When Regina Aquino’s name was announced as the winner of the 2019 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play, the Filipino American actor was sure to pay tribute to her family in her acceptance speech. But she also made note of how big an honor it was to win during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and said she was “proud to be from DC.”
“It was such a huge thing for me,” she says. “I’m from the DC area and to be recognized by my peers for a show that was very, very important to me was humbling. I was deeply honored. It meant so much.”
For her award-winning role in Theater Alliance’s The Events last fall, Aquino played Claire – the only survivor of a mass shooting, haunted by thoughts of the shooter and searching for the peace she needs.
“We worked so hard on that show. To do a show about gun violence in this world we live in was very important to all of us in the room. I was honored that my community saw the work and thought it was noteworthy.”
The mother of two, whose repertoire includes productions at Folger Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Studio Theatre and Olney Theatre Center, chatted with us about her beginnings in theatre, the importance of breaking stereotypes in her roles, and her upcoming productions this winter with Mosaic Theater Company and Folger Theatre.
On Tap: What made you want to pursue acting as a career?
Regina Aquino: I’ve always been a performer. I think I was 4 years old when I decided I was going to act or sing – or do both. I did my first play in second grade and it was always a given. That’s what my personality and my dreams have always been. My mother was very supportive of it from a young age. She put me in a lot of theatre camps, and I went to Duke Ellington and studied theatre in high school.
OT: You work a great deal in the DC area and are known for being a great champion of the local theatre community. You even talked about it a bit in your 2019 acceptance speech. Why is it important for you to act in DC?
RA: Being from this area, I don’t go to New York unless they call me. It’s not my aspiration to be there. It’s my goal to stay in DC and do good theatre here. I love the sense of community here. It’s impossible to not know everyone. Everyone supports each other’s work and we all go to see each other’s shows. I love DC because there are so many theaters that push really subversive and challenging work, and there’s an audience base that looks for that. Plus, it’s an area where you can be a performing artist and have a family.
Headphones to listen to playlists
Journal with thoughts + reflections
of my shows
Altar with photos of my grandparents + kids
Waterproof liquid eyeliner
Time in the theater space alone
OT: What do you look for in a role?
RA: I have to align with the art that I make – socially, politically and emotionally. I am very conscious of the type of roles I audition for, and choose what I am offered based on how my ethnicity informs that [and] how being a woman informs that. I won’t participate in things that promulgate stereotypes. I will never play a maid again unless the point of the play is to make a comment about that particular role being given to an Asian American. I have to believe in the work and the people producing it and what their goals are. I’m very conscious [of] not participating in tokenism. I have to know everyone has the best intentions.
OT: What have you been working on lately?
RA: I just finished a production called Tiger Style [at Olney Theatre] about a Chinese-American family who is trying to find their place in the world. They are frustrated with how race identifies them within this country, so they go back to China and try to find themselves there and realize they don’t really fit in there either. It’s a coming-of-age identity play about the Asian-American experience of being second- or third-generation instead of immigrants, which is something I don’t get to see very frequently.
Can’t Live Without
Downtime with my family
A diamond necklace with the letter “R” on it
OT: Any upcoming productions that DC audiences can see you in?
RA: I’m going to be working on Eureka Day, a play about anti-vaxxers in the Pacific Northwest, which should be super interesting and exciting. Then, I’ll be doing The Merry Wives of Windsor back at Folger. I haven’t done Shakespeare in 15 years, so I’m excited to be doing that – excited and scared.
OT: Have you made it a conscious choice to not do Shakespeare?
RA: No. It’s funny because when I was in school, my teachers always said I would make a career in classical theatre because my ethnicity wouldn’t matter, which is really an offensive thing to say. But it just isn’t true. I think the idea of diversity in classical theatre has only recently been pushed. I’m usually called in for new plays where my ethnicity is either dictated or I’m working with a theatre company where American does not default as white. I haven’t spoken in iambic pentameter in forever, so we’ll see if I remember how to do it.
Follow Aquino on Twitter @avereginaaquino. Don’t miss her in Mosaic Theater’s Eureka Day at Atlas Performing Arts Center from December 4 to January 5 and in The Merry Wives of Windsor at Folger Theatre from January 14 to March 1.