BWW Interview: Chatting with MISS SAIGON and Broadway Barkada's Billy Bustamante

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Billy Bustamante is a man of many hyphens. We first met a few years back, when I was working at Playbill and he contributed a fabulous photo feature during a Philly production of a show called Tulipomania. In the subsequent years, his was a name that would cross my desk more and more. Sometimes as a top-notch headshot photographer, sometimes as a standout in a regional production, sometimes as a behind-the-scenes creative force.

I finally experienced his talent in person at a performance of Here Lies Love, where he was on for the night as Ninoy Aquino. It became clear that this was a man with a world of skill and an endless well of passion at his disposal, and I've followed his work since then. He now appears in the long-awaited Broadway revival of Miss Saigon and has earned considerable acclaim for his performance as The Engineer, which he plays roughly once a week.

I will be fortunate enough to see Billy play that role this coming Monday and will surely report back. In the meantime, he is also working on an ambitious evening of dance with the Filipino Broadway collective known as Broadway Barkada. We caught up with Bustamante in a rare moment of free time. Get to know what's going on!


Since we haven't spoken before on this level, tell me where you were raised, how you got your start in theatre and when you first realized it would be your career.

I grew up in a Maryland suburb near DC called Gaithersburg. I did my first professional show at 18 playing Chino in West Side Story at the Olney Theatre.

I grew up in a family of performers. My parents met in a cover band and both my sisters performed all through school. While I'm the only one doing it professionally, music and art were always a part of our lives. I suppose that also comes with being Filipino!

Tell me a bit about Broadway Barkada and your initial involvement. For those unfamiliar, what is Broadway Barkada and why is it important?

In 2009, I was working with many old friends in an Off- B-Way show called Imelda: A New Musical. Our cast, entirely Filipino, was knee deep in tech when two typhoons devastatingly hit the Philippines. When the musical closed, we decided to get the cast together to (A) raise some funds to send back home and (B) see each other and sing/eat. That benefit was the birth of Broadway Barkada.

Co-founded by Liz Casasola, Brian Jose and myself, Barkada's mission is to provide a community for Filipino artists that cultivates our talents, educates our audiences, and elevates our global impact. What started as 12 Pinoy actors doing the occasional benefit has grown into a community of over 100 members working across the country. It's amazing to have an artistic family like that.

BWW Interview: Chatting with MISS SAIGON and Broadway Barkada's Billy Bustamante
Broadway Barkada

My love of the Filipino and Fil-Am culture is no secret. As a Hapa boy from the Bay Area, I grew up with a ton of Filipinos. As a decade-long theatre journalist, I have traveled to Manila several times to immerse myself in the culture and witness breathtaking productions of shows like The Bridges of Madison County, Rent, The Secret Garden and Les Miz. I might get some shit for this, but Filipinos do seem to live at the very heart of Asian-based musical theatre storytelling. What are your thoughts on this trent? Is it the voice? The culture of storytelling? The ability to pass for various backgrounds? The support, culturally? It is surely no coincidence that any show about Asians (and to some extent, Latinos) WILL be largely Filipinos.

Ha! You're right! And I think all the factors you mentioned are true! I think another factor is the unique Pinoy spirit. While we are clearly a musical/ theatrical people, we also exude a sense of family and inclusion that I find to be very special. If you make a friend with a Pinoy, you're family. I think that genuine love for community is what makes us uniquely good at being theatre artists. I've seen it first-hand with every Barkada show. Anyone who comes to our shows leaves feeling entertained, filled with love, and a member of a very special family.

Talk to me about Sunday's performance. What is the overall vision and how does it fit into Barkada's mission? What are you contributing to the evening? How did the dance piece come together and how did you go about selecting the ideal company for it?

LUMIPAD (Tagalog for "to fly") is our annual dance concert showcasing Pinoy dancers and choreographers. There is SO MUCH Pinoy talent our there and performance jobs are hard to come by. If you're lucky enough to get one of those jobs, you're usually doing the same shows over and over again. We felt the need to give our community another way to showcase their many talents. This is always our biggest event, featuring dozens of dancers. I am choreographing one of the ten numbers for the evening. It's always a BLAST! You can get tickets here: www.Lumipad2017.eventbrite.com

You keep BUSY. You perform, you direct/choreograph, you take photos. Is there a single area that you are focusing on most these days?

