Grace Yoo is an actress (and Aries!) based in New York City. She went from putting on productions in her living room as a child to gracing the stages of the Hollywood Bowl (Into the Woods) and Broadway’s Walter Kerr theatre (Hadestown)! Her favorite credits also include A Christmas Carol at the Ahmanson (which unfortunately didn’t reach Christmastime due to Covid), Sophie Sheridan in Mamma Mia at East West Players, and Kei Kimura in Allegiance at SpeakEasy Stage. Offstage, she’s a certified barista and has completed a Master Chef course. She advises young artists to do their research on the business aspect of performing, and to get a head start on creating their Roth IRAs! After all, “starting up any business will always cost a lot of money, and a career in the arts is certainly not exempt from that!” Read on to learn more about Grace Yoo and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Grace Yoo
Hometown: Los Angeles (Koreatown)
Current City: New York City
Current project: Hadestown at the Walter Kerr Theatre
What are some of your favorite credits/projects:
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Create a Roth IRA! Hahaha — no, but really. Research about it and see if you can get that opened ASAP and start investing. If that already sounds overwhelming to you, don’t worry. I opened mine last year. It is never too early, and it’s also never too late. Just keep in mind that starting up any business will always cost a lot of money, and a career in the arts is certainly not exempt from that!
How did you get your start?
Well, the performance began in my living room. I would just sing, dance, and make up songs all the time with my little sister. My family used to go to karaoke a lot as well with other family friends. That’s where seven-year-old me would belt Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”
My little sister and I also grew up doing Korean Traditional Dance. Going to that dance studio every Saturday was really more for my mom than it was for us I think. It was the one place where she didn’t have to be Mom and could be herself.
I also grew up singing in church a lot. I didn’t really have formal voice lessons until college. But boy, those were some traumatic experiences. I was consistently put in a box and told to add “Asian” musicals to my repertoire. So naturally, I sang “Legally Blonde” for my voice jury.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share?
I was contacted by a producer on the Steve show through (yet again) Backstage.com. It was originally to do a segment on blind dating, but upon completing my background check via Instagram, she saw some of my singing videos that I had posted and asked if I would like to be on another segment of the show called, "Put Me On, Steve." That was a pretty cool moment, to be interviewed by Steve Harvey himself and sing on national television! I was shaking the entire time. I had daydreamed about being interviewed on shows like this — but much later in my career when I was rich and famous. The universe said, “Nope! The time is now.”
P.S. On the day of the actual taping, I locked myself out of my own car when I got to the studio lot with no phone and no wallet on me. I made it to the rehearsal. What is meant for you will not pass you, no matter what.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
Comparison. Ah, the thief of joy. It gets so tricky with social media. You feel seen and invisible all at the same time. One moment you are celebrating what you think is a level up in your career only to see someone else’s page and feel two steps behind again. When I find that staying in my lane is getting hard because I’m looking to my left and right a little too much, I unplug.
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
I’m a Four on the Enneagram, INFJ (Myers Briggs), and an Aries (I forget my rising sign). I think llamas and alpacas are adorable. I completed a 20-week pro cooking course once at a culinary school because I was so inspired byMaster Chef Junior. I am a certified barista. That means absolutely nothing other than I spent a lot of money going to a “school” to learn about coffee, because I went through this phase of being deeply obsessed with latte art. I have even interned at coffee shops just so I can practice making a cute heart with frothy milk. Here’s the thing. If something interests you or sparks your curiosity, go learn about it! Do it! You don’t have to become a master at it.
Do you have any organizations or non profits you work with you’d like to highlight?
Homemade Thursdays! My good friend Benai and her husband @morockinchef decided to prepare 100 home-cooked meals every week in their kitchen for PEH (people experiencing homelessness) during the pandemic. Now they’ve partnered up with a local church to access a more commercial kitchen space. Please check out their page to donate and/or volunteer!
Who do you admire?
I admire unapologetically passionate people.
Do you have any mentors?
Yup! I meet a lot of them through books! Honestly, such a sucker for reading memoirs and autobiographies. I just love learning about people’s stories and seeing how they have overcome life’s challenges. There is so much wisdom to be found. The human mentors in my life who have come and gone were also just as important and influential in shaping who I have become today. Not all will stay, just like friendships change throughout different seasons in your life. And that’s okay.
Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have another path before you got here?
