Artist Spotlight: Actor Long Nguyen

The World Is Not Silent‘s Dramaturg Khanthida Mounivong sat down with actor Long Nguyen to discuss what being in this show means to him. Here’s what he had to say!

Khanthida: How did you find yourself working on The World Is Not Silent? 

Long:  I remember it was around two years ago, I was in a car in a parking lot. My daughter picked up the phone for me. It was Andy at the East West Players asking if I wanted to be in a zoom workshop for this play. It was the pandemic, with nothing lined up, so I said ok. And that was the start of this two-year journey on this play. There have been four workshops, and now the real deal.

Khanthida: How much of Dau’s background is relatable to you as an actor?

Long: My experience is so similar to Dau’s that it’s kind of scary. We both escaped Saigon on April 30, 1975, from the same pier on different boats only a couple of hours apart. Dau’s family went to Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines. My family was rescued to Hong Kong. At one point, we both ended up in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. Both of us wanted our kids to speak English growing up to make sure they could get along in American society. We both experienced hearing loss and now rely on hearing aids. Just this morning, Don showed me a video of his dad playing ping-pong, and I thought, of course, we both love ping-pong!

Khanthid: How has the process of working on this show been for you, working with Don, Marya, and the other actors? 

Long: Working with Marya, Don, Mai, and Tony is a joy. For me, it’s like an intense acting boot camp that spans years. The first workshop was a Zoom workshop at the East West Players in LA. Then the second workshop was here at Alley Theatre about two years ago. The third was last year at the Geva in Rochester, NY, and then The Local Theatre Lab in Boulder, Colorado. Each workshop focuses on different aspects of the play. I remember the one in Geva focused on sound and subtitles. Don puts in tons of writing throughout. I got freaked out at one point in the workshop here at The Alley when he brought in one morning more than 30 pages of rewrites. Then right after, we all were so moved by the change, especially when we read Mai’s monologue in Vietnamese Sign Language. 

Marya is my acting sensei, even though she doesn’t know it. I learned so much from her. I told her I don’t have formal actor training, especially theater training, and asked her for extra help. And she gave me way more than what I asked. It’s a wonderful blessing that I already got to work with both Mai and Tony through the workshops. Tony is quite a martial arts expert. He generously taught me some Chi-Gong exercises and quite a few funny tongue twisters. Mai is a joy to work with, she made all of us cry in the scene when she’s praying to her grandmother.

Khanthida: What are some of the discoveries and challenges you have found in the process?

Long: Maybe “less is more.” Through Marya’s direction, through the process of doing the workshops, the rehearsals, the stage works, the connection with fellow actors, I find my energy getting calmer, and start to realize that all the acting coaches are so right when they say “Acting is Reacting.” The challenge then is letting go of my preconceptions and let the process do its work. 

Khanthida: What was your experience with Vietnamese Sign Language before working on this show?

Long: I had zero experience with Vietnamese Sign Language before this show. I was surprised to learn how beautiful sign language is. It is like a subtle dance that involves anything that the speaker wants to bring in: hand gestures, facial and body and sound expression… Also, I’m surprised that many countries have their own sign language. I wish that in the near future we would have an international sign language, and we all could just learn this and talk to anyone no matter what country they are from.

Khanthida: How significant is this story to you, and what do you hope the audience will take away from this show?

Long: To quote a line from the play, “…the wonder of it all.” This play reminds me that our world is the true wonder, and how blessed we are to be a part of it. I think people will get different experiences from the show. The people with hearing loss, the people who love traveling and gazing at the sky, the people who have a hard time communicating with one another, especially the people whose families are immigrants, they all will get something unique from this show. For me, I think the show may give to the Vietnamese community the most, this coming April 30, 2025 will be the 50 year mark of the exodus of million Vietnamese refugees. This play pays them respect and gives recognition of their suffering.

The World is Not Silent runs March 22 – April 14, 2024. Tickets are available here.