Shannon Tyo is a performer based in New York City. Initially on-track to become a professional soccer player, a series of sports injuries became the deciding factor to pursue theatre at Syracuse University instead. Now, Tyo is a Lucille Lortel nominee in the category of “Outstanding Lead Performer in a Play” in the revival of The Chinese Lady at the Public Theatre! In her career, she’s found that collaboration and behind-the-table involvement have benefitted her most – collaboration allowing for expression of ideas in a room full of creatives, and acting as a reader opposite others in audition settings to help better her own audition technique. Offstage, Tyo serves as a member of Also-Known-As, an organization for adult international adoptees. As an adult transracial/transnational adoptee herself, the connections provided through them have both given her strength and put her in a position to build community with others. Her advice for young artists? “Other people’s successes are not your failures. You can root for other people while also rooting for yourself. Community makes this career path warmer. Read on to learn more about Shanon Tyo and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Shannon Tyo
Heritage: adopted Korean American
Hometown: Rochester, New York
Current City: New York City, New York
Current project: The Chinese Lady at The Public Theater
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Other people’s successes are not your failures. You can root for other people while also rooting for yourself. Community makes this career path warmer.
How did you get your start?
I was on track to be a professional soccer player while I was starting to dabble in doing plays and musicals in middle school. I kept getting injured playing soccer while also rehearsing for shows, and as college loomed in the distance, I made my choice to go all-in on theater and switch from a sports-oriented college trajectory to a performance one.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
The biggest challenge I’ve had is balancing staying present in the moment with looking forward. It can be easy to wallow in either the ups or the downs, of which there are many, but something I’m continually working on to be learning from the moment I’m in, be it good or bad, while also looking ahead to the next thing.
Do you have any organizations or non profits you work with you’d like to highlight?
I’m a member of Also-Known-As, an organization for adult international adoptees. I’m lifting this from their homepage because I can’t summarize better than they themselves can: “The mission of Also-Known-As is to empower the voice of adult international adoptees, build cultural bridges, transform perceptions of race, and acknowledge the loss of the birth country, culture, language and biological family experienced by international adoptees.” As an adult transracial/transnational adoptee, I find community with other adoptees to be crucial to my wellbeing, and am always looking to build community with and for other adoptees who might find they need it as well.
Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you worked at between gigs to pay the bills?
Many of the standard ones – waiting tables, working as a barista, temping – but my favorite odd job has to be when I folded a set of origami trains for a person with, let’s say, significant disposable income, for a price that I won’t name here because it’ll look like I’m lying.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
Very cliche, but there’s no use trying to be someone you’re not! Change your external circumstances if you’re not happy, but you’re always going to be you- why not try to feel more comfortable and confident with the things you are?
What skills did you find to be the most helpful in your career?
I find having a really clear method for memorization helps me immensely. It’s amazing how much you will be asked to memorize, and in a short amount of time. I’ve found it made my life a lot easier when I understood the way my brain could remember quickly and accurately.
Where did you study at?
What do you love most about what you do?
I love collaboration! I love when there is a problem to be solved or an idea that needs to be expressed, and a room full of people can generously and ingeniously apply their minds and hearts and skill sets to the task and create something together that they couldn’t have created alone.
What helped you most to rebound from what you considered your biggest failure or mistake in your career?
It’s not a singular failure or moment, but a time in my life when I really wasn’t booking anything and felt I had no forward momentum – I started being a reader for auditions, and that really changed the way I auditioned, and also felt about auditioning. I highly recommend it! It really shows you how different and extraordinary people are, and how it really does just come down to the best fit for the role. I found it to be so freeing, to know truly all I can do is be myself and do what I think is best, rather than trying to be what I thought the person behind the table wanted me to be.
How do you deal with performance anxiety?
Preparation, and then learned experience that I can trust myself to figure something out if it goes wrong.
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?
Encouraging others always puts me in a more positive mindset. Also, I am an advocate for finding some nature and allowing yourself to just stare into space for a while – no phone, no book, no clock, if you can manage it. The screen fatigue is real.
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?
If it goes greatly against my personal beliefs I won’t engage with it. There’s always another job, it’s not worth it to me to sacrifice some part of my mental health for a job. If it’s difficult but aligns with my personal beliefs or is something I think is worth working with, I think it’s important to be open and communicative about the support you might need – bottling up or suffering through alone usually doesn’t end well, and especially since acting is a collaborative setting, your actions as a result of stresses you’re feeling will have an effect on others in the room. I think it’s important to understand what your own triggers are, and how you manage them within yourself. If something really hits too close to home and you think you’ll truly have trouble working on it every day, maybe that’s just not the job for you. And that’s okay!
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