Inspired by our Broadway at Every Stage season, we asked Miss Saigon ensemblist Julian DeGuzman to share how he defines success in his 30s.
I was 14 years old when I saw my first Broadway show, Fosse, starring Ben Vereen. My dad and I were in town visiting from California for one of the many dance competitions and conventions I frequented throughout my youth. We had front row mezzanine seats — unexpected since my dad had just gone to TKTS two hours before and gotten whatever was available for the show. I remember thinking, “this theater is tiiiiiiny!” I was expecting to be sitting way far back with horrible sight lines, for the people to look like little shapes of washed out light rather than people, and instead, there we were, practically on top of the stage. I don’t remember everything that happened in that show, but I remember how I felt. Seeing Ben Vereen with a single male dancer encompassing the gamut of that drama mask symbol in a five minute number, I thought to myself, “I want to do that.” From there on I wanted to take my experience of dancing on convention center floors, high school auditoriums, gym floors, onto where I felt it REALLY mattered: Broadway.
My experience in Miss Saigon so far has given me the opportunity to be a part of an opening night cast of a Broadway show, to meet some incredibly talented fellow actors of color, to perform at press events at some cool places, to tell a story that seems to really resonate and affect people. I feel a sense of accomplishment and gratitude every time I walk through the stage door, thinking “damn, bro, this is really your workplace." All the success has also taught me the importance of maintaining mental health and the holistic care of your mind, body, and spirit despite the rigors of an 8-show week schedule. Your conscience will always have that chatter and bits of anxiousness with the question, “What happens next?” The business can swallow people into a stew of uncertainty and worry, which I oftentimes found myself in.
Practicing mindfulness has had a profound effect on my emotional and mental well-being that has protected and guarded me against some of my most anxious thoughts and worries that come with being an actor, regardless of success. It has helped me cope with the reality that despite the Broadway credits on my resume, I will still be cut from auditions, sometimes very early on and immediately. Being mindful has taught me that rejection from an audition is protecting me from a situation that was not meant to be, or is setting me up for success elsewhere. It has also taught me that regardless of how you are feeling, action is the only builder of self esteem. For example, I may feel pretty crappy from being cut for the third time from an audition for a show I really wanted. The feeling sucks. However, do I regret going? Absolutely not. I showed up, did my best, and, hey — that’s an accomplishment.
The metrics by which we measure success are typically in the context of future uncertainty. We have goals. We want growth. We want more success. The thing is, everything in the past already happened. Everything in the future only exists in theory. Being on an 8-show per week schedule can produce a mental monotony if you are not engaged with the work or reminded of how grateful you are to be where you are. Being present and mindful of each action, offstage and on, has heightened my experience with a gratitude that translates to a stage presence that I can be proud of. It isn’t easy. Some days are better than others when it comes to alertness, sharpness, spark. However, the collective experience of sharing a wardrobe village with my male ensemble produces a shared energy. Some days my energy may dip, but is picked up by my cast mates spirit, and vice versa. It is a collective consciousness that you share and build with your time together, a feeling that is familiar all the way back to my dance studio days, and what keeps the fulfillment of being an ensemble dancer burning.
My idea of success at the age of 30 is not something I just woke up and realized. The idea is built, brick by brick, through experiences and, just as importantly, who you know and meet. The idea of success that I achieved in my 20s was primarily as a dancer, and has now evolved into a curiosity of the other facets of being a renaissance musical theater actor. I will continue to dance and be open to opportunities to dance in Broadway shows and for choreographic projects led by my friends and colleagues in the industry. But growth in musical theater seems infinite. There is so much more to learn which all lie outside of my comfort zone. Being a musical theater artist is in my opinion the greatest and most fulfilling artistry there is, because there are different avenues you must master, block by block, and within those foundational avenues you eventually come to the more challenging and nuanced alleys and subtlety of the streets, which can seem boundless, but are teeming with ideas and discoveries that are waiting for you to learn, to struggle with, to grow, to be challenged by.
Being an artist also designates a responsibility to create. Regardless of how your art or your craft end up, action is the only true sense of fulfillment, of building self-esteem. An artist creates and lives within that moment of creating and is mindful of only of the task at hand. My goals for my 30s have evolved into much more profound personal goals. While in my twenties I chased after external labels of success I placed upon myself, I now see much of what happens in the industry and in my life to be out of my control. The only things within my control in this business are my actions, my art, my craft. I want to learn and create and develop myself and my art and collaborate with like-minded people to write plays, write music, choreograph. I have career goals that are much more fluid now, compared to my rigid aspirations in the past where success or failure was “booked” or “didn’t book it." This may all sound very vague and general, but I am finding enjoyment and true fulfillment in figuring out the “what-ifs” in a sea of uncertainty for myself. I still want it. I still have a hunger and the burning desire to continue to work as a Broadway actor, and I've been lucky to have that work ethic and some fortunate timing with the reward of upcoming projects. But I have embraced the motto: "Don't work harder; work smarter."
The future is bright. It is also dark. It’s scary. It’s exciting. It is all those things… but none of it has actually happened yet. For now, I’m on Broadway and this time in my life, the present, will eventually be "the good ol' days."