Erin Quill is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, where she majored in Voice and holds a BFA in Music Performance. She is also of Chinese and Irish descent! She was raised by a Chinese mother and an Irish Father who is a very well-known Labor Attorney .
You may all remember her from the original play for The Mikado Project. Since then, she has been working on adapting The Mikado Project to screenplay with Chil and Ryun Yu. The film stars Tamlyn Tomita (Karate Kid 2, Tekken), David Lee McInnis (Never Forever), Rizwan Manji (NBC’s OUTSOURCED), Gerald McCullough (CSI), Yuri Tag from (Kabba Modern MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew Season 1), Allen C. Liu (Bway Revival FLOWER DRUM SONG) Raymond J. Lee (Bway Mamma Mia 7 Bway Revival of Anything Goes) Ryun Yu (Never Been Kissed)
The trailer for The Mikado Project can be found at www.themikadoproject.com. Erin claims that the great thing about being part of the original stage production was knowing where all the jokes came from, and then having to figure out how to translate it into a screenplay. Because the world of the play is immediate – it is pretty much what the audience sees in front of them, but in a screenplay you have to visually tell the story and also figure out what it will take to pull everyone into the world of the film. The play focused on one issue – how productions of Gilbert & Sullivan’s THE MIKADO have been the bastions of stereotype since it’s first performance. The screenplay focuses on that as well, but expands to the Artists in the theater company and how they deal with trying to do ‘protest theater’ in addition to running around Hollywood and trying to break that glass ceiling of minority actors. The film has debuted in several film festivals, and is now in distribution talks – hopefully the general public will get to see it soon, either on the big screen or on dvd!
Following The Mikado Project, Erin wrote the screenplay for QWERTY, which is an office comedy that is in edit now – it was filmed in LA and Palm Springs this past May. Her upcoming projects include the show at The Magic Castle, and a small part in the Blockbuster film called MAN ON A LEDGE, which stars Sam Worthington – from AVATAR, and Jamie Bell, from Billy Elliot and The Eagle, to be released in 2012.
Erin has also worked on DAMAGES with Glenn Close and Tate Donovan. She recently produced a CD of Traditional Irish Songs called “…And we’ll all go together’, which is a line from the only Scottish song on the CD, Go Lassie Go. This CD is a treasure chest of Irish Songs, and is currently available on iTunes, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day! Erin actually gave both Tate Donovan and Glen Close a CD on the set of DAMAGES. Irish music had come up in conversation and it turns out that Tate plays the Irish Fiddle quite well! Ms. Close was also interested as she is of Scottish descent. As it happens, “Go Lassie, Go” is the one Scottish song on the CD, track 3! The CD is called “…And we’ll all go together’, which is a line from the only Scottish song on the CD, “Go Lassie Go“. Erin chose that title because though many people do not know it, it was originally a ‘protest’ song about when peace came to Scotland and all the English were driven out. That when the English left, everyone would be able to walk through the fields together, and “will you go, Lassie, go? And we’ll all go together to pluck wild mountain thyme, all among the bloomin’ heather” – they wore the flowers to show their protest against English occupation. It was a song about protest, that turns to thoughts of peace, and was most appropriate.
ASIANCE: Your mother is Chinese and your father is Irish. Were you raised to respect both Chinese and Irish history and tradition?
Erin: Yes. Both of my Parents are insanely proud of their heritages, so we were raised to celebrate all aspects of being both Chinese and Irish – if we had to learn piano, we had to learn some Irish songs, that kind of thing – I had been to Ireland, so they sent me on a trip to China.
My Mom used to tell me that I was very lucky to be from 2 cultures because then I could pick which things I liked about each, and some people were just stuck with one. My Father was a great history buff, as am I, and he had just as many books and knew just as much about Chinese history as he did Irish history; which made him a great person to chat with. I remember the day he came in and he had a book about the Soong Sisters, and he sort of tossed it on the table and he said, “Oh, you are named for one of them, you should read this” , he did the same thing with the biography of Mike Quill, the founder of the Transit Workers Union, “Here you go, this is us – read the book, tell me what you think.” They were very equal in terms of how they presented everything, but of course, my Mom still thinks being Chinese is ‘the best’, and my Dad thinks the same thing about being Irish – it’s how people are.
ASIANCE: What part of your Chinese heritage do you think contributed to your success today?
