When I’m working as a casting director, I am constantly thinking about the expectations of these roles or how we’ve seen these types of characters play before, but what other options are there? What else can I bring in to challenge the directors' conscious/unconscious biases, in order to bring a fresh perspective to how the show’s going to get cast?
Karissa Murrell Myers
Karissa Murrell Myers
Actor • Casting Director • Playwright
Karissa was born and raised in Boise, Idaho where her mother’s family immigrated to from Guam. She is the eldest of three kids, and was everyone’s “ate” growing-up. She is currently residing in Chicago, Illinois. In her practice in theatre, Karissa does a lot of things, “a multi-hyphenate” as her friends would often say. Primarily, she is an actor, casting director and a playwright,”I’ve been getting more into playwriting in the last two years or so…but I've really been focusing a lot more on playwriting.” She mentions that she also does a lot of theatre producing, she recently launched a theatre company called Bramble Theatre a couple of months ago, where she is currently handling the management side of the company. In Our Perspective: Asian American Plays, a Chicago-based arts organization that supports Chicago based Asian American Pacific Island playwrights by granting playwriting residencies, hosting playwriting classes, producing live and virtual play readings, and more, she is the casting director and one of the lead producers.
When asked about her favorite work, Karissa shared with us, “I would say, the most personal work i’ve done is probably Fragmented because it is an autobiographical work of my life growing up as a half-Filipino woman trying to exist in America.”...one of her friends’ spoke about this piece as “seeing her beating heart through the work”, to which Karissa thinks as the apt description of what the play was to her. “Like my bones were showing with the stories I was telling through that piece.”
Karissa started performing and theatre at a really young age, “Technically, I started performing when I was like 3-years-old, because my parents were like “you can do this”, but when I decided ”this is what I’m going to do with my life”, I was 15-years-old.” Karissa started college at a young age of 16, knowing she wanted to do theatre and music, but was unsure which one to major in, eventually committing to theatre upon taking both Theatre 100 and Music 100 courses. “My parents, they didn’t really care what I did, so long as I got a degree. Because my mom, when she went to college, her parents were really strict, they were like “you can be a doctor, you can be an architect, an engineer, they had a list of things she was only allowed to study and she hated that. So she didn’t want to put that pressure on us.”
In talking about how she connects with her Filipino heritage in her practice, Karissa shared with us her extensive Filipino family background, “I think, the thing that I gained from having that large Filipino family back home, is that it very much developed in me that sense and appreciation for community. Our family is very tight knit, we always have each other’s back and we love each other a lot, even when we disagree. The things we do are for the family and not just for the one individual but for the collective. I’ve taken that value into the work that I do, into this company that I’m working with, the needs of the many outweigh the few and everyone gets a say in what is going on.” she explains further, “And I work better when I’m doing collaborative projects as opposed to it's just one person doing the thing.” The sense of community from being a Filipino comes into the work and it bleeds through.
While these Filipino values aid in the overall theatre practice, Karissa mentions that it does come with difficulties. “It has been challenging” “When I get called in to audition, I usually get called in for Asian roles, so sometimes I feel like the reason why I don’t get cast is because I don’t look like “the kind of Asian'' that they want and it's difficult for them to see Filipino people as actors that could play..like, Juliet.”... “Here, I have to advocate for myself a lot more and I have to push the director’s expectation of who can and cannot play these roles.”
Her exploration in different areas of theatre has provided her perspective that allowed her to come to an understanding of the struggles of fellow Asian and Filipino actors, “When I’m working as a casting director, I am constantly thinking about the expectations of these roles or how we’ve seen these types of characters play before, but what other options are there? What else can I bring in to challenge the directors' conscious/unconscious biases, in order to bring a fresh perspective to how the show’s going to get cast?” As she consciously advocates for herself, she is extending this to her community as well, “Because of the struggles that I’ve had as Filipino-American actor, I am a lot more aware of it for other people and how they might be viewed.”
We asked Karissa how she envisions the theatre industry moving forward, “I want to see a play, it does not matter what the ethnicities are, I just want to see two Asians on-stage. Because I never see it.” She also gave us inspiring words for young Filipino theatre artists, “They should sit down with themselves and have an honest conversation with themselves about the kind of work that you want to do and figure out how to get it done and have standards for yourself with what you will and will not accept. … I think we keep getting taken advantage of a lot and we cannot keep allowing ourselves to be treated like this any longer. It is really up to us to keep advocating for ourselves and tell people “no I will do that, yes I will do that” especially when it is a new work. Feel strong enough and secure in who you are to say your opinion about what is being created. Stick up for yourself.”
To know more about Karissa's artistic journey, follow her on Instagram at @kmurrellmyers and visit her website: www.kmurrellmyers.com
Currently producing with Bramble theatre: www.brambletheatre.org.