In the Fall of 2014, I was blessed with the opportunity to act in a show entitled Take Me Out, by Richard Greenberg. The director had expressed his interest in working with me, but as the roles in the show would have it, his hands were tied (thanks to the playwright and artistic integrity) and I was cast as Takeshi Kawabata, the Japanese character in the play.
The story follows a fictional baseball team called The Empires, and their star player, Darren Lemming, has just made an announcement (via press conference) that he is gay. There are plenty of racial and homophobic controversies that ensue, all on the canvas of America's past time, baseball, and my role spoke to me so much, not just during the rehearsal process, but throughout the performance run.
Kawabata is one of the closers on the Empires roster. He is from Japan and speaks no English. He was signed by the Empires after dominating at home, and needed no translator, only a coach to put him in as needed and take him out when his time was done. He was disowned by his family for following a hobby as a career path, but came to America to play. And play, he did. Shoving off the circus that happened around him, he focused on the one thing that granted him purpose and peace: baseball. And he doesn't succeed at that, he takes it personally. And when he does, it's about the team.
I had no idea that being Filipino and moving to the Midwest (intentionally) would be such a springboard for my growth in theatre as well as teach me so much about who I am as a man.
I am the middle child of two Filipino immigrants. Yes, I proudly claim my middle-child complex, and my status as a first-generation American. I more often identify myself as American than Filipino, and to be quite honest, I'm still struggling (spoken: growing) with that too.
Some Asian (and Filipino) stereotypes have been fulfilled. I was raised on a lot of meals that included rice. I love basketball. I was great at math through grade school, I learned to play the violin at a fairly young age. I enlisted in the Navy.
But this isn't about being Asian or Filipino. This is about me bringing Kawabata to life.
My desire to go into the arts was often frowned upon at home. It was beat into me that I should choose a career in math or science if I want to succeed. Or something "noble" like being a doctor, lawyer, or accountant. Nothing against those professions, they just weren't what I was interested in.
And so I went into the arts, but not without sailing away and coming home. Literally and figuratively. Because of my home life through high school (#LongStoryShort), I enlisted in the US Navy, and since I scored high enough on the ASVAB (95, baby!) I qualified to take the Nuke test. This test would determine if I could enter the Nuclear Training Program, and out of 80, I scored a 62, which was higher than my classmates who took the Nuke test earned (and they earned 99's on the ASVAB). And I took it with pieces of scratch paper and no calculator. But it's not about that.
So I go into the Navy and train to be an Electrician's Mate. Put simply...engineering department on a submarine. As far away from the arts I could imagine, and right in line with what I "should be doing" as a my elders decreed. But I separated for a service-connected disability, and was honorably discharged.
And so, in my early twenties, with a much better work ethic than I had gone into the Navy with, I was faced with a huge question: What now?
So I resumed the path I wanted before I graduated high school - I went into the arts. I moved back to California and started at a community college in Northern California, DVC. And I couldn't be happier to be back in the theatre. Acting was great, learning to direct was even better. I directed my first full-length show, Stephen Adly Guirgis' Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train, and it put DVC on the map, and gave those of us involved a huge gold star in our lives.
I finished up my undergraduate education at Long Beach State (#GoBeach) and earned myself a Bachelor's of Arts in Theatre with an emphasis in Directing. As love and life would have it, I got married and moved out to the Midwest (away from all those I had networked and worked with in California) to start a new chapter in my life. Eventually I had returned to the theatre (spoken: after my divorce) and now enter, Take Me Out auditions.
So here I was, in a state I've never lived in, isolated by my own doing (my ex had moved back to California) and I was here to do what I've loved all along: contribute my art in a theatre. Through Take Me Out, I found more of myself in Kawabata than I had initially realized. Not because I am Filipino, but because of my life's path. I chose to focus on theatre, much to the dismay of many around me. I left an area that I did not feel was supportive of me in the ways that I needed and went to a place that felt welcoming. There I begin to thrive. There I find solace in many things I could not find else.
Here in Indiana, I've signed with the Empires.
And now, in almost exactly a year's time from performing in Take Me Out, I'm getting ready to open a show that I've been given the opportunity to direct Water by the Spoonful (by Quiara Alegria Hudes) at the theatre company that I was blessed with a full-time job at as well. In the world of Take Me Out, Kawabata misses the mark and (#SPOILERALERT) the fastball doesn't end up in the catcher's mitt.
But that's a play, a scripted play, and I'm not Kawabata. I'm Deleon. And this isn't scripted. So I take the mound every game I'm called up for, and I throw the best game that I can.
For information on Water by the Spoonful, click HERE for the Facebook event or visit the South Bend Civic Theatre site HERE