Erin: Well, not math – I am really bad at math, ha! My Mom is pretty brilliant, and highly organized, so I think from her I got my drive, scholarship, and belief in Family, and that once you commit to something, you have to see it through till the end. Traits that my Father also shared, which is probably why they’ve been married for so long. They are actually quite similar – big brains.
ASIANCE: What is your favorite Chinese saying, song, and lesson that you learned from your mother?
Erin: I think my Mom’s favorite saying, or the one I remember hearing most was, “Because you are the oldest, that’s why!”
ASIANCE: We just finished celebrating The Chinese New Year and now we are about to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day! What year were you born on the Chinese Astrological Chart? Do you believe in Chinese Astrology?
Erin: I always loved the story of how the years are named, in the order of how the animals came to Buddha when they were called. Then of course, my thoughts would turn to all the animals who didn’t show up. I did wonder as a kid, was the cheetah just late? Was the groundhog too emotional that day to show up? So, Yes, I believe in Chinese Astrology – I’ve found, as I’ve gone on, that the less you look for explanations, the more things seem to work. I also like aspects of Druidism, however, I was raised just about as Irish Catholic as can be, and that’s a specific kind of Catholicism for sure, so I’ve just learned that I can celebrate and try not to be too ‘judgy’, which is hard, because I’m a Libra.
ASIANCE: In honor of the Chinese New Year and The Year of the Rabbit, is this year a good one for you?
Erin: Year of the Rabbit is supposed to be good for everyone, isn’t it? Because the Rabbit is the happiest creature of the Chinese zodiac, as far as I remember. Well, I do have a few things going on that I’m looking forward to – I am shooting a pilot with fellow Irish New Yorker, Scott Nevins, I have a book I am trying to finish writing, I’m working on a show that is going to be at The Magic Castle Cabaret, we have a film, The Mikado Project, which I am in and co-wrote the screenplay for, that is in distribution talks now, so…hopefully it will keep going up. The Year of the Dragon is the one I’m more worried about…what’s scary about a rabbit? Nothing – unless you watch Monty Python’s Holy Grail repeatedly.
ASIANCE: What part of your Irish heritage do you think contributed to your success today?
Erin: I speak my mind, I’m very willing to debate, I have a wicked sense of humor – and I can sing the hell out of Danny Boy. Those are traits I definitely got from my Father, he has a great sense of humor and as my Mother always told me, “He taught you to debate at the dinner table’. My Father grew up in Astoria, New York, the 5th child of 6. He had his first job at six years old, delivering candy. He put himself through Iona College, Fordham Law school and then his Masters in Labor Law at NYU. My Dad was one of the top Labor Lawyers in the US.
I always say that my Dad is the toughest man I know, and that is the absolute truth. My Dad never backs down, and whether that is good or bad, that is something I have gotten from him. Also, he taught me to throw a punch at a young age – ‘just in case’. His Brother was a Golden Gloves champ, so it’s a pretty good punch, if I do say so myself.
The funniest thing about my Dad is, he thinks I look just like him, Irish. I think he only got that I might not look 100% Irish when he saw me do Lady Thiang in The King & I, which if you think about it, is hilarious.
ASIANCE: What is your favorite Irish saying, song and joke that you learned from your dad?
Erin: My Dad’s recurring theme was “The Irish educated Europe!”, because after the Black Plague, many people of learning died, and so they sent to Ireland, and the Priests left Ireland to go and teach. So if he didn’t like some news that came over from Europe, he would kind of growl, “They wouldn’t even be able to read if it wasn’t for the Irish!”. If being Irish was a Super Power, my Dad would have the cape, the outfit, the whole shebang, probably bedecked in shamrocks.
My favorite Irish song is actually, an Irish American song called “When New York Was Irish”, because it mirrors the immigration of my own Family to this Country. When they first came here, it was still “Irish Need Not Apply” in many places, and so, as the song goes “We worked down the subways, we ran the saloons, we built all the bridges, and we played all the tunes, we put out the fires, controlled City Hall, we started with nothing, and wound up with it all”.
My relative, Mike Quill, helped found the Transit Workers Union – there is a big building on 11th Avenue in New York that bears his name. My Dad went into Labor Law because of Mike. The TWU was one of the first to have 40 hour work week, non-discrimination, retirement benefits – when Mike passed away after a big feud with Mayor Lindsay, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his obituary. The things that we take for granted today – health insurance, vacation pay, workers comp – all those were things that did not exist when my relatives came to this country, and they helped change it.
