Momoko Sugai is a performer (and Pisces!) based in Pasadena. At the age of 5, she developed her lifelong love of dance through tap classes in Japan, and her commitment to theatre through a production of Annie at 11 years old! She went on to graduate from Fullerton College and acquire impressive credits such as Allegiance on Broadway and Mamma Mia! at the La Mirada Theater! Her favorite part of the industry? Traveling and meeting new people – be it through living in a cast house with seasoned industry professionals or performing on a cruise ship and waking up in incredible new locales each day! She advises young artists to keep in mind that everyone’s needs are different, which makes their needs as creatives different, to trust themselves and their process, and above all, to “keep doing what [they] love!” Read on to learn more about Momoko Sugai and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Momoko Sugai
Hometown: Chiba, Japan
Current City: Pasadena CA
What are some of your favorite credits/projects:
Allegiance on Broadway. The show was about the Japanese American Internment during WW2, and it was really important to tell the story because many people and those who came to see the show didn’t know about what happened which really shocked me.
I recently was in the musical Mamma Mia! at the La Mirada Theater, and not only was it so fun, but it was also the most diverse cast I’d ever been in. I was really proud to be a part of the production, and I hope the industry will keep going in that direction.
I did two contracts on cruise ships as a singer, and it was one of the most rewarding and challenging gigs I had ever done. I grew a lot as a performer, and I achieved so many things that I didn’t even think were possible. I also met so many incredible people from all over the world and waking up in different places every day (Mexico, The Bahamas, Cayman Islands, the OCEAN!) was so surreal!
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Keep doing what you love! If you’re pursuing it as a career, you might have to deal with a lot of rejections and roadblocks. Life just throws you curveballs, so it’s really important to love yourself and take care of yourself mentally and physically. I wish I’d known to stress less and get rid of the hustle mentality when I started out. Yes, work hard, but don’t listen to all of the “you should be doing this if you want to be successful''s. Everyone is different. Ask for advice and always stay curious, but pick and choose what works for you. Other than that, trust yourself and just keep doing what you’re passionate about.
How did you get your start?
I started tap dancing in Japan when I was 5, and I’ve been dancing ever since. I eventually got into musical theatre through my dance friends, and I was cast in the Japanese production of Annie when I was 11. I definitely caught the bug early.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share?
There are too many! I don’t know about moments, but my favorite thing about my career is sometimes I get to travel to places I’ve never been and live in cast houses or hotels with other performers. The first time I did this was back in 2013, when I did A Chorus Line in Maryland. I had never been to Maryland or lived in a cast house before. I was so happy being around amazing people who were also veterans in the industry. They really took care of me, and I absorbed their knowledge like a sponge! That experience also led me to more opportunities in my career.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
Fortunately, the industry is gradually changing now, but it would be a lie if I said I didn’t struggle in the industry because I was Asian. I’m proud to be Asian, I love being Asian, but I hated having to fight for token roles, Asian roles, or show up to auditions to try to change the casting’s mind to be “progressive” and cast an Asian person in a typically white role. It shouldn’t be that way in the first place. But like I said, it’s changing now, and even though the road is still long, more POC (people of color) are representing, and their work is incredible.
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
I’m a Pisces, I don’t know if these are related, but I have strong emotions, which I think helped in my career! I love the ocean, obsessed with Nintendo Switch games and love, LOVE food. Other than performing, I am studying to become a media translator, who writes subtitles for movies, TV shows, and other media platforms.
Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have another path before you got here?
When I was growing up, I wanted to become a professional tap dancer, but I switched focus to my studies in high school and that’s when I decided to pursue being an interpreter or a career using language and communication skills. But when I studied abroad in Washington state my junior year in high school, I joined choir and even became a part of their spring musical. I got hooked on musicals once again and started pursuing it as a career. My mom was happy but worried for me at the same time which was completely valid.
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 both hard workers, and they are the nicest people who people love as soon as they meet them. My dad sells and delivers medicines, and he actually has his own company now. His clients are mostly older people who can’t go out to drug stores on their own, so they love it when he comes to visit and talk to them. I used to tag along when I was younger and watched him do his job with such kindness. He really knows how to talk to people, and I have moments where I think about my own people skills and wonder if I learned a lot from just watching him. In the industry, being a great performer is important of course, but connecting with your coworkers is absolutely important. I found that kindness and attentiveness so important in navigating the industry and I have to thank my parents for that.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
Just breathe. Everything’s gonna work out. And take care of yourself more.
Where did you study at?
I studied at Fullerton College in CA.
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?
Since the pandemic, I started doing 30 minute yoga every morning which helped my mental health significantly. I try to meditate as much as possible as well. And going outside. (I try)
If you could name one point in time when everything changed for you, what was it?
Junior year in Washington State. If it weren’t for that year, I wouldn’t have pursued my career. It definitely changed the course in my life.
To find out more about Momoko Sugai, please visit her at:
Website is under construction, but it should be up again soon here: www.momokosugai.com
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