‘With NYC as my mistress, there is nothing I shall want’

Photo by Maya Standel

By Camille Mana

Upon entering my temporary New York sublet last September, I had no idea what was in store for me. One never does, perhaps, but based on a single Skype interview with my roommate-to-be via Craigslist (yes, I keep it real), one might say I had boldly leaped (or rather belly-flopped) into new and unfamiliar waters.

I had been called to action. Jesse Eisenberg had written a play called “Asuncion,” and I was to transport my bags (and well, my baggage), to the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York, NY, East Coast, U.S.A, Planet, Universe to play none other than… Asuncion.

If you’re my friend vis à vis Facebook, Twitter, or even that weird guy that keeps “arbitrarily” popping up in the same places as me (you know who you are), you have likely been bombarded with a plethora of reviews and media coverage on the play itself, so I will spare you the details a simple Google search can afford, and jump into a more personal, albeit non-comprehensive, account of this chapter of my life.

ON MR. JESSE EISENBERG

Photo by Sandra Coudert

To the world, he is perhaps “the kid who played that Facebook guy” or “the dude from that zombie movie who got nominated for an Oscar.” To me, he was an admirably gifted young actor whom I had discovered in 2005 upon my first viewing of “The Squid and the Whale” and now has grown to be one of the most kind-hearted and impactful people I am blessed to have had enter my life. Wittingly or unwittingly, Mr. Eisenberg (it feels strange to dub him by first and last and too pretentious to label him “Jesse” in print, so I will resort to this moniker for the interim) has changed my life. Inwardly and outwardly, I am a different person from having lived 24 days of rehearsal and 68 performances as Asuncion. From generously singling me out (and all the more generous for being seemingly sincere) during his Jimmy Fallon interview, to the moral support and care he provided me as a human being (homeboy actually biked all the way to 106th Street to make sure I’d gotten into my apartment comfortably upon arrival. Who does that?!), I can attest to the fact that he is as good as they come. Mr. Eisenberg, you are a fine young actor, but more importantly, you are a fine young man.

ON MILESTONES ACHIEVED

Photo by Ben Rayner

NYLON MAGAZINE. Nylon, oh Nylon. Being featured on your glossy pages has been a career-long dream of mine. While you are not Vogue or Vanity Fair, you are the only magazine my friends still read. (Sorry, New York, but I’m afraid elitism and sub-cultural snobbery are not uniquely yours. Ah-hem.) I’m not sure what new mile markers I’ll set out to establish for myself, but I guess I’ll have to think bigger game now that this one is in the bag.

NPR
Leonard Lopate Interview with the “Asuncion” gang. Though I get my NPR fix via KPCC, were I a New Yorker, WNYC would no doubt be my daily companion. It is an honor to have been a guest on this program. Smooth and classy, the man has got the interview art form down pat.

THE GREATER GOOD
You know you’re actually growing up when being a part of something larger than yourself becomes a priority. Look out for the Anti-Fracking Campaign, A NY Body of Water, soon to be launched with the support of Adrien Grenier, Leighton Meester, Grizzly Bear, and many other artists (including myself) to raise awareness for this issue. Between a couple of “Asuncion” performances, I was able to sneak away with a team comprised 100 percent of volunteers to shoot a PSA for this upcoming national print, online, and TV campaign.

PERSONAL BREAKTHROUGHS
No doubt, I am grateful for the career I have had to date. I’ve gotten to do what I love – both as a performer and a producer — and have even ventured into territory most actors of color have not had the good fortune to do. But never before have I been given the opportunity to play a full-grown woman (complete with a full-grown man for a husband). Never before have I played an object of desire, an “is-she-isn’t-she” sex worker. And never before have I played an immigrant of Filipino descent. While the latter two might not be goals for most Asian actresses, for me it marked a personal victory. “Asuncion” (as this blog was kind to point out on a list of 10 noteworthy events of 2011 featured a Filipina character as the catalyst of its story and as its title. Through Mr. Eisenberg’s writing, we were able to explore issues of race and ethnocentrism, include diversity in a high-profile project – and hopefully, we did it all with integrity. These have been priorities in my acting and producing endeavors. I have faith that we have only reached a jumping off point for the current generation to push onwards.

ON THE END OF AN ERA

Dramatically termed, perhaps, but yes, it was an era for me in my as-of-yet novella of a life. A multitude of acting and filmmaking heroes who had previously starred in such coveted roles as Camille’s Desktop Wallpaper (I’m talking to you, Cary Fukunaga) and critics alike heralded me as a notable talent in print, on air, and well… via some pretty intense dressing room chismis with Mr. Eisenberg. Sidewalk falafel carts boasting of $5 gyro combo plates afforded me a palatable subsistence. Native Filipinos complimented the accuracy of my stage dialect (can I get a sigh of relief up in here?). The insular NY theatre community uncharacteristically welcomed an Angeleno with open arms! And both pop culture and progressive culture invited me into the periphery of their bounds. Wow, naman!

Needless to say, New York has been a wonderful mistress; I will miss her company and all the joys she has to offer. But alas, my little soul (now laden with less baggage) belongs in Los Angeles. Bidding adieu last Thursday to my Craigslist flat was no easy feat — the cramped walls of the flat itself notwithstanding. In the span of a semester, I have somehow graduated from a quirky ex-sitcom girl, to an optimistic and reinvigorated young woman who simultaneously tackled three former obstacles. Now, I’m ready to take on my next roles as actress, as producer (currently fundraising for culturally diverse feature films, cough, cough), and well – as upstanding member of society.

Or so I can hope.

Thank you, Craigslist roommate, for not being Single White Female incarnate.
Thank you, Mr. Eisenberg, for your generosity of spirit and your collaborative artistry.
Thank you, Universe, for this opportunity for growth.

The best Christmas presents a little lady could receive. Maligayang Pasko sa Inyong Lahat!

Until next time (perhaps when “Asuncion” comes to the Philippines in 2013, but I’m hoping much sooner), you know where to find me.

Seriously. You do. Here:

FACEBOOK: camillemanaofficial
TWITTER: camillemana
WEBSITE: camillemana.com



5 Comments

  1. J Shane wrote:

    What a wonderful article. Such beautiful writing. I would love to hear from this perspective on a weekly basis in a column type medium.

  2. John McDermott wrote:

    You are a wonderful person and I am so happy I got to know you during Asuncion and I look forward to seeing your work and reading about you for many years to come. Have a wonderful 2012!

  3. Loretta wrote:

    Like your blog.

  4. Sylvia wrote:

    Excellent contribution, keep up the good work, Camille.

  5. […] her thoughts about leaving New York. This warm-hearted Californian turned in a 1,700-plus word essay about living in Manhattan and how it began with a room she found on Craigslist. Camille can write as she can […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: