Rising Star Joanne Au of Dirty Laundry Theatre: “Put love first; If everything stems from love, you’ll never feel like it’s not worth it”

Put love first. If everything stems from love, you’ll never feel like it’s not worth it. Do what makes you happy and what you love. Count your blessings and be motivated and appreciative that what you have is so incredibly valuable. We might always encounter problems, but this is what it takes to work in […]

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Put love first. If everything stems from love, you’ll never feel like it’s not worth it. Do what makes you happy and what you love. Count your blessings and be motivated and appreciative that what you have is so incredibly valuable. We might always encounter problems, but this is what it takes to work in the Arts. Create habits and practices that comes from love. It’ll feel like everyday is worth your time and effort to wake up.

As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Joanne Au, Director of Production and Stage Manager of Dirty Laundry Theatre.

Joanne Au is an international Performer and Stage Manager. She started her performing arts journey at the age of 6. She studied at Hong Kong Yip’s Children’s Choral & Performing Arts Centre, and Danse à Lili Ballet and Etiquette Académie. She toured with Yip’s Children’s Choir as a performer in South Africa and Brazil at the age of 11. In 2007, she took part in the Guinness World Records: “The Largest Drum Ensemble,” at the Hong Kong Coliseum. Growing up, she studied in a bilingual international schoo. There, she became fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and English. The Board of Royal Schools of Music certified her studies in flute and piano.

In college, she became fascinated by unconventional theatre forms. And, she started to combine her knowledge as a performer and production stage manager. Joanne graduated with a BFA in Drama and Environemental Studies at New York University. Then, continued to work various unique theatre companies, such as Meta-Phys Ed., Bated Breath Theatre Company, and Dirty Laundry Theatre.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Igrew up in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. I was born and raised in HK, then I moved to BJ for 2 years and then I moved to Shanghai for high school and graduated. Came to New York for University. I was always bilingual. I learnt how to speak Cantonese, Mandarin and English while I was growing up. But, I didn’t start really understanding English till I went to an international school in China. The education system is pretty different. The international schools are very strict in making you speak English. Though, I did go to a bilingual international school, so it’s almost balanced. I was always in the arts since I was 3. My parents put me in children’s choir, ballet school, dance classes, performances, sketching, painting, volleyball, swimming and other after school activities. I was never good at anything else but art. Out of the three kids in the house, I’m the only one who’s doing something different than Tech, or finance. My dad’s an accountant, my mum used to be in retail for fashion, and my brothers are in tech and finance. I’m the youngest one who’s just a little different. HA! I was a good singer, I’ve got great tone memory. I was always surrounded with music. Other than children’s choir, I was taking piano lessons, flute lessons and always educated in music. In highschool, I started to really study music and theatre. Not Musical Theatre, but just music and theatre. We studied a lot about music history, theory and lots of things about how to read music in context. Then, I also started to get into dramaturgy, where I studied a lot about different theatre history. And, I also started to explore in very unconventional theatre forms, like theatre of cruelty and other theories.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Like I mentioned above, I was already really into the arts since I was really little. Arts were never a doubt for me to pursue. I was never really good at anything else but art. Not sure how I ended up with an Environmental Studies major along with my Drama major. But, it probably stemmed from the fact that I really cared about animals and the environment…what people’s actions have to do with the rest of the world… I started to understand what a Stage Manager does during my time in NYU. I got in NYU through directing, but then I realize that’s not what I wanted. I don’t like hearing people telling me how to shape or frame my work. My work is my work, and I just wanna be good at it.

