Whether it is through producing, improv, television or film, Rick Tae and Veena Sood have found a means of expressing themselves through the arts.
For Tae, acting has been a means of finding identity, while producing has helped him to express that identity. As for Veena, inheriting her parents’ exploratory approach to life has guided her to be an actor in many different forms of media.
Finding the way through acting
Without knowing what it would lead to, Tae first became interested in acting in high school as a means of dealing with the many challenges commonly faced during this period.
“When I found myself struggling with crushes, dating, trying to be popular, wondering why right wasn’t always right and wrong wasn’t always wrong, I suddenly realized that theatre and creative pursuits gave me the ability to fantasize about and see colours beyond black and white,” says Tae.
Among the many social crises in high school, finding one’s identity may be the most common. For Tae, this issue was amplified by the difficulty of defining his own cultural identity. He was born in Hong Kong, then moved to Singapore, then to America, and now he resides in Canada. Tae has citizenship and memories here and there, but rarely both in one particular country. Not that it’s a problem–Tae takes it in stride.
“I admit I’m flying blind. And perhaps loving it,” says Tae.
While the angst of high school has passed, Tae’s drive has fueled his passion to work full-time in film, not just in acting, but also in writing and producing. His first feature-length film John Apple Jack brings together Eastern-style slapstick comedy with Western character-driven storytelling elements, and will be premiering on SuperChannel and OutTV.
Tae plans to continue with his first love of acting, but also to guide others in their journey to finding their own voice.
“I do aspire to make a full-time living with what I’ve been passionate about for over two decades now,” says Tae. “Consistency in acting work is the dream. I will continue to teach because I genuinely adore emerging talent and believe in their potential to build a life from the unknown.”
Carving out a space for expression
Recent and controversial events such as the “#oscarssowhite” hashtag have sparked discussion on the role of race and cultural identity in film. For Tae, acknowledging issues of diversity and opportunity is only one step towards progress.
“I want the next generation of Asian actors to not have to even think about this question… and immediately start with embracing that ‘you just better be a damn good actor’ first,” he says.
The way to proceed is to take action. For Tae, that means focussing on questioning identity through his art, rather than outside of the studio.
“Ten years ago, I promised I would make a difference by stepping into writing, producing and creating content that counters the mainstream idea of what’s marketable,” he says.
In the case of John Apple Jack, by creating a queer romantic comedy starring a Chinese and Caucasian pairing, using motifs such as cooking as a metaphor of fusing various elements of East and West in the film, Tae seeks to do just that.
A pioneering approach
Although Veena discovered acting at a young age, she knew it was exactly what she wanted to do in life.
“It was a ‘calling.’ The answer was so clear and strong that the desire to live this dream has never wavered nor diminished,” she says.
Raised in Calgary, her parents of Indian descent taught Sood the art of breaking new ground in unfamiliar territory. Having immigrated in the early ‘60s to start a new life, Sood was encouraged to seek out and explore new things.
This translated into following her passion of acting, specifically improv. While there are plenty of improv groups today, it was not as popular when Sood began her journey as a performer.
“We were breaking new ground in Canadian theatre,” recalls Sood, “as improvisation had never been something done as a public performance. Thirty years later, improv is performed everywhere you go,” she says.
Sood has continued to explore new ground, bringing the spontaneity of improv and live theatre to the more intimate mediums of film and television. Broadening your understanding of acting through its many forms, says Sood, improves your acting skill as a whole.
“Athletes are always encouraged to ‘cross-train,’” explains Sood, “Actors, who are constantly creating new things for their acting muscles to trip over, develop their skills more quickly.”
Culture as an asset
Sood finds that her ethnicity and heritage has been invaluable to her career. Adding to her experience in many different kinds of media, drawing from a rich cultural background is yet another benefit in pursuing her passion.
“I feel very lucky to be an actor from a different culture. My father always encouraged us to assimilate, while still retaining our rich cultural Indian heritage… The best of both worlds,” she says.
Sood’s latest project, which premieres in June on CBC Radio, is The Life Game. She, along with members of her Truth Be Told improv theatre company, act out various situations and stories told by guests on the show. Sood embraces her art wholeheartedly and continues to explore new facets of acting.
“You have to love the art form and dedicate yourself to it fully to really make it work out,” says Sood, “Acting is a noble profession and it deserves your fullest attention to make a successful go of it. The challenges are enormous, but the rewards are high,” she says.