HA! Yes, I am very busy at the "Hyphenate Hustle." While I am most passionate about Directing/Choreographing, I truly love all my jobs and they all feed/ inform each other. It's funny, I started my photography business to get by between theatre jobs, but I fell in love with it so much that even though I'm performing full time and directing, I always try to cram in a shoot whenever I can.

My love of the Filipino and Fil-Am culture is no secret. As a Hapa boy from the Bay Area, I grew up with a ton of Filipinos. As a decade-long theatre journalist, I have traveled to Manila several times to immerse myself in the culture and witness breathtaking productions of shows like The Bridges of Madison County, Rent, The Secret Garden and Les Miz. I might get some shit for this, but Filipinos do seem to live at the very heart of Asian-based musical theatre storytelling. What are your thoughts on this trent? Is it the voice? The culture of storytelling? The ability to pass for various backgrounds? The support, culturally? It is surely no coincidence that any show about Asians (and to some extent, Latinos) WILL be largely Filipinos.

Ha! You're right! And I think all the factors you mentioned are true! I think another factor is the unique Pinoy spirit. While we are clearly a musical/ theatrical people, we also exude a sense of family and inclusion that I find to be very special. If you make a friend with a Pinoy, you're family. I think that genuine love for community is what makes us uniquely good at being theatre artists. I've seen it first-hand with every Barkada show. Anyone who comes to our shows leaves feeling entertained, filled with love, and a member of a very special family.

Talk to me about Sunday's performance. What is the overall vision and how does it fit into Barkada's mission? What are you contributing to the evening? How did the dance piece come together and how did you go about selecting the ideal company for it?

LUMIPAD (Tagalog for "to fly") is our annual dance concert showcasing Pinoy dancers and choreographers. There is SO MUCH Pinoy talent our there and performance jobs are hard to come by. If you're lucky enough to get one of those jobs, you're usually doing the same shows over and over again. We felt the need to give our community another way to showcase their many talents. This is always our biggest event, featuring dozens of dancers. I am choreographing one of the ten numbers for the evening. It's always a BLAST! You can get tickets here: www.Lumipad2017.eventbrite.com

You keep BUSY. You perform, you direct/choreograph, you take photos. Is there a single area that you are focusing on most these days?

HA! Yes, I am very busy at the "Hyphenate Hustle." While I am most passionate about Directing/Choreographing, I truly love all my jobs and they all feed/ inform each other. It's funny, I started my photography business to get by between theatre jobs, but I fell in love with it so much that even though I'm performing full time and directing, I always try to cram in a shoot whenever I can.

How do you find the proper balance, given your full schedule at Miss Saigon, often playing The Engineer? How do you stay healthy, energized and motivated to juggle so much?

The idea of balance has always been important to me. And it's tough to find sometimes. For me, balance comes from my husband. I have three careers that I truly love and devoting time/ attention to them all can get incredibly stressful. Being able to come home to my husband and puppy reminds me that being a human is more important than any job. I work as hard as I can for as long as I can. Then I come home and try to be a human. I don't always succeed. But I'm doing my best.

If you had to pick a single career or artistic highlight right now, what would it be? And, conversely, what would be the main feat you are dying to accomplish?

I have to say, my career highlight is this very moment. I never thought I'd be performing on Broadway in the show that got me into theatre while at the same time directing projects I love and having a photography "day job" that helps improve the careers of others. I have to stop and realize that I am truly living my best life right now. Haha! And it's great. As for the other question, I am just excited to see what's next.

Finally, for now... balut. Do you like it?

Sigh... no. :)

Me neither, Billy. Me neither.

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Broadway Barkada's LUMIPAD will be held November 12, 7:30 PM, at Ailey Studios (405 West 55th Street, 6th Floor, STUDIO 6B). Pre-sale tickets are priced at $40 General Admission/ $75 VIP Admission (Open Wine Bar). At the door, tickets will cost $40 General Admission / $80 VIP. More info and tickets here: www.Lumipad2017.eventbrite.com and www.broadwaybarkada.com.

For more hyphens, visit www.billybustamante.com and www.billybphotography.com.

BWW Interview: Chatting with MISS SAIGON and Broadway Barkada's Billy Bustamante



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