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Old Globes' Hair' Has Filipino flavor

By Adam Behar


“Where are my people?”

Asking the question is Broadway actress/dancer/singer Jaygee Macapugay, a proud Filipino American, who plays Jeanie in the Old Globe’s production of “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.”

She says she’s having a blast bringing the pregnant hippy to life. But Jaygee has one gripe: “Where are my people?” 

“When I looked out into the audience, I was so happy to see full houses, but very few people of color and very few Filipinos,” she explains via Zoom. This came as a surprise to the actress from Illinois, who is aware of San Diego’s large Filipino community, estimated to be 200,000-plus. 

“I'm the only Asian American actor in the company and I do feel a certain pressure to want to be able to represent my people well,” Jaygee says. She notes that the lack of diversity in the audience is a bit ironic, given that the cast of “Hair” is remarkably diverse. “I don't believe in my experience that there's ever been as ethnically diverse a cast as what we've assembled here in San Diego.”

The good news is that “Hair” – and its message of hope and healing – has been extended until October 3. This means there’s still time to demonstrate your Filipino pride while being entertained under the stars by Jaygee and a first-rate ensemble cast.

Directed by James Vásquez, the 1960s counterculture musical, which opened at the Old Globe on Aug. 15 after being postponed due to the pandemic, also has the distinction of being the first live performance in Balboa Park in 17 months. The main character in “Hair” is Claude. Conflicted about being drafted into the Vietnam War, he’s adopted by a group of antiwar hippies. The cast of 16 performs popular hits from the GrammyAward–winning musical including “Let the Sunshine In,” “Aquarius,” and “Good Morning Starshine,” among others. 

One of many highlights is “Don’t Put it Down (Crazy for the Red, Blue, and White),” a satirical song reinterpreted by director Vasquez as a celebration of ethnic and cultural pride. “Vasquez took this opportunity to showcase the people of color in the company,” Jaygee explains. Angel Lozada, who plays Woof and is Puerto Rican, enters holding the flag of Puerto Rico. Soon after, Jaygee enters, triumphantly raising the flag of the Philippines, something she’d never done on stage. And although she’s performing a role, she says this moment is personally empowering, as it represents Filipinos “finding their voice.” 

Clearly, Jaygee’s Filipino identity is an important part of who she is. And the actress is encouraged by seeing more Filipino Americans pursuing acting and, in particular, theater. “When I first started out, it wasn't that way,” she observes. “It’s exciting because it means we've broken through the barriers.”

Jaygee’s road to Broadway (and to the Old Globe) was anything but linear. After graduating from the University of Illinois, where she studied advertising, she faced a dilemma. She knew she wanted to sing and perform, but when Jaygee looked at members of her immediate family and even her extended family, she didn’t see anyone who was involved, in a serious way, in the theater. Jaygee didn’t have role models or mentors to help guide and encourage her; on the contrary, her family was against the idea. Because her parents were more traditional, they hoped their daughter would choose a more conventional and practical career after college. 

“So I chose to go down a career path that was more typical,” she says, accepting a position with a boutique advertising agency in Chicago.  And how did that work out for her? Advertising wasn’t fulfilling for Jaygee, not in a deep or meaningful way. She was unhappy, and could no longer hide it. 
So, what to do?

It turned out that Disney was holding auditions in Chicago for its theme park shows, and Jaygee’s friends encouraged her to audition. Jaygee felt unprepared and didn’t even have a headshot, which is a must in the theater world. This, however, didn’t deter Disney. They offered Jaygee a job, and in two weeks’ time she was preparing for her first show, “Tarzan Rocks.” 

She had a blast and learned a great deal with Disney, she says. “Disney is where I got my union card and became a member of Actors Equity. Disney is a great long launching pad for your career.” But in the back of her mind she knew it wouldn’t be enough; she was thinking bigger: Broadway big. Broadway was calling her name, a voice she had heard since she was a child, but didn’t listen to. But now Jaygee was ready to follow her bliss. After five years with Disney, she could see this truth and feel it more clearly than ever before. It was time to move on.
So she moved to New York, a Midwestern Filipino American girl in the big city, chasing her quintessentially American dream. 

And yet Jaygee was under no illusions. First, she understood that performing at Disney is a good stepping stone, but far from a direct path to Broadway. Although naturally gifted in song and dance and acting, Jaygee knew she needed formal training – and the credibility that goes with it – to achieve her goal. She took acting classes and studied the Method Acting at the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse, which she describes as “the very opposite of theme park training.”

Next, she would confront the hardest part of her journey – competing for roles in Broadway and off-Broadway musical theater productions. No matter where you live, auditioning is stressful, usually involves painful rejection, and is no one’s idea of a good time. In New York’s theater district, the stakes are even higher; if you go it alone, chances are you won’t survive. 

Jaygee did it the smart way, by seeking and finding support and comfort in New York’s Filipino theater arts community. Who knew that was even a thing? In 2009, she and her Filipino “brothers and sisters” in the theater community banded together and created “Broadway Barkada.” This tribe of Filipino, professional dancers, actors, and singers provides each other with emotional support and a sense of belonging, which helps them weather the ups and downs of the sometimes cruel theater world. They also collaborate on important causes, like raising money for the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Ondoy.

With her support system in place, things began to click for Jaygee. She began winning auditions and highly sought after roles in regional theater, off Broadway (playing Imelda, yes that Imelda, in “Here Lies Love”), on Broadway (“School of Rock”), and has since appeared in more than 10 productions, including “Hair.” Meanwhile, she fell in love with New York and now calls Brooklyn home. (Follow Jaygee on Instagram @jaygeemacapugay)

What will happen to Jaygee Macapugay come Oct. 3, when the musical’s run at the Old Globe ends? Ideally, she’ll continue to live in New York and perform for many years to come, until her body can no longer tolerate the physical grind of being a musical theater performer. “I'm an artist for life and I'm going to continue to create,” she emphasizes, mentioning the possibility of one day writing her own material. What’s clear is that Jaygee’s heart will always be in musical theater. But there’s also TV and film. The high-energy actress, who can currently be seen in the movie “False Positive” on Hulu, says she certainly wouldn’t mind doing more of both. 

But at the end of the day, whether it’s TV, film, or theater doesn’t really matter. As long as it’s not advertising, she’s good.



























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