So, in the 2nd year of college, we had a Stage Management class. We have to learn how to be a stage manager with the basics and learn with experience. You get an opportunity to stage manage any show within your studio (school). I started to stage manage a couple of shows here or there. At the same time, I was also designing shows. But I didn’t really want to do that anymore, so I focused on stage managing. And then, on my 3rd year of college, I switched studios. I switchd to Production and Design within the Drama department. At the same time, that’s when I started with my Environmental Studies. I started to really deep dive into what a Stage Manager is. My mentor, Narda, who’s a very successful Broadway stage manager, taught me literally every essential thing about how to be a stage manager. And, how to be a great communicator and a leader of a collective team. After that, everybody had to do a project. Everyone has to stage manage some show. And, everyone had to do a meeting with Narda, to see what you want to do or if you’re capable of doing that. So, my first real experience that made me felt like I belonged to the theatre world, was a 20 cast musical, called A Man of No Importance by Terrence McNally. It was a good show to be on, because everyone was really great to work with. I had a great crew. Eventhough they’ve never done any production work, but they were really wonderful to work with. They’ve just got the greatest attitude and heart while working on the show.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The most interesting thing that happened is when I started to work with Dirty Laundry Theatre. Since Covid happened, I didn’t want to pay too much attention to the bad news. Because, it’s really devastating. It’s so incredibly huge, that everyone is affected by it. I started with DLT just before the stay at home rule was a thing. We were about to go into rehearsal with Borders at the Kraine theatre, and then all the sudden the whole world was shut down. But the most incredible thing, was that we’re so lucky to be able to do Borders in a way that suits the show and it’s so accessible to the rest of the world.

The show was about two people connecting through technology, grindr, during the war. I mean, how relatable is that to now? The world is at war with this huge impactful virus, and the only thing that’s remotely keeping us sane is the online world. Keeping you connected, and feeling like you’re relavant.

The greatest thing is, is that the show kept its theatricality within itself even by the means of being a virtual experience. It was carefully thought out. It was well rehearsed. It experienced a lot of struggles that a physical rehearsal would’ve experienced. Because at the end of the day, if you don’t feel a little bit of stress from coming out of rehearsal, you haven’t been challenged by a production at all.

In a way, it’s kind of harder than doing a show physically. Because it’s so much harder to pay attention for 3 hours straight, sitting in front of your computer, fixing problems within a 13 inch screen. But I guess this is a whole new way of doing theatre in the new world.

We’re so lucky to be able to do this show, and with the people in DLT. And in a way, Borders wouldn’t have gotten such great exposure if it wasn’t for this global phenomenon. We wouldn’t have the opportunity to be exposed by other companies, channels, theatre companies or festivals in a blink of an eye like this. This company is on fire!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh god. I don’t know if it’s funny, or if it’s just embarrassing. Mostly embarrassing. I don’t like reviewing my mistakes. I’m the kind of person that learns to change in a second. The moment I realize I did something wrong, I will say to myself “NEVER DO THAT AGAIN,” before anyone else tell me I did something wrong. I think one of the most embarrassing mistakes was when I took an fellowship at an Off-Broadway Theatre up on 42nd Street. They’re really well known and really established. But it wasn’t right for me. It’s not what’s going to help me with my career. In one of the meeting I was in, with the rest of the fellows, I immediately felt like I didn’t belong there. I was way more mature than them. I spoke so differently, and I acted so differently than them. At this point, I was already out of school and was looking for jobs. But this opportunity came up, and it was a general management fellowship. It wasn’t stage management, and I was lying to myself. I thought that I could do this, and it’s gonna be good for me. It really wasn’t. I was trying to convince myself that it was good for me. But then, I talked to other people and they’ve layed it out very clearly me that, you have to be honest. You have to tell yourself that this isn’t it. It was terrible job. It was a 9–5, sit in a cubicle job. It was really boring. The most embarrassing thing is, I had to be honest to my boss. Two of them. And they were really experienced and status-ful in the theatre community. I felt so embarrassed to tell them mid-way into the fellowship that I had to quit. My boss called me a disappointment, and said, “I think you’re done.” My supervisor was nicer, though she was also mad, because she spent a lot of time training me. But, it just wasn’t right. I just graduated college, and I never felt more like a looser than that. But it was fine. Because, it was the right decision to leave. I was kidding myself for finding jobs that wasn’t exactly what I wanted as a fall back. I didn’t have the courage to tell myself that this isn’t it. And I think, from now on, I’m gonna stick with production and stage managing. Because that’s what I’m really good at in the theatre realm. I shouldn’t have lied to myself.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Borders. Like I mentioned before, this is a really relatable show. And it’s such a transformable show. Other than that, Warm Family. It’s another immersive show about a shabbat dinner. Audience member will be a part of the family dinner. They will be fed and interacting with the actors. You come to dinner and it’s an experience at a family dinner. Not everything is going to go smooth at a family dinner. Conversations, interactions, fights…all the normal things you’ll see at a family gathering in one sitting. We’re currently doing a lot of production work for this show, so I’m really excited to put this ‘on the table’ as soon as this global situation is over.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

