An Interview with Claudette Santiago

Playwright’s Note: How can you not fall in love with someone who has read every single one of your plays? I met Claudette Santiago ten years ago, online, when she was a theatre student at UC Santa Cruz. We both went to Morse High School (decades apart) and our history teacher told her to contact me. She did, she read all of my plays, and we’ve been buddies ever since.

Claudette is an actor born and raised in San Diego, CA, performing in projects for the San Diego International Fringe Festival, Coronado Playhouse, La Jolla Playhouse, Asian Story Theater, and others.  She was last seen in Trash! The Musical for Playwrights Project’s Plays by Young Writers Festival and in Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. for InnerMission Productions. She holds a B.A. in Theater Arts from UC Santa Cruz, is a graduate of the Meisner/Chekhov Integrated Training Studio in Normal Heights, and is a co-founder and producer for MaArte Theatre Collective, a group dedicated to Filipino-American storytelling.

Tell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in San Diego. Life has felt pretty uneventful but lovely. Still trying to figure out how I fit in the grander scheme of things. Trying to figure out what is the grander scheme of things. I’d like to think there are no such things as coincidences, because I want to feel like life is maybe more magical than it really is. Creating things with my hands brings me joy.

What inspired you to become an actor?

No one thing inspired me to become an actor. Initially, it may have been a combination of living a sheltered childhood and watching television all day that made me want to be an actor, daydreaming about what life would be like as MacGyver or as everyone on Star Trek – and knowing that these people on TV were playing pretend and not really in danger appealed to my anxious and risk-averse personality.

I also found that going into acting defied cultural expectations that people had of me. I got good grades and was a good student and didn’t ruffle feathers, so of course the expectation would be that I would go into something that got me a good, stable job with a living wage and lead me to a good husband and the birth of five healthy children. But I always hated that people thought they knew me, especially when I didn’t know myself. Going into acting made me feel like I was capable of being more than “a good girl,” and for the first time I truly felt like I was in control of the narrative of my life. No one knew what I was capable of as much as I did. And not knowing is absolutely thrilling.

What have been some of your successes as an actor? What have been some of your challenges?

I’m just glad that I’m still able to do it after first starting fourteen years ago. It all wouldn’t be possible without the incredible support system I have now. The biggest challenges have been about overcoming my own mental and emotional roadblocks to be able to tell stories the way I feel like they should be told — that is, with fearlessness and integrity. But also, I feel like my lack of dance technique has been holding me back too.

How do you relate to your character, Chris*, in “The Fire in Me”?

*Chris identifies as genderqueer. When Claudette learned that she was cast as Chris, she was concerned if outreach had been done for actors from the LGBTQ+ community. We did indeed ask theatre colleagues for referrals, including from Diversionary Theatre, whose mission is to explore LGBTQ+ stories. In researching the play, interviews were done with gay and trans leaders in the Filipino community, and a visit was made to SDSU’s Pride Center.

Chris reminds me of all of the people I admired but was slightly intimidated by in college, and many of them were my friends. They had such poise, spoke eloquently, had the biggest hearts, were whip-smart, and were some of the goofiest people I would ever meet. Since then, I’ve learned about some of the emotional and mental struggles they had in the time we had gone to school together, and to this day I am amazed by how dedicated and capable they were (and still are) to be in service of others while privately dealing and overcoming problems of their own. Though Chris, in the play, alludes to some of their struggles, it is all in service to Lark, whom they recognize that she may be starting to deal with traumas of her own. In short, Chris is just way cooler than me, with a love for food that is just as boundless as mine.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Come see our show and say hi afterwards! I read that one only needs about four minutes of one-on-one interaction to make a meaningful connection. I cannot guarantee that I can dedicate that much to every interaction I have, or that a meaningful connection (good or bad) will happen after four minutes of conversation, but it never hurts to try (for the most part, I guess)!

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