hamilton, and the narratives of multicultural “inclusion” they present, I used to believe that where we are currently, we are technically living the wildest dreams of our ancestors, by being represented through film, television, theater, and other media, right? Now, I am not so sure about that. The governing bodies that run Broadway are still owned and operated by the capitalist class, who then utilize these narratives of “inclusion” to legitimize their monopolies on entertainment. Meanwhile, Asian Americans have the highest rates of unemployment resulting from COVID, and the highest rates of poverty in New York City. Filipino youth have the highest rates of suicide and depression among Asian subgroups, directly correlating to the mental health effects of colonization. Most Filipino American youth don’t know the history of how colonization affected the Philippines, and how we are technically still in a colonial period, in the Philippines and the diaspora.
In my eyes, for the theater world to truly represent Filipinx/a/o stories, we need to be asking ourselves, what our ultimate goals are as Filipinx theater artists? Do we want to change society, or do we just want to be included? Do we want to tell our stories through these existing white American institutions for them to profit off of, which consequently legitimizes theater as a multiculturally “inclusive” space? Or do we want to transform this system of profit-driven theater altogether?
I envision a world of theater that is owned and run by the workers, the artists, the creators who are responsible for theater’s successes; where decision-making powers for the stories presented are in the hands of the artists themselves; not just people who inherited money, power, and influence. I envision more theater companies in every community across America, in which theater serves as a central hub of social and economic activity in every town and city in America, with theater districts of multiple black box theaters, larger theater houses, music, and poetry venues along pedestrian-only streets. In my home communities of Alameda and Oakland, it is my dream to have multiple culturally responsive theater companies, coffee shops, bars, music and poetry venus in the central districts, where people rely on public transit, and artists are able to live in close community with each other, without the worry of high rents and urban living expenses.”
To connect with Julian follow his social media accounts: