What Makes You Hapa? : Diane Phelan

Alex Chester

  • OnStage New York Columnist

I might be a bit biased about this woman. She’s strong, talented, and just a damn good person. She was also the director for my most recent WeSoHapa show. Diane Phelan. She is a force to be reckoned with and she is changing the world for the better! 

Diane is an New York based actress, director and photographer. Most recently she was seen in the original Broadway cast of The King and I at Lincoln Center and in the groundbreaking production of Here Lies Love at the Public Theatre as the standby for the role of Imelda Marcos. She toured the world playing Maria in the 50th Anniversary production of West Side Story, and has enjoyed playing various heroines in the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon. Favorite roles include Julie Jordan in Carousel (NAAP), Laurie in Oklahoma! (Berkshire Theatre Group) Cinderella in Cinderella (Papermill), Tuptim in The King and I (Various Regional) and Mabel in Pirates of Penzance (CT Rep). She particularly delights in creating new works with companies such as Prospect Theatre Company (Honor, D45V). Diane is the founder of the social media community Broadway Diversity Project and is a newly wed and new furmom to catbaby Merman. When not performing, Diane runs her own business as a portrait and headshot photographer.

Alex – What makes you Hapa?

Diane – My father’s family is 5th generation Irish American with a tiny bit of French Canadian in there, my Mom is from the Philippines, with a lot of Spanish mixed in. Add to that I was born and raised in the ex-pat community in Taipei, Taiwan. I grew up identifying as Chinese until I was about 12.

Alex – How long have you been in the entertainment industry?

Diane – I’ve been performing since I was a kid, but my first professional job was playing Tuptim on a national tour of the King and I out of my Junior year at NYU.

Alex – Favorite artistic moment?

Diane – The absolute highlight of my life in the arts was performing in Cambodia in an original rock opera called Where Elephants Weep. It was a work commissioned by an NGO called Cambodian Living Arts whose mission has been to refurbish the arts after the genocide wiped out their artists and culture 30+ years ago. This piece brought together a north American cast with Khmer artists as well as traditional and modern musicians, and it was an incredibly healing and awesome experience for all who partook. The show was broadcasted nationally there and then banned by the government, to give scale and an idea of the type of impact it made there. My time in Cambodia was indescribably gratifying and I blogged about it in an attempt to encapsulate it all. You can read about it here: https://dianephelan.wordpress.com/page/2/

Alex –  How has being Hapa influenced the foods you eat?

Diane – I really love “progressive” cuisine which is essentially ethnically mixed food!

Alex –  What’s your favorite food?

Diane – This is hard. There are so many. I believe the flavor of a cuisine is a taste of the soul of a place and I love to sample the world in this way. I’m particularly partial to Latin flavors, Indian, Japanese and spaghetti. Because it was made for me a lot growing up, so it’s a comfort food.

Alex – What’s your favorite restaurant?

Diane – Again really hard to pick just one but lately I’ve been favoring Radiance Tea House because it’s slow-cooked and healthy Chinese cuisine.

Alex –  Best meal you’ve ever had?

Marcy McGuigan, Jennifer Cody, Michael McCormick, Max von Essen, Tally Sessions, Zakiya Young, Diane Phelan and Debra Walton in 'Tenderloin' Photo Credit: Jenny Anderson

Marcy McGuigan, Jennifer Cody, Michael McCormick, Max von Essen, Tally Sessions, Zakiya Young, Diane Phelan and Debra Walton in 'Tenderloin' Photo Credit: Jenny Anderson

Diane – My first taste of Cambodian food is up there likely because the experience of traveling there was so heightened. The cuisine itself tastes it was familiar and foreign at the exact same time because of the remnants of neighboring Thai and Vietnamese influences along with something all its own. Also, Id have to say Per Se in NYC. Lavender Ice cream that tasted like ground fairies were added to the batch.

Alex – Difficulties in being a Hapa in the entertainment industry?

Diane – I’ve been too Asian and not Asian enough for roles. People don’t see you how you identify.

Alex – Funniest or worst professional moment?

Diane – Sigh. I have so many embarrassing stories. They all involve me falling at inopportune moments and exposing stuff you wouldn’t want your grandma to see.

Alex – Favorite family recipe?

Diane – I think I can recreate the special spaghetti sauce that my parents are famous for. It takes 6 hours and tastes like heaven crack.

Alex – Any advice you’d like to pass on to other Hapa’s?

Diane – Own your roots and own the fact you are your own unquantifiable thing. Being hapa for me used to mean that I didn’t belong anywhere and life was challenging for me when I held that mindset. What I’ve come to realize now is that being hapa allows a very unique perspective on the views of race, representation and presentation and culture- and therefore our voice and perspective can be particularly useful, one that can act as a bridge. In this respect and most importantly, I would want for anyone who feels like they don’t belong to realize the antithesis is true – You belong everywhere.

 To learn more about this amazing woman please check out her links:

Website: http://www.dianephelan.com
Broadway Diversity Project: https://twitter.com/bwaydiverse
Photo Website: http://www.dphelanphotography.com