KALEAN UNG // artist profile
Photo by Peter Konerko

All Photos by Peter Konerko for @ This Stage Magazine

What energizes you as an artist?

First and foremost, being a part of team and an ensemble gives me the most joy. My favorite part about my job is that I constantly get to be a part of new families — we get to bond, fall in love, laugh and make magic together. Also, I love seeing theatre and opera that is pushing boundaries and taking risks and watching strong, diverse and passionate people perform.

What’s been inspiring you lately?

Many things. My father, who is 73 and is launching a pilot training program this summer in Cambodia for young composers, because after a long career of teaching and composing in the U.S., he cannot bear the thought of not giving back to future generations of artists from his homeland. My fiancé, who gets up every morning and writes no matter what. Desdemona, (my character in Othello), who has taught me a lot about unconditional love. My friends and colleagues in the arts, who are telling their own stories and inspire me to write my own.

“If I wasn’t an artist…”

I couldn’t dream of doing anything that wasn’t creative and in the arts. I have never doubted that I was anything but an artist. Sometimes I fantasize about being a CEO in a large company, or studying whale songs on a boat in the middle of the ocean. But then I remember that as an actor, I actually get to pretend to be other people and get to know these other sides and “lives” of myself without the commitment of being anything but an artist. Whew.

“As a child, I was…”

…living up against the Awhatukee Foothills in Arizona, running barefoot on the boiling hot concrete in the summers, and pulling bits of cacti out of my callused feet. I sang strange melodies and wrote songs of rituals to mourn our cats that had been eaten by coyotes beyond our backyard. I took naps under my father’s drawing table while he composed music in his studio, and cried when I didn’t win Candyland or (worse) didn’t get Queen Frostine. A lot of my time was spent at the dance studio and planning epic water wars with rival cul-de-sacs.

Who are your artist allies?

For me, Los Angeles is an artistic haven. I am a CalArtian and many of my artistic relationships with theatres, artists, and directors have come directly or indirectly from CalArts in some way. Some of my artistic families include: The Theatre @ Boston Court, Critical Mass Performance Group, Four Larks Theatre, Machine Project, and Independent Shakespeare Co.

Photo by Peter KonerkoWho are your artistic heroes?

My artistic heroes are my teachers and mentors — they hold my upmost respect. They are the people who cherished and nurtured the artist within me and then empowered me to do that for myself. When I’m stuck, puzzled, or frustrated in my craft, of course, I can always call them or write them, but often, I already know what they will say to me. To me that is the training. The training that goes on infinitely and that you can take with you for the rest of your life. There are many, many times in the moments before I walk onstage when I hear them and they are with me.

What’s your favorite (or go-to) LA “spot?”

I love to eat and I choose places that will feed me oysters, cheese and wine. The Korean spa. And, (I know this is lame), but I am very busy, so my “spot” when I get time to myself is at home. After all, that is the only place where I get to be with my cats.

Okay. Define art. Go!

1. Your relationship to humanity. 2. The act of a community coming together to witness an event that only exists during that duration of time. 3. The balance of being a channel and vessel for energy, while also not taking yourself (or it all) too seriously. 4. The balance of honoring the story being told, while also finding your own piece, and authentic part in the story. 5. It has nothing to do with you, yet you are singular.

What are you currently working on?

Currently, I am playing Desdemona in Independent Shakespeare Co.’s (ISC) Othello in their intimate indoor performance space, Independent Studio. It has been such an exciting and wonderful experience. This summer I will also be working with ISC in Richard III and in The Tempest during their Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival.

What’s your creative goal for the next year?

I am learning Khmer and (pending funding, grants), planning a research trip to Cambodia at the end of the year to make contact with Cambodian artists in music, theater and dance in order to write my solo-show about my family. My goal for next year is to finish writing and workshop this piece!