Part of the excitement surrounding the production of Gold Mountain at the Utah Shakespeare Festival is its amazing cast. We thought you might want to get to know some of the cast members better, so we asked about themselves, their roles and this beautiful drama. Below is Michael L. Ching as Guan Ming Chong (played “or”), Chu as Kyat Tai Kao, Lung as Stephen Ying, Viet Vo as a Chinese railroad worker, Robert Scott Smith as Hagan, and Emily Answered. The song is understudy for Tyler who Mei. The play is previewed November 3 and opens November 4 at the West Valley Performing Arts Center. Tickets are available here wvcarts.org/gold-mountain.
Festival: Let’s get started by learning more about each of you. How long have you been acting and how did you get started in theater?
Ching: I would say seriously from 1989 to the present. I have majored in dramatic art and theater as well as music. But I took a U-turn and became a vocalist and guitarist in several rock bands in the 70s and 80s. . . . My wife has encouraged me to build an acting career. I told him I hated auditioning, and he basically said, “Get over it.” [After being cast in a 1989 Super Bowl commercial] I got caught up and it started my acting life.
High: I went to college for music with an emphasis on vocal performances, and my last two years in college I caught the problem of theater. Professionally, I have been acting for eight years now.
Engg: I started acting as a child in church and elementary school plays. I did not leave. Many, many years.
Inside: I have been acting professionally for about sixteen years (fourteen years in New York City). I came into acting because it was fun, as well as being an outlet. Later I found out that I had the skills for it. To this day, I pinch myself because I never thought I would do it professionally, and thus ruined my parents’ dream of becoming a doctor, but surprised them that I could actually do it — and impressed them.
Smith: I started in high school and I have been fortunate for these last twenty-five years as an actor.
Tyler: I came to the theater as a child. A friend very eagerly asked me if I wanted to do a community production. I fell in love and immediately knew and knew what I wanted to do.
Festival: Why are you excited to act in this play?
Ching: Five years ago, I auditioned for a new play for a SAG / AFTRA project; I didn’t know what the drama was about. When I was elected, I was united again [playwright] Jason’s mother. . . . The drama was Mountain of gold. I was so fascinated by the arc of the last five years and so excited for the audition and luckily I was cast as a “or” dad.
Inside: We are a pioneer in this industry; Being able to tell a story about important partners in the history of this country is essential. I just want to be part of that storytelling, with some talented people I know.
Tyler: So many reasons! Being part of a new work written by and for the Asian community is nothing special. This is an important story that is not often told. And the team and the cast are so incredibly kind and talented.
Festival: What does that have to do with the role you’re playing, if so, how?
High: I love playing Chu. I feel that Chu is a man. He connects the world and a huge force of sympathy. He reminded me a lot of my father. So I’m dedicating my acting to my dad!
Engg: Like my character (a Chinese opera teacher), I am also a teacher (of theater) who cares deeply about an art form and the possibility of changing its life, as it is my own. Also, this story is about some of the first American immigrants, and as children of immigrants, I embrace this story as my own in many ways.
Inside: I’m an immigrant, and the idea of coming to another country to make a living is something I can relate to. What these people have done, I do not understand. But when your life and your family are important, do what you need to do.
Festival: Why do you think this drama is important?
Ching: It is the story of an American experience – told through the eyes of those who built the first Transcontinental Railway in extreme conditions for very low wages and almost certain injuries and deaths. It is the story of immigrants who ended up making a living for themselves in America when they could not afford to return to the country and were not allowed to bring their families to America.
Engg: This musical instrument is unique and important in many ways. It presents a history of this country that many Americans do not know about. It humanizes a population that is often ignored, forgotten, humiliated or degraded, and presents them as very human despite their inhumane conditions.
Smith: It’s a beautiful story of love, sacrifice and recovering the truth about history.
Festival: What has been the hardest / most fruitful part of the rehearsal so far?
High: This process is going so fast! To be quite honest with you, I dread the day I have to say goodbye to these special people with whom I get to do this show.
Tyler: I came into this process a little later, so the biggest challenge for me is learning the material from my own. Although it has been an explosion, I like to sing this score, it flies nicely and flows!
Smith: Working with this incredible company has been highlighted. I am humbled to be in a room with all these incredibly talented artists.