Jessica Wu is a writer, director and songwriter based in New York City. She began her professional theatre career over a decade ago, performing on Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, Television, YouTube and more. Highlights of her work include the Broadway Revivals of Miss Saigon and a Chorus Line; Shakespeare in the Park; The Radio City Spring Spectacular; Goodspeed Musicals; National Tours of Doctor Dolittle; and appearances on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. She also has written several short films and theatrical works, such as “You, Me, I, We,” that won multiple development awards, including The National Asian Artists Project’s Discover: New Musicals Series. Her new musical, “Poupelle of Chimney Town,” based on the original bestselling book and Japanese stage play by Akihiro Nishino, is slated to debut in Tokyo, Japan in Fall 2021 and the 2022 season Off-Broadway in NYC. In addition to her already busy schedule, Jessica also is an adjunct Theatre Professor at American University, a mentor with Harvard-Radcliffe G&S Players and she spent several years in Non-Profit Arts Leadership as an Associate Artistic Director. Read on to learn more about Jessica and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Jessica Wu
Heritage: Hong Kong Chinese
Hometown: Kindersley, Saskatchewan, Canada
Current City: New York City
Many-Hat-Wearing-Theatre-Maker; Communications Director for Jeffrey Omura for New York City Council District 6
What are some of your favorite credits/projects?:
Librettist for the new musical “Poupelle of Chimney Town,” debuting in Tokyo, Japan Fall 2021; I’m currently writing a play commission based upon a @NightValeRadio tweet that’s set in an alternate, parallel reality that I can’t wait to share!
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Everyone’s journey is different. Don’t give in to imposter syndrome.
How did you get your start?
For most of my career, I was a Broadway chorus-ensemble dancer. I suppose I got my start when my Mom put me in tap classes when I was three.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share?
I once jumped out of a $100K LED Faberge Egg on stage at Radio City Music Hall while dressed as a Showgirl Chicken.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
Not comparing myself to others or letting that comparison stand in the way of pursuing big artistic dreams.
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
I grew up in a small town of 3000 people in the wheat fields of rural Saskatchewan. It took me 19 years to get my green card, despite having lived in NYC longer than in Canada. The average American has no idea how difficult the immigration system is to get through—especially for artists.
Do you have any organizations or non-profits you work with you’d like to highlight?
Check out #UnapologeticallyAsian. Also, I got heavily involved during the 2020 election cycle with a deep canvassing organization called Changing The Conversation Together (CTCtogether.org). I’ve found the best way to make a difference politically is through these kinds of human-storytelling based initiatives.
Do you have any mentors?
Whether they know it or not, Baayork Lee and Molly Smith have both shaped how I approach theatre, community, and how I engage with what’s important for me in our entertainment industry.
Did you always want to be in the arts, or did you have another path before you got here?
When Jurassic Park came out in the 90s I reeeaaaally wanted to be a paleontologist.
Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you worked at between gigs to pay the bills?
I once had this side gig where I would walk a daily 10-mile route visiting a set of hotels to secretly poach names of events they were hosting to sell to other hotels to steal their clients.
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 are the hardest working people I know. They are also incredibly self-sacrificing. I think they modeled tenacity and working your ass off for a goal that was bigger than the individual.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
It’s ok to make mistakes. You’ll truly never know or learn if you don’t try and fail. And more often than not, you'll surprise yourself.
What skills did you find to be the most helpful in your career?
Being a problem solver is immeasurably helpful. Also knowing how to google something effectively is an understated but hugely important life and career skill.
Where did you study at?
What is your greatest accomplishment?
That the people in my life look at me as someone they can depend on.
What helped you most to rebound from what you considered your biggest failure or mistake in your career?
Being secure in my own decisions, even if they led to a result that was a failure or a mistake. The only thing we can ever do from moment to moment is make the best decision with what we have. And if I know I did the best I could in that moment, there’s no regrets.
Do you have any self-care practices you do to stay focused and sane?
I need to get better at self-care and work-life balance. I’ve recently gotten really into skincare, so maybe that’ll evolve into an ongoing self-care practice.
If you’ve crossed the table from performing to being on a creative team, what made you take the leap from performing to writing or directing/music directing, and how did it change your way of thinking?
I made the decision to cross the table because I knew I could do more for Asian-American female representation as a writer than I could as a performer. I haven’t heard stories like mine so I may as well be the one to write them.
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 it’s hugely important to write what is meaningful or to find a thread of meaning within what you write. If you don’t feel it deeply, how can you possibly make others feel it deeply in your art?
What inspires you?
I’m fueled by being the underdog. If there’s a fight that needs to be fought, I’m there.
If you could name one point in time when everything changed for you, what was it?
A few years back, there was a moment for me when I suddenly developed an X-ray vision that allowed me to identify people who didn’t want to do the ‘work’—people who talked a big game about lofty artistic vision but had no ability or capacity to the grunt work to bring that vision to life. Being able to quickly ID those people coincided nicely with me finding my voice to confidently say, “No. I will not do your hard work for you.”
Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself?
I take immense pride in being a ‘many-hat-wearer.’ Humans and artists are multi-faceted and if you don’t allow yourself to express those facets, I think you’re doing yourself (and the world) a disservice.
To find out more about Jessica, please visit her at:
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