Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan: Being an immigrant artist is like ‘being an outsider’

Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan and Jonathan S. Cerullo. Photo by Mara Vlatkovic

Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan and Jonathan S. Cerullo. Photo by Mara Vlatkovic

The IAP Mentoring Program is a vital part of New York Foundation for the Arts’s Immigrant Artist Program, which pairs immigrant artists working in all disciplines with artist mentors. They provide mentees with one-on-one support and guide them to achieve specific goals, such as composing an artist statement, researching potential venues for showing work, or completing a grant application.

We sat down with a few mentor/mentee pairs to chat with them about their experiences of the Mentoring Program, being an immigrant in the United States, and the impact it has on their creative practice.

IAP Mentor Jonathan S. Cerullo is a second generation American-Italian New Yorker who started his career as a professional dancer. With several Broadway shows under his belt he was asked to assist a renowned choreographer and director, which he did for 12 years. For the last ten years he has been working independently as a theater director and in 2012 Jonathan was part of NYFA’s Artist as Entrepreneur Boot Camp Program hosted by the NYU Performing Arts and Administration Program.

Mentee Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan is from the Philippines and moved to New Jersey when he was 13 years old. Initially attending a medical high school and wanting to be a doctor, he ended up following his lifelong interest in theater and moved back to the Philippines at 19 to study theater and discovered a passion for directing. Andrei Nikolai returned to New York on a quest to see ‘what else is out there’ where he eventually worked for the New York Fringe, which became his inspiration to start a Fringe in the Philippines where he is now the Festival Director.

NYFA: What constitutes ‘home’ for you? What do you think are the essentials that need to be in place for you to call a place ‘home’?

Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan (ANP): I traveled quite a lot last year between the U.S. and the Philippines because it was the year that we were establishing the Manila Fringe. But I have always been rooted in the Philippines. Even when I moved here I have always been rooted there. I’ve always believed in the art scene there. I’ve wanted to find that home over here and establish myself as an artist here in New York.

Jonathan S. Cerullo (JSC): I think it includes putting down your roots and establishing what you want to do. As a dancer I toured this country for almost three years and I lost a sense of home with that. I still have my apartment in New York, and finding a home is very very important. I admire what you’ve done in the Philippines.

ANP: Since starting theater and leaving my day job I’ve been going back and forth to the Philippines. What’s really important are relationships and getting to know the landscape in and out. By landscape I mean galleries, theaters, spaces and being immersed in it. I have not yet done that in America. I’m in that process right now. Yes, I’m doing Fringe in Manila but I’m also looking forward to the time that I’ll be able to say “I’m going to be here.” I want to get to know this city even more.

NYFA: How do you think this experience of misplacement has impacted you as an artist? Not being home for a while, then coming home again and trying to figure out how to become immersed in a completely different artistic landscape.

ANP: I think it has impacted my work in terms of feeling like an outsider. Whether it is a place or a piece of work, it’s always nice to be observant and look at the details and the bigger picture. I think having been displaced has helped me be part of a world but then be able to step away from it. Look at the bigger picture and take in everything that is good and also the bad. Then put it in the work that you do.

JSC: Everybody wants to be invited to the ball. We want to be able to stay as long as we want and drink from the same cup Cinderella drank from. I do understand that theoretically and conceptually. But, it does not create a barrier. It creates a step where I say to myself “how do I get there?”. As a director you have got to be able to figure that path out. Figure it out Andrei, figure it out Jonathan! There are six million ways to do that for every one way you’re going to try and you’re going to fail at every one of them. I still have that issue with me sometimes. It forces me to be better as a person than I was when I woke up that morning.

ANP: You’re totally right Jonathan. As an immigrant moving here, maybe it is personal insecurity, but I have to work hard to attain my goals and overcome the feeling of being an outsider. I have to work towards that and I always have. I’m almost becoming a Yes-man to a lot of things. It’s the same way in Manila; I’m never quite in, because for a part of my life I grew up here. It is always that limbo. Like Jonathan said, you always have to fight for what you want to achieve.

NYFA: Andrei Nikolai, do you remember the first impression you had when you moved to New Jersey as a 13-year-old?

ANP: I grew up being exposed to movies like “Home Alone” or “Lost in New York.” I always had an image of America as New York City with big buildings and so on. Then I moved to New Jersey and there were white fences and no one was on the streets, you have to drive everywhere. It was not the Philippines so it was still exciting but I thought that this was not America. For me that was not America. Then in seventh grade we took a trip to New York. During this trip we watched the “Phantom of the Opera” and toured the Rockefeller Center. That’s when I thought: This is America! This is New York! There is a theater; there are streets and people bumping into each other. I thought maybe one day I could be here, I will move here.

JSC: See, when you say you’re on the outside; you have just disproved your point!

ANP: I remember when I was working on a show at the New York Musical Theater Festival (NYMF) in 2013, it was still unbelievable to me. I had a rehearsal in New York City! I’m a student from the Philippines who just wanted to do theater.

JSC: So, when you say outside, I can’t even accept that because you are so not outside. You are in it. You said ‘I want to be on the inside’ but you already are!

ANP: I studied theater in the Philippines and not a lot of people can watch a show on Broadway and I’ve done that, or the first time I went to MoMa and I saw Frida Kahlo’s work. I was literally crying because these are things that I read in books. To be actually here and to experience that and be so immersed in it is something I’m grateful for.

JSC: You’re going to do just fine, my friend. Stop worrying and start being.

The full interview was originally published in NYFA Current on November 15, 2015.

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