Inspired by Tradition, Innovating the Future: Isaiah Hsu's Theatre Odyssey

Written by TeenTix Newsroom Writer Hannah Smith


Actor, writer, and director-in-progress, Isaiah Hsu is taking on what might be his most important role yet: that of a young professional.

The start of Hsu’s acting passions began at Tacoma Little Theatre’s 2014 summer camp, when he played Shan Yu in Mulan. He also participated in Curtis Senior High School’s theater and choir, experiences that both helped him grow his voice as an artist, but it wasn’t until he joined Village Theatre for their production of Newsies that he felt he really “got his foot in the door” of the theatre world.

His connections at Village Theatre inspired him to apply as an actor to The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Rising Star Project. The Rising Star Project is a tuition-free program open to youth ages 14-19 across Washington. With support from the program, students are able to choose from a variety of roles as performers–including orchestra musicians–and mentees for the technical crew/stage managers, and arts administration roles such as producing and marketing. Students collaborate and are supported in producing a youth version of one of The 5th Ave’s mainstage shows. Last year, Hsu played the role of The Baker in Into the Woods. This year, with the support of his mentors, he obtained the role of directing mentee in this year’s youth production of Something’s Afoot. He assists the play’s director in staying true to the original show while also adding a youthful touch.

Isaiah Hsu (right) in RSP's Into The Woods at The 5th Ave. Photo by Caesar Cabrera.

Hsu’s responsibilities as a mentee include taking notes for director Katie Newbury, and joining production meetings. “If I was a director, you know, I don't know how much I would trust my kids,” he remarks. So, he views it as a privilege to be able to have his opinions heard and appreciated at said meetings, and is grateful that the other members of the production team make space for him.

He feels that the term ‘Rising Star Project’ is fitting for what the theatre can offer: “We're all rising stars, but it's like, ‘how far will you rise?’” Hsu says. He speaks to how RSP has helped him shape his skills, noting that there’s little emphasis on hierarchical systems, and plenty of opportunities to expand his network of professional colleagues. He also values that in the program, “You can ask anybody anything. Even if I ask, ‘Hey, can I have some time to go up to tech and ask some of the stage crew questions?’ I know they would make that work for me.”

Hsu says he’s always looking for ways to channel his creativity and streamline the creative process. As a first-generation theater artist, Hsu draws inspiration from unique sources. His maternal grandfather, a pastor and choir teacher in Texas, possessed a booming voice that resonates in Hsu’s own baritone range. Although he longs to have heard his Taiwanese ah ma sing, he cherishes his father's description of her beautiful voice. Consistent with his desire to grow through exploration, he hopes to visit Taiwan soon. “I feel like there's a whole part of me out there that I'm missing,” Hsu says.

This concept of filling in the gaps of one’s identity drives Hsu’s work as a writer. A long-term goal of his is to create “a new way of theater that can exist alongside traditional theater,” one that highlights underrepresented stories so they can actually be heard. “I feel like we hear that a lot,” Hsu acknowledges, but he doesn’t want to just talk about these stories. He wants to teach others to understand them in the most efficient way he can: through nontraditional musical theater which incorporates contemporary references. Still though, he emphasizes the importance of allowing new work to be informed by those who came before him.

Isaiah Hsu, photo by Brittney Bibby

With reverence in his voice, he expresses his inspiration from concept albums like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Tyler The Creator’s Wolf' both exploring themes of race, inequity, and personal identity. Hsu's ambitious goals include developing musicals based on these albums, resulting in a “gumbo pot of awesomeness.” He envisions creating more traditional staged pieces while integrating audience engagement through online gaming and interactive voting to shape what the audience sees onstage.

The Rising Star Project has been a primary ingredient in this “gumbo pot of awesomeness” he has brewing. The mentors and friends he has found through his experiences as both an actor and directing mentee are ones he trusts to stick around through his next successes and struggles as an artist. Hsu says they believe in him because they see his drive and passion, both attributes that will take him far in his career. The skills of patience and trust in both himself and those he guides as a directing mentee are ones that will carry him through his next steps as a young professional. These qualities are evident in his vision of the genre’s future, and will surely help him lead the way for other young theater artists to find creative fulfillment and professional success.

Lead photo credit: Isaiah Hsu in Newsies at KIDSTAGE Village Theatre. Photo by Northwest Theatre Press

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

This article was written by a TeenTix Newsroom writer on special assignment through the TeenTix Press Corps.

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