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February 18, 2023 7 min read

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Heather Makalani is an actress (and avid fisherwoman) based in NYC. Taking a Hula class at three years old led to a lifelong love for performance and storytelling (fueled also by watching Lizzie McGuire and Hannah Montana!), which brought her to study at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. One Bachelors of Arts in Musical Theatre and 21 countries later, she’s workshopped Betty Boop with Jerry Mitchell, performed in RentEmojiland (Kissy Face), and is currently working for the Mouse as Princess Jasmine in Broadway’s Aladdin! Offstage, she’s a huge advocate for Guam Animals in Need (GAIN), the shelter back home that gave her pup Lupa a forever home with her! Her advice to young artists? Keep other interests alive outside performance that ground you. “There will be a lot of highs and lows, so don’t let the anticipation of the lows steal the joy of the highs. Have other passions/hobbies that make you happy.”Read on to learn more aboutHeather Makalani and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts! 


Name:   Heather Makalani


Heritage:   Filipino, Chamorro, English, Irish


Hometown:   Yona, Guam


Current City:   New York City


Current project:   Aladdin on Broadway


What are some of your favorite credits/projects:

To name a few haha: Rent at the Hayes Theatre in Aus, Kissy Face in Emojiland, Princess Jasmine, working with Jerry Mitchell in a workshop of Betty Boop, recording “Bagong Mundo” (“A Whole New World” in Tagalog) with my kuya Angelo Soriano. One project I am most proud of was Koala’n Out, a benefit concert I produced to aid the bushfires happening in Australia. It was terrifying and thrilling to put the producer hat on for the first time, but definitely something I’d like to do again in the future.


Any advice for young people getting into the arts? 


There will be a lot of highs and lows, so don’t let the anticipation of the lows steal the joy of the highs. Have other passions/hobbies that make you happy. They will keep you grounded when things feel like they aren’t going your way.


How did you get your start? 


My first taste of being on stage was at 3 years old. My parents enrolled me in Hula and I stayed with it for 15 years. Hula is the perfect balance of movement and storytelling which I think led me to the medium of Music Theatre.


Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share? 


Obviously my Broadway debut with Aladdin will always be one to remember. I'd have to say a favorite moment of mine was when I was in callbacks for a project I was dying to be involved with. The director was there for the first round of auditions, and I sang “Hopelessly Devoted”. I was visiting my parents in Guam when I found out I got a callback which I was ECSTATIC for, but I was quickly disappointed because I couldn’t get to the audition in time being halfway across the world and 24 hour travel time. I was determined to be seen for this and asked casting if I could send in a tape, but they were only seeing people in person. Long story short, I ended up messaging the Director on Instagram explaining my circumstance and asked if I could send in a tape (I do not recommend doing this to just any director lol). The message was “seen” with no response and I was like “Well… awkward but at least I did everything in my power” Next thing you know, I’m back in NYC and my agents call me telling me I booked the gig! It's one of those crazy stories you hear and think will never happen to you but it did! 


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


Navigating the constant rejection you experience in this industry, and remaining confident and positive throughout it. Sometimes you question your abilities and worth, so you have to continuously trust in your talent and self. I'm on Broadway and I still don't believe in myself all the time and have things to work on. Being seen as ethnically ambiguous is also another thing I find difficult navigating in this industry in a time where we want to be ethnically true to the story. I'm not “Asian” looking enough for Asian roles. And there aren’t very many (if any) Pacific Islander roles. It can be discouraging not to be reflected on the other side of the casting table.


What are some interesting facts about yourself? 


I grew up on the island of Guam. I received my Bachelors of Arts in Musical Theatre in Australia at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, and ended up living there for 6 years. I’ve been to 21 countries. I love to cook and try new recipes. I also love to go fishing, and know how to tie on a hook and scale a fish. I auditioned for the X Factor when I was 18, made it through 2 producer rounds but never made it onto the show. I do a pretty solid impression of Jennifer Coolidge. I have a 3 year old rescue pup from Guam named Lupa (which is Tagalog for earth or dirt).


Do you have any organizations or non profits you work with you’d like to highlight? 


I would like to shine a light on GAIN. Guam Animals in Need. Guam has over 60,000 strays and GAIN is the only animal shelter on the entire island. They put their hearts and souls into helping dogs and cats find homes with the little help they receive from the local government. And they found Lupa, which I am forever grateful for.


Who do you admire? 


My Dad. He always knows how to find the good in every situation, leads with love even in the darkest of moments, and has supported me through every phase of a hobby I ever took interest in.


Do you have any mentors? 


I don't know about mentors, but I surround myself with friends I can be vulnerable and honestly myself with and value their opinions even if it differs to mine.


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


Deep down I always knew I needed to dream big and leave Guam to experience the artist life and where that may take me.


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


When I watched Lizzie McGuire and Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel HAHA. I’ve always been a huge Disney fan and wanted to be on Disney Channel one day. So it’s kinda cool that I work for the mouse now. Check.


Do you have any other “special skills?” 


I can quote most of the Borat movie. I’m good at impressions and character voices. Someone get me an audition to voice a cartoon!


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? 


Both of my parents are artistic in their own ways. My dad is an incredible artist and designed jewelry and sculptures in college. My mom did ballet and sewed her own clothes. My parents have taught me to remain humble and grounded which I think is very important in this industry. I am not better than you and you are not better than me based on what’s in your resume.  My parents are also cheeky and goofy and tenacious, which I take with me. I love to make people laugh at work… offstage of course. Happy to be here, easy to work with.


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


Trust yourself.


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


Being trained in different styles of dance. And singing music genres that aren't Music Theatre.


What is your greatest accomplishment? 


Keeping my dog alive.


What are some goals you hope to achieve? 


To be in an Original Broadway Company of a new show. A lead on Broadway. Record a single. Appearing in a tv show. And I reallllyyyy want to voice a cartoon character.


What do you love most about what you do?

My humour. I'm hilarious!


What helped you most to rebound from what you considered your biggest failure or mistake in your career? 


Going back to the basics and taking class. Audition technique, scene study, dance, anything that gets you in the student mindset again.


How do you deal with performance anxiety? 


Being prepared with the sides and songs given and also being your own hype man. Tell yourself that you’re awesome! And being kind to yourself. Some days your anxiety gets the best of you but that’s okay.


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? 


I personally like to move my body in any way. Sweating and being active always makes me feel better. A dance class, a run, gym, yoga. And I always start my morning with a good breakfast. Pre-pandemic I feel like I ran on autopilot, whereas now I have a mindfulness in the morning of how I'm feeling when I wake up, and from there, decide what my body and spirit need for the day.


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? 


Pre-pandemic I felt like I had tunnel vision. Booking the gig was the only thing I focused on and I left very little energy and time for anything else. Since then, when the industry got taken away for 2 years, it shined a light on things that I had forgotten mattered. Time with family, friends, and loved ones. Time for me. Time for other hobbies that brought me joy. I love performing and being on Broadway, but it is not everything.


If you could name one point in time when everything changed for you, what was it?


Moving to Australia to study. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the training I received there and the friends turned family that I made along the way.


To find out more on Heather Makalani, please visit her on: 


Instagram:   @heathermakalani


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