How I Remember Jadin Wong

March 30th, 2018 marked the eight year anniversary of the passing of Jadin Wong.  If you don't know who she was, you can read the obituary Playbill wrote about her here.

You know... I didn't really like her.  I didn't like how she mentored her assistants.   I didn't like her cynicism.  And I didn't like that she refused to allow my generation of up-and-comers to consider their artistry even a little when booking professional jobs.  If you had grandparents who grew up in the depression, who did not understand why you would ever willingly wear ripped jeans in public, you might have an idea of what talking to Jadin about art was like.  She came up during a time when you took what was given to you.  Because the very notion of having creative autonomy as a person of color in this country- the idea of it- was not even discussed.  It was an abstraction.  21 year old me did not understand this.  So 21 year old me did not like her.  But I will probably still thank her in my Tony speech someday because truly, when no one was looking at anyone with almond eyes and yellow skin, she was looking at everyone with almond eyes and yellow skin.  

Nowadays there are Facebook groups.  Back then you had Jadin Wong's office.  

She once told me the story of a client who auditioned for her just so she would submit him for a role of "thousand year old man" (he went into the other room to prepare and simply never came out- "thousand year old men move very slowly.")  

She would frequently submit me for voice over stuff where I had to use a fake Asian accent (a time honored tradition of multi-layered humiliation on all sides that I assume still goes on today) and told me "Just go in.  Look at what else they are reading for and ask if you can read for that too."  Which is not only how I eventually avoided having to play a minstrel more than twice but also how I learned to write for a white audience who were in perpetual denial of their own privilege: Be a Trojan horse.  (PS, yes the voice of "pupu platter" in that Chiclet clip was mine, but also the voice of "kumquat.")

As far as I know, she never stopped paying dues to AEA, despite having retired from performance years before I met her.  She also never stopped throwing her ankle above her ear to prove that she could.  Which, in retrospect, was way more impressive than it should have been.  

Whenever I had to trek to her office/apartment on west 57th, I could never be sure if she legitimately knew who I was or if she had any genuine idea what I was capable of.  (Another luxury of client-agent relationships that was never afforded to me.)  But about two months or so before she passed, I had a sudden realization that she would probably pass soon (it wasn't a premonition- she was just very, very old) so I called her up.  I had been out of my MFA for eight years by then, and enjoyed a few moments of recognition for my work.  Whatever it was I'd needed to prove in my twenties as an actor, I no longer needed to prove in my thirties as a writer. I just wanted to say thank you.  In person.  Maybe with a box of egg-custard tarts or something.  Her brother Wally answered the phone. He said she didn't really see anyone, but he would tell her I called.  Probably for the best.  I honestly don't know if she'd have remembered me.  This woman who palled around with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who once had to parachute out of a falling plane for the USO ("That was the day my hair turned white.") was probably not going to remember a 21 year old son of privilege from the late 90s.  It mattered less to me that she would know I'd remember her than simply knowing I would remember her.  

So, no.  I can not say with integrity or credibility that I liked her.  But I will always owe her a great deal of thanks.  And if you have ever worked with me on one of my projects, you probably do too.  Rest peacefully, Jadin. You won't be forgotten.