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August 21, 2021 6 min read

Photos by Rebecca J Michelson
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Erica Wong was almost a civil engineer before dance called her to NYC! Now based in Union City, she got her start with a ballet company before a beauty pageant video submission booked her  In Your Arms with renowned choreographer Christopher Gattelli. From that moment on, Wong knew theatre was her home.  The King & I  marked her Broadway debut, and since then, she’s worked on projects such as  Jerome Robbins’ Broadway  at The MUNY and  M. Butterfly, and now performs in  Phantom of the Opera on Broadway! She is currently hosting an intermediate ballet barre on Zoom to aid a GoFundMe benefitting the AAPI Community Fund, and hopes to begin exploring film and television opportunities in the near future. Wong advises young artists to “always be open to learning -- not just about [their] craft, but about the world and beyond,” and to practice care of one’s “mind, body, soul, and finances.” Read on to learn more about Erica Wong and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts! 



Name:   Erica Wong


Heritage:  Chinese American


Hometown:  Honolulu, HI


Current City:   Live in Union City, NJ, work in NYC


Current project:  The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway


What are some of your favorite credits/projects: 


In Your Armsat The Old Globe, and Jerome Robbins’ Broadway  at The MUNY!!


Any advice for young people getting into the arts?


Always be open to learning -- not just about your craft, but about the world and beyond.  You need empathy to be an artist, and the acceptance that you’ll be a lifelong student.  


Also, learn to take care of your mind, body, soul, and finances.  You will need all of those things. :)


How did you get your start?


I grew up as a ballet dancer and danced with ballet companies for a few years.  Then, I decided to go back to school full-time to become a civil engineer.  In the middle of my schooling, I did a beauty pageant and with a video of my talent for the pageant I booked a show called In Your Arms, which was conceived, directed, and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli and featured a cast of jaw-dropping performers.  That show and the people in it bit me with the theater bug.


What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?


Not knowing what’s coming next -- if anything at all. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying and something I’m still learning to come to terms with.  


What are some interesting facts about yourself?


Although I was in a Broadway play called M. Butterfly  and I play a butterfly in the “Masquerade” scene of The Phantom of the Opera  on Broadway, I HATE butterflies!  


I also just learned to ride a bike a year ago. It was such a thrill feeling the wind in my face like that for the first time! I’m not a crier, but there were ugly happy tears that day.


Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have another path before you got here?


Before I came to NY I thought I was going to be a civil engineer. I was about to do a year-long exchange with California Polytechnic State University when I decided to test the artistic waters in NYC for six months. I can thank Christopher Gattelli and the cast of In Your Arms  for the encouragement. <3


When did you know you wanted to have a career in the arts?


When I became a ballet dancer after high school it was because I didn’t see myself doing anything else. When I moved to NYC and started seeing shows, that’s when I really knew I wanted to be back onstage. But I didn’t really think of it as a career at that point, just something I’d try my best at while there for the supposed six months I was giving NYC a try. I’m very fortunate because after three months in NYC I made my Broadway debut in The King & I, something I’ll never take for granted.  


Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you worked at between gigs to pay the bills?


I wouldn’t say these were “interesting,” but I’ve been a hostess at a restaurant, a horrible waitress at another restaurant (I’m terrible at multitasking), and a check-in receptionist at a gym. I’d barely say I worked at the gym though, because after my first day of work I booked The King & I  at Lincoln Center and had to quit because of the conflicting hours.  


Do you have any side projects you’d like to highlight?


Yes! I am hosting a Zoom ballet barre soon, in which all proceeds would go towards the GoFundMe AAPI Community Fund. If you are comfortable taking an intermediate ballet barre and have the space at home, join me! Find me on Instagram (@ericawong.co) for deets.


If you come from parents who aren’t in the arts, what parts of them do you see in yourself that have helped you succeed in the business?


Colleagues have told me that I come off as disciplined and mellow and I think I get that from my parents. My parents who were in the dental industry are quite internalized, but once they make their minds up about something, they go all in. I think that helps me stay calm and level through storms, but also do things to the fullest and best of my ability.


If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?


While I definitely credit my theater career to my ballet career, I think the ballet industry can be tough in that comparatively as a ballet dancer nobody asks you for your opinion. You only get told how to be and what to strive towards. When I came into theater I realized that my opinion and point of view is what makes me unique and stand out way more than my technique ever will. I’d tell my younger self to have an opinion, and to maintain the confidence to have it with a strong foundation of self-worth.


What skills did you find to be the most helpful in your career?


Being able to learn quickly has helped me a lot -- from transitioning into a different arts industry, to learning combinations at dance calls, to slotting in for a role I’m inexperienced with. Like anything else, the skill of learning is a muscle that can be kept in shape, but the key is to stay open and focused.  And keep snacks on hand! XD


What are some goals you hope to achieve?


I want to focus on acting, particularly on-camera. I love the intimacy of TV and film, so I want to explore that avenue.  


What do you love most about what you do?


That I get to play pretend. We lose so much imagination as we “grow up.”  I watch my nieces and am in awe of how they can easily create a whole world with dragons and made up creatures just by walking outside to the nearest tree. When I visited them in Hawaii and the power went out, they didn’t get scared or sit tight. They grabbed flashlights and were running around the house, going on an awesome ghost hunt!  


Do you have any self care practices you do to stay focused and sane?


I like cooking and getting outside. Like many of us found during the pandemic, fresh air and sunshine is so important. I tend to gravitate towards water, so walking near or gazing out across the Hudson is so lovely. Cooking is also something I like doing. It ends in (usually good) food made with ingredients I can control. I like that I can also better appreciate different cuisines when I eat out, because I have a taste (pun intended) of the work that’s gone into the dishes.


How do you prepare for a role you consider difficult personally, whether it hits too close to home or goes greatly against your personal beliefs?


It always starts with empathy. Everyone has a story and I think as an actor if you come from a place of hearing to listen instead of hearing to reply, the roads to becoming a character are smoother. I find this practice also helps me be a better person in general.


What inspires you?


The arts community and the people in it. When I isolate myself from other artists, I lose connection to my creativity, and I feel alone and stagnant. It’s important to me that I support friends in their endeavors, and I remain open to meeting new people, because you never know what they can teach you and what you can give back.

 

To find out more about Erica, please visit her at: 


Website: https://www.ericawong.co/ 

Instagram:@ericawong.co  -- (Say hi!  And send me your favorite plant-based recipes for me to take a swing at :)


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