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Nell Gwynn at Folger Theatre // Photo: Teresa Castracane

A Day In The Life With Regina Aquino

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.


Work Must-Haves
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
Music
Downtime with my family
Lattes
A diamond necklace with the letter “R” on it
Rice


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.

Learn more at www.mosaictheater.org and www.folger.edu.

Photo: Aliviah Jones

Thriving in Chaos: Music Director Walter “Bobby” McCoy

As we sat over a cup of coffee, 25-year-old Walter “Bobby” McCoy spoke to me in a way only someone who has been in the theatre world for 10 years can: vividly and with gusto. The Helen Hayes Award-winning music director’s smile reached up to his eyes with every story he shared with me about his experiences. McCoy, who hails from Falls Church, Virginia and now resides in nearby Manassas, commutes to Shirlington’s Signature Theatre, Dupont Circle’s Keegan Theatre and the DMV’s Levine School of Music for various projects. He’s currently juggling music direction for Keegan’s Legally Blonde from August 3 to September 1 while working at several theatre camps with students of all ages.

Not everyone can say that they thrive in chaos – some may even find it overwhelming. But when you are in the theatre world, it is often your life. McCoy fits into this chaos in his own way: starting off as a piano accompanist for his high school chorus at 14, he was able to pick up the scores easily. This ultimately led him to be on the other side, directing kids and adults alike and garnering attention from the professional theatre community with three Helen Hayes Award nominations by his early 20s. I picked McCoy’s brain on a recent July day about his foray into DC’s theatre scene.

On Tap: Tell me how you first got started with music growing up.
Bobby McCoy: I think my first experience was in my general music class in elementary school. I was really attracted to accompanying singers and watching the interaction between my music teacher and the accompanist. I loved being a part of that and seeing how she would work with people.

OT: Where did your passion for music come from?
BM: My passion started when I started taking chorus class in seventh grade. I had just started playing the piano. I was fascinated with the accompanist, [the idea of] someone playing with a whole group of people. [That was] the bug that bit me. Eventually, this led to me playing full concerts as an eighth grader.

OT: What brought you into the theatre world as a musician?
BM: I took a leap. I saw that Marshall High School was doing Company, so I signed up. Eventually, I was an assistant music director. I was very green. After that, I did Chicago, and then that summer I saw that the Little Theatre [of Alexandria] was doing Company and I went in [and got the job of rehearsal pianist at 15]. It has been sort of nonstop since that moment.

OT: Why did you want to pursue GALA Hispanic Theatre’s In the Heights as a music director? What about the storyline stood out to you?
BM: I grew up in a Hispanic family, and a lot of the things that they go through and the cultural aspect of the show was really appealing. The music was something that reminded me of the authentic culture I grew up with as opposed to the stereotypical Latin number that you would see in a show like Chicago, for example.

OT: How did you feel when you were nominated for three Helen Hayes Awards and won for In the Heights at only 23?
BM: It was really weird. I was happy I won but I was nominated for three shows, so I was sort of like, “Which one am I rooting for?” I did a lot of work for Heights. It was my first time going out of town for a show. I was proud of that show and happy that it got the recognition.

OT: Why did you choose Levine School of Music’s Performance Institute as an institution to work as a music director?
BM: I’ve been on the faculty here for three years. I like inspiring young kids to find their voice. There are a lot of times when people don’t have artistic opportunities, and I love being able to help people become better artists.

OT: How would you describe your directing style?
BM: Collaborative. I like seeing what people bring to the roles, but I am also particular about the way I teach things. I know a lot of people who will teach a number and then clean it [up] after, but I do the opposite. Breathing and dynamics are from the get-go for me – if it gets lost to technique, it won’t happen.

OT: What has been your favorite show to direct? What would be a dream production for you?
BM: Legally Blonde. I’ve done it three times – it’s my first professional production [and] definitely a different caliber of performers. Dream productions: Sweeney Todd with a full orchestra and Sunday in the Park with George. Both are [Stephen] Sondheim musicals and I love all of his works.

To catch McCoy’s work in action, be sure to check out Legally Blonde at Keegan Theatre from August 3 to September 1. Various times. Tickets are $62.

Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; 202-265-3767; www.keegantheatre.com