Congratulations to Billy Bustamante who has been nominated for a 2016 Barrymore Award nomination for Outstanding Leading Actor in a Musical for See What I Wanna See, produced by 11th Hour Theatre Company.
Bustamante had the opportunity to sink his teeth into three different characters in See What I Wanna See, by writer and composer Michael John LaChiusa. Based on short stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, See What I Wanna See tells stories of two different time lines questioning truth and faith.
Rachel Beecher of DC Metro Theater Arts writes,”Billy Bustamante wins the audience over as a questioning priest whose actions sets in motion Act II.
The Barrymore Awards celebrate and honor the best of Philadelphia’s 2015/16 theatre season, including presentation of awards for outstanding production, acting, and design, plus special awards with cash prizes totaling over $75,000. The 2016 Barrymore Awards ceremony will be held on Monday, October 24, 2016, 7pm at the Merriam Theater, 250 S Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19102. For more information, click here.
Bustamante, a New York City-based actor, director, choreographer, photographer and teaching artist, made his Broadway debut in the 2015 Tony Award winning revival of The King and I at Lincoln Center Theater. His other performing credits include Here Lies Love at the Public Theater, Arena Stage, The Old Globe, Paper Mill Playhouse, Sacramento Music Circus, Walnut Street Theatre, San Jose Rep, North Shore Music Theatre, Pan Asian Rep, Prospect Theatre Company and the Arden Theatre Company, to name a few.
In September, Bustamante directed and choreographed a production of George Wolfe and Michael John LaChiusa’s The Wild Party for B-Side Productions where he is also the Associate Artistic Director.
Bustamante co-founded Broadway Barkada, a Filipino philanthropic organization with Liz Casasola and Brian Jose. In September, 20 Broadway Barkada members were invited to perform a Broadway medley at ASAP New York’s soldout concert at the Barclay Center, which featured a slew of A-List Filipino talent.
During my interview with Billy, he chatted about See What I Wanna See, The Wild Party, making his broadway debut, and his upcoming trip to the White House on Monday, October 24th, to perform with Broadway Barkada co-founders, Liz Casasola and Brian Jose, and Barkada members Emily Borromeo, Jon Viktor Corpuz (who recently finished The King and I with Bustamante), and JayGee Macapugay, currently in School of Rock.
Billy: One of the many new wonderful things about the Obama administration is the celebration of Filipino American History Month in The White House. The White House is gathering officials, dignitaries, policymakers, tastemakers, from all over the country who are of Filipino American descent together about furthering of the culture, and our presence and global impact in the community. Broadway Barkada, an organization that I co-founded and co-run, which bridges the gap between the Filipino community and the theater community, has been invited to go and be the entertainment for the day. We’re doing the opening number from our recent Broadway Barkada Flaherty and Aherns tribute concert. It’s a mashup of songs from two of their shows –Dessa Rose and Once on This Island.
Lia: Have you ever been to The White House?
Billy: I’m a DC guy, I’m from the Maryland suburbs of DC- I had many a tour there, but also I did a musical called Chasing George Washington at The Kennedy Center commissioned by Mrs. Laura Bush, which we did a performance of at the White House in 2005. It was great fun.
Lia: You’ll be displaying your singing talents at The White House on Monday, but recently you directed and choreographed The Wild Party. Can you tell me how this project came your way and your background with Mr. LaChiusa?
Billy: As far as Mr. LaChuisa, it’s been a long distance admiration as I’d never met him before we started The Wild Party process. Still, his work was always present through my formative years as a theater artist. His pieces were always the example of the kind of theater that I wanted to do. So I was thrilled when B-Side Productions decided to approach The Wild Party.
Lia: You do have a little history with his work, not just in admiration, you happen to be nominated for a Barrymore Award in the category of Leading Actor in a Musical. What was the show and the characters that you played?
Billy: The show, See What I Wanna See, is basically a musical in three parts, with three very different stories that focus on the idea of truth. In one story, I was the dance/physical embodiment of a adulteress tryst in feudal Japan. In the second story, I was a janitor in 1950’s New York City who witnesses a murder. In the third story, I’m the central character, a priest who has lost his religion a year after 9/11.
This speaks to one of the many things I like about 11th Hour Theater Company, who produced this show. They have constantly given me opportunities as a performer to play against my type. Sometimes that means age, sometimes that means ethnicity, and sometimes that means gender. With this show, that was applicable for all three.
I’m extremely proud of the work we did on this show. The whole process felt like a collaboration. Everyone brought their best to the table and our directors, Meghan O’Brien and Steve Pacek guided us wonderfully. I also loved playing three totally different characters each night. All complex, flawed and fascinating characters that were not originally written for an Asian American actor. In my opinion, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Lia: As the director and choreographer of The Wild Party, your use of the space was tremendously inventive, and and your direction was cinematic in feel.
Billy: The most encouraging piece of feedback that I got across the board was how seeing this version helped people appreciate the show in a different way. We were the first company in NYC to produce the show since it’s initial Broadway run in 2000 so there were many people who had never seen/been exposed to this version! I think LaChiusa’s Wild Party is a brilliant piece that deserves to be seen. It was important to us to share this story with a new generation of audiences. It’s a big part of why we produce the things we produce.
B-Side Productions started off as a company that did staged readings. With each production, we slowly upped our game in the production department- a theater, lights, a scenic element and now we have a fully produced musical with The Wild Party. It’s very exciting to see our growth.
Lia: You were in the cast of David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim’s Here Lies Love. How did that influence your own staging and choreography of The Wild Party?
Billy: As an early career director, I’m constantly fed by experiences I have had as a performer. One of my favorite experiences as a performer was doing Here Lies Love at the Public. The show was brilliantly directed by Alex Timbers and choreographed by Annie B Parsons. It blew the lid off what anyone thought was possible in the theater. Everyone that walked into the theater got to joyfully recalibrate what theater meant and what theater could achieve. That idea of writing your own rules, figuring them out and making them work is something that I have taken with me through all my artistic adventures.
Lia: Is it true that you made your Broadway debut in The King and I?
Billy: I sure did! The King and I was wonderful. It’s funny, I always wanted to be a theater artist but Broadway was never the goal. Still, I always said if I were to get there, I would love for it to be at Lincoln Center. The process itself was a turning point for me. I learned a lot, grew a lot, and rose to challenges I never thought I could meet. It’s funny- Here Lies Love happened, King and I happened, and I decided to leave King and I to focus on directing more. The week I put in my notice at King and I, B-Side Productions fell into my lab. It’s kind of crazy how life works out.
Lia: What was your first professional job?
Billy: My first professional job was as a performer in the Maryland suburbs of DC playing Chino in West Side Story at The Olney. I was 18.
Lia: How did you parents feel about pursuing a life in the arts?
Billy: As far as Asian families go, I do feel that Filipinos are different. Both conservative religious principles and music, art and performance are equally present in our culture. While I definitely had a conservative Catholic upbringing, everyone in my family were performers at some point. My parents met in a band. Both of my sisters are wildly talented singers/ dancers. I am the only who decided to try to make a living at it. With that said, I think I’ve been able to carve out a path that has given me the success wanted. That makes my parents very proud.
As a director/choreographer, Bustamante recently directed Guys and Dolls in Shanghai, China. Other directing/choreography credits include Goodspeed Musicals, Lincoln Center, Houston TUTS, Dreamlight Theatre Company, Philly Music Theater Works, Merry Go Round and Walnut Street Theatre. He serves on the teaching faculty at NYC’s Jen Waldman Studio which boasts students in over a dozen Broadway shows and is passionately committed to the development of new works and new artists.
Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Examiner.com, Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.