  1. Not just film and television. Every corner of this world should have diversity. Diversity means shared culture. It means opened perspective. It means acceptance and understanding. It means that you’ll never wonder why that kid who lives in the corner of the neighborhood wears different clothing. It means you’ll never wonder why people have different behaviors or religion.
  2. Film and Television is the most immediate form of art. It’s immediate because it’s accessible. And it has a lot of money to do so. They represent the genre or generation. When was the last time you remembered a movie from your childhood and say “omg I remember that! It brings back so much memories!” It influences how you live your life. Every movie reference, every line people rescite for fun or to pun with, is shaping the way you see the world. Because it’s an imitation of real life living. When was the last time an actress received a monologue that isn’t about men or relationships? Are we teaching the generation to revolve their lives around others? Or are we trying to teach them to think for themselves and know their own worth? What are you trying to shape?
  3. I come from a very deep rooted culture. It goes all the way back to the history of philosophy in life. But because we evolve. We improve as people. Diversity creates possibility. We no longer live in a cave or rubbing lead on our faces for cosmetics for a reason. We abandon behaviors that don’t apply to life anymore. Diversity is the new behavior. Sometimes, being proud of one culture, being protective of your own roots becomes a sheltered behavior. It teaches you to be hateful of someone you’ve never met and to be proud of something you’ve never done. Here, “you” means you as an individual. But when open themselves to things that they’re not familiar with, cultures that are undiscovered, or never been under the light, you discover so much more about humanity. You discover so much more about the way of living. What you imitate in the arts, will be come enriched and multifaceted. The way of living is so much more fulfilled.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Karma is a real deal. What you do in relations to what others receive is important to pay attention to. Your actions and words have consequences. Even though I am very articulate and particular about what I say, but because I am such a strong headed person. I often forget that. A lot of communications can go wrong if you don’t say it the exact correct way. I remember, during the 20 cast musical, it was 5 minutes till house is open. And one of my actress was hanging out in the hall way, trying to look for her friend in her costume. And I went down and said to her, “Could you go back stage?” She gave me a disgruntled look, and went back to the dressing room. I have never felt so judged and weirded out. So, during intermission, I went and apologized to her and explained that it was an immediate time, and I didn’t want the audience to see actors in costumes, or else it’ll break the story.
  2. How to do my taxes. No body tells you that money was going to be a problem, until you have a problem. The arts is not easy. They’re not always payed attention to. But when someone’s looking for entertainment, an experience, something that money can’t really give, they come the arts. It’s an imitation of life without being apparent. But it’s cheap. Arts is difficult to make money with. I used to think that, “Oh I’m gonna be an artist, I’m gonna be so successful, and I’m gonna make my money from that.” Oh young Jo, you are so silly. It’s not impossible, but it’s really hard. And not every company will want to respect you and give you what you deserve, so it’s all about luck and relationships.
  3. You’re worthy of every job you want. This is tricky, because you actually have to be good at your job and also you have to convinced yourself of that. I’ve asked around the stage management world, that how do you go into an interview for a job that’s way above your level. And they always say that, you have to tell them you’re a quick learner, and you pick things up very easily. It’s all about being in the room with the person, and catching on what they say. Sometimes they’ll pick you over the person who’s on the same level as the job, because they believe in what you say. I think on every job interview that I’ve ever gone to, I’ve always known the outcome the second a walk into the room. I think I tried to apply for a producing internship for a Broadway producing office, but my answer wasn’t good enough for them. Because, my experience with producing wasn’t on point. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t good enough, it just means it’s not right for me. You’re still worthy of every job you want.
  4. You should keep your innocence. I think we shouldn’t penalize ourselves for being “childish”. Being innocent seems like a bad thing, but it’s so worthwhile to be fearless and adventurous. I think being independent creates a lot of fear. Being an independent artist makes it very apparent that it’s difficult. But if you had innocence and your experience growing up as an adult, you’re gonna end up pretty powerful and strong.
  5. That you can’t compete with the people who are 30 years ahead of you. In school, people start with goals. You always start with where do you want to be in 10 years. But in reality, you have to start with where you are. You have to start with what it means to be in the current situation. You have to choose to be happy about where you aren’t. 10 years is so way ahead of you, that you are never going to be able to predict or control. I feel like if I am honest and down to earth about who I am right now, and what my immediate goals are, I would have a much clearer picture of who I need to be right now. There’s no way I can work the years that others have worked for in a short periods of time. Be patient.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Put love first. If everything stems from love, you’ll never feel like it’s not worth it. Do what makes you happy and what you love. Count your blessings and be motivated and appreciative that what you have is so incredibly valuable. We might always encounter problems, but this is what it takes to work in the Arts. Create habits and practices that comes from love. It’ll feel like everyday is worth your time and effort to wake up.

