On the Scene with Alvin Chan
Born and raised in Honolulu, a Mid-Pacific Institute and University of Hawaii at Manoa grad, Alvin Chan has had a remarkable career in theater.
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Born and raised in Honolulu, a Mid-Pacific Institute and University of Hawaii at Manoa grad, Alvin Chan has had a remarkable career in theater. He played a sensitive young gay man in Kumu Kahua’s 2001 production of “A Language of Their Own,” carried the title role in the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival’s staging of “Macbeth” in 2003, and in 2015 returned to Kumu Kahua to give a chilling performance as a painfully shy loner-turned-mass-killer in “Echoes of Dat Red Guitar.”
Between “Macbeth” and “Red Guitar” Chan spent a year as a company actor at Honolulu Theatre for Youth, lived in New York for three years, and studied theater for a year in Asia. Since 2010 he has been on staff at HTY — first as a company actor, and then as an artistic associate directing and writing shows.
Chan, a youthful 36, will be the house Friday when his current HTY play, ”Filipino Folktales & Fables,” opened at Tenney Theatre. He’ll soon leave Hawaii for three years to go to Northwestern University, where he’ll be teaching while he earns a master of fine arts degree in directing.
JOHN BERGER: How have your experiences here prepared you for Northwestern?
ALVIN CHAN: It’s helped being able to work with kids and (also) adults. Sometimes it’s very different, but sometimes it’s very similar. My playwriting work been predominately multicultural specific, choosing stories from different cultures (and) laying it out into a new piece like “Filipino Folktales,” which is multiple folktales and fables woven in together into one big celebration of Filipino mythology, literature, dance and song — with a cast of five.
JB: Was it hard to go back to Kumu Kahua and star in “Red Guitar” — a show about mass murder and a rape scene with half-nude co-star — after several years doing “children’s theater” at HTY?
AC: I was approached and they said, “You gotta do, you gotta do it, you’re the only one that can do it.” I wasn’t sure — “Guys, I’m at HTY!” — but (the role) was its own unique challenge, and that’s where I found it interesting.
JB: Do you have a favorite character you’ve played?
AC: I did a Bollywood version of “Robin Hood” (for HTY), and I got to play the Sheriff of Nottingham. It was my first real bad-guy part, and all the kids in the audience hated me. It was so different having the whole audience against you as opposed to being the hero — and it was my favorite part.
JB: Can you go to a movie or a play and not critique it?
AC: Yes, and when I do, that’s when I really know its good, when I can just watch and be sucked in.
JB: It there a character you’d like to play?
JB: Where would you like to be 10 years from now?
AC: Teaching theater in Hawaii somewhere. Whether UH or a good high school, the goal is to come back home.
JB: Have you seen “Crazy Rich Asians?”
AC: Yes (and) I enjoyed the movie a lot. Would I compare it to “The Joy Luck Club?” No! It’s a different genre. It’s a rom-com mixed with some family drama. It’s definitely for the young hip crowd.