Actress Zoe Lau on the benefits of being trilingual and what New York can learn from the Hong Kong theatre scene

She uses her skills and experiences to bridge the gap between cultures

Zoe Lau is originally from Hong Kong, and after studying in Singapore and the US, she’s working and making a name for herself in New York City. This year, she toured in Maine with the Theater at Monmouth, playing the lead Kaguya in “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”. In June, she read an original play, “White Pearl” and acted in the off-Broadway Musical, “Comfort Women” that premiered in 2015 and centered around the forced prostitution of Korean women by Japanese forces during World War 2, a subject rarely covered in this genre in the United States. Zoe has also been featured in independent films and advertisements in recent years.

The Tempest: How did you discover your love of theatre? Was there a moment when you realized this was it for you?

Zoe Lau: My very first performance opportunity definitely played a huge part in my journey into theatre. I played Sleeping Beauty in my kindergarten graduation and loved being on stage. Later on, I was able to explore the different realms of theatre during middle-high school Drama class. That was when I realized that I may have fallen in love with theatre and this is what I want to do for life.

You’re trilingual, what has it been like to engage with plays in multiple languages, has your multilingual identity/experience informed how you relate to particular works?

Being trilingual rocks! (And having different accents rocks!) I really wish I paid more attention in learning other languages when I was a kid. A lot of new and emerging theatre pieces now have multiple languages in their text and of course, my language skills came in handy. I have done readings and performances in other languages and being fluent in them helped make certain lines sound more authentic.

I played a Chinese-Singaporean in “White Pearl” which was written by Anchuli Felicia King. We had a reading of this at the Roundabout Black Box Theatre in June this year. This play was set in Singapore and having lived there for about 6 years and still being able to pull an authentic Singaporean accent, I instantly related to this piece of writing.

How and why did you choose to come to the United States to work?

As a person with a diverse background, I know I have to come to the United States to work. I have lived in a number of countries and I want to work in the place where the most theatre and films come from in this era – hence the United States. Yes, the market here is challenging and that’s exactly why I know I will fit in with my international profile. There is always a demand for more diverse talents in the states, that’s why I chose to come here.

Is there anything you miss from theatre communities in other countries where you have lived that you’d want to see in New York?

Yes! I would love to have annual carnivals and parades of art and culture around New York. I performed with Arts in the Park with Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation and we performed on the stage in the annual carnival and paraded around Hong Kong, which attracted and entertained huge amount of people every year. Inspiring people of all ages with free art and culture! That is what we should do in New York too.

Tell me a little about the Broadway 101, what do you hope viewers get from your episode? What is your vision of what this series can achieve?

Broadway 101 is a video series that will be published on different video platforms such as YouTube, Chinese equivalent platforms: YouKu, iQiyi and Tencent. This series introduces everything about Broadway (mainly to Chinese audiences), ranging from the basics of what Broadway is to interviews with artists, actors, designers, directors, managers etc. who work in the scene to talk about their experiences in New York City and the theatre world.

I have an exclusive episode in Broadway 101 where the episode follows me around New York City going to rehearsal and explaining different procedures from getting around auditions to loading in for a show. I hope viewers could see the hard work actors, directors, stage managers and crew put together in order to run a show. By watching my episode, they can see behind the scenes and hopefully understand more about the nature of working as an actor, especially in New York City.

I believe this series will be eye-opening for the Chinese audiences as they learn more about Broadway theatre and how things run on this end. In return, I personally hope it will influence and inspire theatre lovers to pursue and expand theatre in Asian countries as well.

You can follow Zoe on Instagram and  Twitter.

  • Katherine Kaestner-Frenchman

    A lifelong nomad, Katie is passionate about storytelling, Judaism, feminism, foreign affairs, and wine. When she's not working, she's throwing dinner parties, taking photos or putting her Art History degree to good use as she explores Europe.