Make your boundaries clear. If you want a day off, make sure everyone knows that you need it. If you can’t do certain things or tasks, make sure everyone knows that you can’t do it and ask for help. I am a person who doesn’t like to ask for help, but I’ve realized that the good thing about this industry, is that people are very approachable and loving. You will always be surprised of how people would be able to help you if you need something.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Throw a huge party. Huge crowd hug. And do yoga and meditate together. Take a moment in time and thank the people around us. The people who made this moment in time possible. Thank the people who have made this world much more positive, humane and fun. The world may not be as wonderful as we perceive. But it’s way more wonderful than it used to be. We are more aware of social issues and other problems that never surfaced. Though this world isn’t safer, but the realization of danger is more apparent. People who are becoming more and more aware of issues that used to be embedded within society. So, I’d take time to just thank these social phenomena and the community that are willing to discuss about them. Thank you for evolving.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My partner. He doesn’t get enough credit, and he thinks without him, I would still prosper. I think he is the most sane person I’ve ever known. He’s helped me grow and realize how powerful a person can be by choosing how you react to things. I think he is the pillar to my success.

He’s a yogi and meditating expert. He also helps many people with their dreams in his day job as a start-up expert, and helps people in his night job, physically as an EMT. Throughout his life, he’s led a journey of helping people. He always puts love first and always tries to help people in need. He has the greatest perspective in life. He never stops his goal as a helper. And I think he is a pillar to a lot of people. My partner is a very approachable person. No matter if its about meditation, business or physical aid. He will always be there if you just ask for it. His goal in life is to help others reach their goals. The leader of leaders. I think he’s helped me to discover how to be more loving and confident in my job and what I do in the arts.

But also the Jews. All of my employers are jewish. My lawyer, too, I think. Thanks guys!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I don’t know if I have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote” as opposed to “Things that people tell me and I will remember them forever”

  1. “There’s a difference between what you want and what you have to do.” From my mother. She was yelling at me about piano exams when I was a kid. Still sticks with me, because it helps me get through things like paying taxes, getting insurance and grocery shopping.
  2. “When you practice cleaning, you’re practicing love.” From my partner, who is so good at cleaning. I think this also helps me get through things like laundry, chores and grocery shopping.
  3. “Count your blessings.” This one’s from me. I always want people to know that they may always be in some sort of problem, but because you’re able, and you’re appreciative of the people around you. You are one of the luckiest ones. Or, really, I am one of the luckiest ones to work with them.
  4. “If I know more of others, I might say otherwise. But you are the best.” This one’s from Jesse. He’s a director I’ve worked with before. Such a lovely person, really awesome to work with. And you know, You are the best. Validating my own work by myself and from other’s words is wonderful and powerful to hear. Supporting each other. That’s what it’s really about.
  5. “Believing in the collective.” Not sure where I heard this from. But I will always remember that. No one can be where they are without others. I strongly believe in the power as a collective. I can only thank the people around me from the bottom of my heart for who I became. Because of my teachers, mentors, friends, family, colleagues, collaborators, artists that I know. They make me who I am. They make me feel useful to the community.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

John Oliver and his writers. John Oliver’s jokes are like a perfect meal. You get all the taste of what you want from every ‘dish’ he serves- a perfect balance of fresh, sweet, sour, spice and bitterness, all in one sitting.

How can our readers follow you online?

I don’t like social media, but @shutupwoohoo on insta is fine. Please don’t make fun of my handle. I made it when I was 15.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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