My whole life I was so certain that I would become an elementary school teacher. Even as a four-year-old, I would force my sister to be my sole pupil and play pretend all the time. By the time I was a senior in high school, I was set on applying only to Cal States where I knew I would graduate with a degree, a teaching credential, and basically zero student loan debt. Paying off student loans is hard. Paying off student loans as an actor is harder! I’m glad I didn’t listen to my peers who questioned why I was “limiting myself” and not applying to other Ivy Leagues and UC’s. Trust your intuition. Decide to remain true to yourself and your journey.
When did you know you wanted to have a career in the arts?
The moment that planted the seed may have been when I sawWicked at the Pantages as a sophomore in high school. It was my first professional theatre going experience. And obviously, by the end of “Defying Gravity” I thought to myself, “Well, I wanna do that for a living.”
Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you worked at between gigs to pay the bills?
I don’t know if any were odd per say… Sometimes it was as cliché as being a hostess at a restaurant. I babysat. I worked as a Census enumerator during the pandemic. Last summer, I worked at my local Ross. (I wasn’t very good at that job.) I had just started working as a standardized patient for med students before I got the call. The call that my life would change dramatically in a matter of days — but actually, more like eight years of slowly working towards this moment with my different odd jobs and all.
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 parents weren’t in the arts, but I feel they were always drawn to it. My dad had dreams of becoming a singer. My mom wanted to dance in elementary school but was denied that opportunity. I feel like this is why they have been so supportive of my pursuit in the arts if it meant that I could do something I was passionate about and made me ultimately happy.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
Everything is going to be okay.
What skills did you find to be the most helpful in your career?
Where did you study at?
I went to California State University of Northridge. I kinda converted to theater in the second semester of my junior year (again, it’s never too late!). I took two semesters off — one was to go compete in a Korean singing competition reality show and the other was to go be an exchange student at the Seoul Institute of the Arts in Ansan, South Korea.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
Hmm…I think it may be the day I stop asking, “What’s next?”
What are some goals you hope to achieve?
I hope to achieve - and help other artists - achieve financial freedom. I want to give back to my family and the community. I hope to originate roles whether it’s on stage or on camera. I also want to perform a musical in Korea one day. It’s where I originally thought I would pursue musical theatre, because I didn’t have to worry about my ethnicity affecting casting there.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love (and hate) that it is constantly changing. The uncertainty is painful but also what keeps the possibilities endless and exciting.
What helped you most to rebound from what you considered your biggest failure or mistake in your career?
Giving myself grace. All puns intended. And always a post-audition treat. Mine is a mocha frappuccino double-blended with easy whip at Starbucks.
Do you have any self care practices you do to stay focused and sane? What was your self care routine before the pandemic and how has that (as well as your views of self care) changed throughout the pandemic?
Journaling! I also used to love a good $25/hr. foot massage moment (but actually they work your whole body!). A pedicure was also something I considered as “treating myself.” However, I learned that self-care does not always equal self-love. That was a big perspective change I gained during the pandemic. My self-love routine now ideally incorporates more practices like meditation, prayer, Yoga with Adrienne, epsom salt baths (add candle and glass of wine as needed), and cooking.
This is also a total tangent, but I used to never exercise regularly until COVID hit. I realized the key to consistency is community. My friends started a Zoom workout group called “Asia Best.” I believe the name came from a brand of rice that someone was using as a “kettlebell.”
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?
I have to remind myself to never judge the character as I also release judgment of myself in preparation for a role. Sometimes, the only person putting me in a box is…me. Also, if it is a role that goes greatly against my personal beliefs, but I believe in thestory, then I think it’s worth rising up to the challenge and trying to stretch myself as an actor.
Since so many of us spent a lot of time isolated during the pandemic, how has that experience specifically changed your creative or preparation process or your outlook on life?
I learned that sometimes doing absolutely nothing is one of the most productive and necessary things you can do. Also, tomorrow is not guaranteed ever.
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?
I think early on in my career and even now at times when I struggle with scarcity mentality, I didn't think picking projects was an option. I had to audition for it all, even if I felt I was wrong for the role or if I didn't think the story was good, etc. Clearly, when we see the numbers for AAPI representation on stage, page, or film, opportunities are limited; so saying no feels like it's not an option a lot of the time.
I hope to one day pick stories where I can portray fully-developed, fully-flawed, fully-human (or superhuman) characters. I don't want to meet a diversity quota. I don't want to be the sidekick. I want to be the villain. I want to be the leading lady.
I want to be a storyteller. I don't want to be a stereotype anymore.
What inspires you?
Nature. Master Chef Junior or GBBO (I alternate). Mothers.
To find out more about Grace Yoo, please visit her at:
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