Natalie Tran is an accomplished young actress in the Twin Cities with a wide range of roles under her belt. She is currently the lead in Theatre Mu’s production of “The Princess’ Nightingale”. I sat down with her to discuss her experience working on this show and as an actor in the Twin Cities.
What got you started into acting?
When I was 4 years old, I auditioned with my older sister for “The King and I” at Artistry (Bloomington Civic Theatre). I was actually 5 years old when the show started, and I played a Royal Child.
In your own words describe what “The Princess’ Nightingale” is about.
“The Princess’ Nightingale” takes place in 18thcentury China, and the Emperor, Princess Hexiao and Prince Jia are the real royal people from the Qing dynasty. In our show, the Emperor challenges his children, Princess Hexiao and Prince Jia to compete for the position of the Court Royal by learning as much as they can about China. More generally, the show is about what it takes to be a great leader.
What is your role in the show? Explain more about the character.
I play Princess Hexiao, but everyone just calls her “The Tenth Princess.” She hates that nobody calls her by her actual name, so she feels like she needs to do whatever it takes to prove herself -- especially because she’s a girl. Girls were always less valued in the Chinese culture than boys.
What do you enjoy most about playing this character?
I said on many occasions that I really like to use a sword in the show and fight the tiger, but I also enjoy that my character undergoes a big change and growth throughout the show. She learns kindness and compassion; she learns how to distinguish between the real news that she gets from the Nightingale and the fake news that she gets from the mechanical bird; and most of all, she learns that to be a great leader she has to put her own wants and ambitions aside and do what’s right for the people.
What did you learn about yourself during this process?
Hmm, that’s a very good question. I have to think about that. One thing I learned is that I can pick up a mandarin accent pretty well. I say a couple of Chinese words in the show, and we all sing a song in mandarin, and Eliza Rasheed, our cultural consultant, told me that I have a good ear for the accent so I’m pretty proud of that.
Tell me about the sword fighting you learned. Have you performed this before?
I took stage combat classes before, but I haven’t used a sword before this show. I think it’s really cool, so now I want to take another class to get better at it.
Tell me about the collaboration between Theatre Mu and SteppingStone. How does it work? What do you enjoy most about it?
What I enjoy most about this collaboration between Theater Mu and SteppingStone is that Theater Mu is an Asian American theatre company, and SteppingStone is a theater which focuses on both youth performers and youth audience. Being a young Asian American actress, I feel very welcome there. The way the collaboration works is that Theater Mu wanted to produce at least one family show a year, and SteppingStone wanted to reach out to more diverse audiences, and have more youth actors of color on stage, so through this production both theaters can meet their goals.
What is one of the themes of the show? Or something the show is trying to teach people?
Other than dealing with the question of what it takes to be a good leader, the show is also about empowering girls. It teaches us that a woman’s place is in the government – as a leader, haha!
How did you hear about this particular show?
I think my mom got an email from Mu Theater about upcoming auditions for the show. I actually was planning to take a little break from doing shows, but I always wanted to work with Randy Reyes so I thought, well, maybe I can be in an ensemble or something, and then I got cast as the lead, so I was very excited.
What did you do to prepare for this show?
This is a brand-new adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale” so I couldn’t look it up on the internet, but I watched a few versions of the original story on YouTube before the audition. After I was cast, I read on Wikipedia about the Princess Hexiao, her father, Emperor Qianlong and Prince Jia. I watched videos of the song I sing in the show, the lion dance on YouTube, and the Chinese rap, which is kind of what Prince Jia and I do in the show. I also went to see the MIA exhibition about the Qing dynasty. Also, the MIA let us shoot our promo pictures right in the middle of their exhibition, in front of the imperial throne, which was super cool.
What’s up for you next on the stage?
I will play Young Max again this year in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” at the Children’s Theatre.