Mikko Juan is a Musical Theater major who will be graduating from the University of Washington this spring. Mikko has immersed himself in sing, dance, and act during his time at UW and took those refined skills to the greater Seattle area to theaters like 5th Avenue and ArtsWest with incredible vivacity; which he will no doubt continue to do in the future. We asked Mikko a bit about himself, his education, challenges, aspirations, and breaking stigmas in the performance world that Asian American actors face.
Tell me a little about yourself, where did you grow up and what inspired your interest in musical theater?
I grew up in a couple of different places, but I’ve spent the majority of my life here in Washington! My parents are from the Philippines, and my dad was in the military. He was stationed in Japan where my sister and I were born. We moved to Illinois for a bit before moving to Washington.
I think my interest in musical theater started with knowing that I wanted to become an actor. In middle school I would watch Harrison Ford movies and behind-the-scenes documentaries for the Harry Potter films and think “Huh… I could do this. I like to play pretend. I could get paid for that!?” The funny thing is, I HATED musical theatre. I thought it was super cheesy and totally emasculating. That is, until my sister forced me to watch the movie version of The Phantom of the Opera. I remember being moved to tears and loving the music. I would later see the Las Vegas production of Phantom, and I remember being in awe of the floating chandelier and hearing Anthony Crivello singing “Music of the Night” and getting goosebumps. I left that theater knowing that I had to give musical theatre a shot.
What was your musical theater experience prior to coming to UW?
I didn’t get any musical theatre experience until my junior year of high school, when I landed the role of the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. From there, I was on my way. My senior year I played Chip Tolentino in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (a role that I would later reprise in my first UW Musical Theater show!), and then due to a weird set of circumstances, returned to my alma mater to play Emmett Forrest in Legally Blonde: The Musical during my freshman year of college.
What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned as a Musical Theater student?
It may seem like a small thing, but the most valuable thing I’ve learned was how to seamlessly join singing, acting, and dancing together. It’s seems like such a trivial concept, but it’s harder than you think! My teachers would rally the heck out of me if even one of these three things was missing. For example, I would drop character while I was dancing because I would be too focused on trying to get the dance steps right. It takes a lot of focus and training to become an effective musical theatre performer. If even one of the three elements is lacking, then your performance can fall flat.
To piggy back off of this, dancing was definitely not my strong point. But my time at the UW as a musical theatre major has definitely improved my skills as a dancer.
What was your most memorable experience with the Musical Theater Program?
Definitely Pippin. I’m so happy that that show was my last show as a college student. Being under the great leadership of two of my biggest mentors Steven and Wilson was the greatest experience that I could have ever asked for. To also be a part of a cast that was filled with dear friends and IMMENSE talent was very humbling. It was a challenging but enriching process and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.
What has been your greatest challenge during your time as a MT student?
Balancing outside rehearsals with work and school. I took some time off to do Paint Your Wagon, and was balancing school with Peter and the Starcatcher last fall and Kiss Me, Kate this past quarter. It’s definitely been a struggle to really immerse myself in both the work I’m doing in rehearsals and in school.
Also the dancing.
How have your experiences with professional theatre groups like 5th Avenue, ArtsWest, and Seattle Musical Theatre influenced you as a performer and while thinking about your future goals?
Getting a taste of how the professional rehearsal room works was incredible. It made me work at a rate that I wasn’t used to, but it helped me become more efficient in the rehearsal room. You also don’t have anybody telling you how to go about your day off, or how to prepare for a show. What my time in the Musical Theater Program prepared me for was how to use that time wisely. Being able to actually put all of that in practice made me a much more disciplined performer and artist.
Do you have any plans after you graduate?
The ideal plan is to stay in Seattle for a few years, rack up some credits, and then move to New York where I’d do shows on Broadway and beyond, and also hopefully come back to do shows in Seattle every now and then. I also would love to get back with my first love, which was film acting, so Los Angeles may be in the future. Maybe a couple of TV stints here and there in New York.
But you can never predict life’s many paths, and that’s what’s exciting and terrifying for me.
What impact do you hope to make in the Musical Theater world?
To break every social stigma there is. Specifically in regards to Asian American performers, musical theatre performers, or even theatre in general.
I don’t want to be cast in just “the Asian shows.” I also don’t want to be pigeon-holed into doing just musicals.
I want Asian stories on stage; on Broadway. Stories with human characters. More opportunities for Asian performers to not only be on stage, but to also grow as artists.
I want musical theatre artists to be able to audition for a dramatic straight play or a movie without being judged.
I want the world to realize the importance of musical theatre, and how it changes lives.
What message do you have for future musical theater performers?
Some of the reoccurring advice that resonate in my lifetime are: work hard, keep training, and don’t be a jerk. It’s all cliché, but you’ll only hear it over and over again.
Also keep pushing yourself; don’t settle and be comfortable. Expand your horizons.