Grace Aki is a writer, performer and illustrator based in NYC. After making her stage debut at 5 as Quackers the Duck in a local production of The Three Little Pigs, she studied at the The Barrow Group School and went on to perform on the Cartoon Network, in her solo show To Free a Mockingbird (which was chosen for the SheATL & NYC New Play festival!) and assorted new works, and to open her own Etsy shop for her art – but offstage held the crown of North Georgia Fair Queen and is an avid hot dog enthusiast. Through her work, Aki hopes to both shed light on important topics like invisible abuse and to provide her community with characters that “look and sound like [them].” She advises young artists to “engage in pop culture” and to “learn from everyone.” Read on to learn more about Grace Aki and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Grace Aki
Heritage: Japanese American
Hometown: Dalton, GA
Current City: New York City
Current project: To Free a Mockingbird solo play, Tell Me on a Sunday Podcast
What are some of your favorite credits/projects:
Cartoon Network, solo show To Free a Mockingbird,and assorted new works.
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Engage in pop culture. If you want to be an artist, go to museums, check out books by other artists. If you wanna do comedy, try to watch other comics, even ones that you don't like. You can learn from everyone.
How did you get your start?
I wouldn't shut up when I was 5, and my mom put me in the local play The Three Little Pigs where I played Quackers the Duck.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share?
This past year my play was selected for the SheATL & NYC New Play festival. It was the first time my work, external to my performance, was selected for anything which felt really validating as a writer.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
For a long time, I'd wished I'd grown up a nepotism baby or gone to a prestigious college. But truthfully I was so fortunate that my parents put me in classes, allowed me to go to play practice, and gave me resources to make art in all expressions.
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
My hands were once used in a shot on SNL, I was the reigning North Georgia Fair Queen, and I love hot dogs.
Do you have any organizations or non profits you work with you’d like to highlight?
My mother has worked as a Community Solutions Director for 30+ years at United Way of Northwest Georgia. I have watched her do incredible things within my hometown, connecting donations to life-changing services.
Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have another path before you got here?
I started in ballet at 3, acting and voice-over at 5, started doing musicals at 11, started painting when I was 12... I didn't have a choice, I have loved every aspect of being in the arts my whole life.
When did you know you wanted to have a career in the arts?
When I was 11 working at Cartoon Network introducing cartoons... I wandered down the hallway to the Turner Classic Movies floor and I saw all the crew people running around. One PA came up to me and loved my Edward Scissorhands tee shirt, and showed me around the set. It was so exciting, I knew I wanted to do this.
Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you worked at between gigs to pay the bills?
Oh sure! I've worked at a children's toy store, celebrity stylist, smoothie shop, paper store... I've done almost everything but carry plates... I could never be a waiter, that's an impressive skill I don't think my balance could master!
Do you have any other “special skills?”
I became an award-winning mime after my teacher didn't care to feature me in the school musicals, I guess out of spite but I was really good thanks to my teacher Jerry Bowman!
Do you have any side projects you’d like to highlight?
I am an illustrator with an Etsy store (etsy.com/shop/graceakimadeit). I started it during the pandemic because I hadn't painted in so long and now I really enjoy sharing more of my artwork.
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?
My dad was a guitarist before he became a lawyer and my bonus dad is an award-winning radio DJ, so they had some wisdom as far as going out and putting myself out there. But I feel like the best business advice has come from my business-minded mommy. Because of my ability to see the marketing matrix it's easier to navigate the evolving world of social media and the arts business.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
Fat isn't a bad word.
Where did you study at?
The Barrow Group School under Chris Wells and Seth Barrish.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
Learning that there are a million ways to be a writer.
How do you deal with performance anxiety?
I make sure I can eat, be still, and relax my shoulders.
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?
In my solo show, I play myself, which is the most difficult role I've ever done. Cinderella is so much easier! I just have to pretend I'm talking about someone else or I don't think my heart could take it.
As a storyteller, how do you pick the stories you want to work on, and what goes into putting a story together, whether on stage, page, or film?
This past year I began working on pieces that highlight invisible abuse because so often in the media, domestic abuse is depicted with a black eye but that wasn't the same as my experience. I hope to show some nuance. I want to tell stories that are real to me that seem foreign to others. I'd never seen a Japanese-American girl with a southern accent until the musicalWaitress on Broadway. I want to write more people that look and sound like me.
How do you deal with writer's block?
Do something else. Paint. Go get a matcha. Do literally anything else.
Do you have a favorite book/screenplay/script?
Nora Ephron's work continues to speak to me. Her essays, her screenplays, even her life honestly. I feel like I lived Heartburn alongside her.
When you are creating a story, what is your process for putting a storyline together?
I listen to what's interesting to me, what could be interesting to someone else... and following the logic of "Does this make sense? How can I make it make sense?" and going backward.
What inspires you?
Keeping friends in my life that take charge of their goals. Even when those goals are "staying home and doing laundry". I love and respect my friends so much, they inspire me daily.
If you could name one point in time when everything changed for you, what was it?
Definitely 2020. Listen to "Her Story" on Tell Me on a Sunday Podcast
To find out more about Grace Aki, please visit her at:
Twitter, Instagram, & Tiktok: @itsgraceaki
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