As part of our Broadway at Every Stage season, we asked Broadway actors in their 20s to share how they define success at this point in their careers. First, we hear from Miss Saigon ensemblist Emily Bautista, who makes her Broadway debut in the production.
Broadway was a dream I was preparing to lay to rest. Throughout every actor’s career, a flood of self-doubt washes in and uses all its power to take you down. Rejection after rejection convinces you that you're not good enough. People will tell you to study other subjects, try a new field, and leave this dream behind. I admit it; I began to fall for it.
I spent my senior year like most kids. College never left my mind. Where will I go? How will we pay for it? Who will accept me? All these questions were circling my mind 24/7, except for one: What will I study? I had studied theater all throughout high school, and I was sure I would spend the next four years living, eating, and breathing theater in a BFA musical theater program. So I got to work visiting colleges, sending in applications, working with teachers to put together the best audition package. Eight applications sent, eight prescreens filmed… seven rejection letters received. Every month I’d check the mail, and every month it was another letter telling me this wasn’t my calling, at least that’s what I heard. I started to believe seven colleges telling me “no” was a sign that I shouldn't be doing theater professionally, maybe not at all. That’s when I decided to go to Ithaca College for a B.A. in Theater Studies with the intent to explore other majors and career choices.
In the first few months of school, I weaned myself off of performing, enrolling myself into new courses and distancing myself from anything theater-related. Maybe I need a clean slate, I thought. So from journalism to philosophy, to communications, management, and design, I struggled to find a major that would fill the hole where theater had been all my life. On top of that, I began to go crazy from not being able to sing whenever I felt like bursting into song, being surrounded by normal people who tend not to sing about everything. It felt like I was being forced to listen to Lady Gaga, but wasn't allowed to sing along. A couple months into school, I cracked and I began to rent out studios just so I could spend a half hour belting everything from West Side Story to The Last Five Years. Every time I left a show, even a comedy, I was so sad. I began to feel unsure of whether or not I made the right decision to leave theater behind. As first semester came to a close, I still struggled with my passion for theater and my self-doubt. I needed a sign to tell me whether I should leave it behind or to pursue it. That’s exactly what Saigon was.
A little over a year prior, as I dealt with all the rejection letters, my dad had found an email relating to the Miss Saigon American Dream company and, without telling me, messaged them. He vouched for my interest in theater and asked the possibility of being seen if they ever were to hold auditions. He believed in me when I didn’t. A year later, I received an email from Tara Rubin Casting Agency asking me for a headshot and resume, so I sent them in. A couple months passed, and, to my surprise, they emailed me again, setting up an appointment for January 25, 2016. From then on, I was back and forth on a five-and-a-half hour bus ride from Ithaca, NY to New York City. I had never been so excited to sit on a bus for that long.
In August of that year, I booked the show. I can’t even begin to explain the emotions I felt. I remember getting the email while I was on FaceTime with my boyfriend. My roommate was in the shower (it’s an important detail). I was speechless. I felt like if I said anything, the email would disappear. Finally, after about a minute, I told my boyfriend that they offered me the Kim Understudy/Female Ensemble and we both got so excited. I couldn't calm down; I ran into the bathroom where my roommate was showering, told her the news, and she got so excited that she gave me the biggest soapiest hug (while still in the shower). Pretty sure I had shampoo in my ear. Then I called my parents. Telling them was one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve ever felt; they were so proud.
Saigon has been a whirlwind; my whole life has changed. I’ve never felt more challenged or accomplished. I am forced to face my fears and doubts everyday. As an actor, I have grown in ways I had only dreamed of, and as a person, I have never felt more grounded. I still have my days when that self doubt creeps its way back in, but I talk to my friends in the business and they remind me they’ve all been there. I learn so much from this cast about myself, about theater, and I know there is still so much more to learn and achieve. I’m lucky to be apart of a cast that supports and teaches one another like this one. It’s humbling to be a part of something so special. They truly have become my second family.
This year I turn 20, and one question I constantly get asked is, “Are you going back to school?” I reply, “No, not for a while.” I’ve been afforded an opportunity most people don’t get, especially at this age, and I want to take full advantage. So for right now I’m going to keep auditioning, taking classes, and learning here in the city, whether that be through my peers, working on this show, or future projects. School will always be there, and maybe I will go back eventually, but when I do, it will be on my own time and with my own money.
It’s a constant joke among people who come see me in the show that I should go to all the schools that rejected me and show them what I am doing now, but honestly, I’m not angry I got rejected. It was’t meant to be. I know a lot of getting this show was luck and timing, but I truly believe this is where I was meant to end up. I am more upset with myself for letting the rejection and self-doubt flood my mind. My family and friends helped me get back on my feet when I lost sight of what could be. I am so fortunate to have people who believe in me when I struggle to have faith in myself.
I don’t know what’s going to happen after the show closes. I’ve never been good at that, not knowing what’s to come. I’ve spent so much time worrying about the future when really I should be enjoying every moment of the present. The past two years have taught me to let go. I’ve learned you don't always know where life is going to lead you. There’s times when you’ll be faced with challenges and opportunities you never would have expected and sometimes, when the stars align, you might just be faced with an opportunity you only thought possible in your dreams.