When I was on an Irish music tour down in Florida, I had people come up to me and shake my hand, telling me that they would not have been able to retire, had it not been for Mike Quill, so I’m very proud of being a part of that history. When I am working on a show, I’m usually the Deputy for my Cast, I’ve served on committees; I am a big believer in the sanctity of Unions for the protection of the workers. I think I got that from my Father, respect for people who do the job, every day – and I think that’s how I approach my work – I show up, I do what I’m supposed to do, I try and do the extra that will make it better for the people that come after me.
ASIANCE: Would you say that you have “the luck of the Irish”? (If yes, please give example of why)
Erin: The Luck of the Irish…If I win the Mega Millions, I will jig for sure. (Come on MEGA!) Generally though, I would say…fair to medium lucky. I am not in that EFFIN’ LUCKY CLUB that many people seem to be in, although if you find a back door for me to jump in though, I will totally join.
ASIANCE: Does your family celebrate both the Chinese New Year and St. Patrick’s Day? If so, do they do anything special for either holiday?
Erin: Chinese New Year we always go out to a big dinner – we have ‘Long Life Noodles’ and a bunch of other foods that we are required to eat, pay off all our debts before the New Year, clean the house, and of course, the red envelopes were always something to look forward to when we were kids. The funny thing about Chinese New Year was, in our house, it was definitely a one or two day celebration – St. Patrick’s Day, on the other hand, was the entire month of March! My Dad was in so many Irish societies, clubs, etc, that they were ‘out’ at dinners etc, for all of March. One of the great things that my Mom did, when we were young, was find a killer Irish Soda Bread recipe, and that became a huge event, because we would make a boatload of it – some for us, smaller loaves for friends, and give it out. I still do that. It’s so good, I get requests now when my Friends realize March is coming. No one wants my stir fry though.
ASIANCE: What was the most enjoyable and the most difficult part of growing up as an Asian American child of Irish heritage?
Erin: The most enjoyable aspect of being Irish, for me, is the music and the arts – I love the plays, the history, I love looking at the artwork in The Book of Kells…the Irish Arts are amazing.
When I was 15 or so, I remember going to see Paddy Reilly sing, he was a client of my Father’s. Afterwards we all went to a pub, and he found out that I wanted to be a singer. He said to me, “Well, go ahead, let me hear it” I thought I would die of embarrassment, because that is what you think when you are 15, but I sang, quietly at first, till he yelled at me about my breathing. I took a deeper breath and I started singing, and he liked it. We sang in that pub, the two of us, for about three, maybe four hours – show tunes! People would come up, because he was, after all, famous, and request a song and he replied, “No, no, I’m here with my friend, Erin, and we are only doing Broadway today.” Later, he told me that I was, indeed a singer, and that I could ‘do’ this, and so – if it were not for Paddy Reilly, I probably would not have had the confidence to say “Yes, I’m going to be a professional singer”.
ASIANCE: What are the reactions of audience members when they see your performance and hear you sing Irish songs at the Knights of St. Patrick?
Erin: My Dad has been a Knight of St. Patrick, for a while, so most of the Knights know what I look like, however a few years ago we were at The Pierre Hotel for St. Patrick’s Day, and they asked me to sing. The party at the Pierre also has quite a lot of guests, The Grand Marshal of the Parade shows up, it’s a very cool event.
Afterwards, this man came rushing to meet me and he was very excited and he said “I wanted to tell you how happy you made me because my kids are adopted too and I always tell them that are just as Irish as I am!” I said, “Oh, but I’m not adopted.” He said, “What?” I told him, “See, that’s my Dad over there, and there’s my Mother…I’m Chinese and Irish.” He started to walk away and I said “Are you ok?” and he said, “Well, I really wanted to tell you about my kids.” I answered, “You can still tell me!” and he said no, I’d ‘ruined’ it. Which made me chuckle. He was so upset I was not adopted! Typically, my Dad said, “What do you mean you don’t look Irish?” and my Mom said, “You should have just let him tell the story”.
ASIANCE: Do you have a specific physical “type” that you go for in a man based on your own background?
Erin: I’m married to a Korean American, but he was the first API I ever dated. I used to say my ‘type’ was just talented – he had to be talented and good at what he did for a living, because I was good at what I did for a living.
My Husband, Chil Kong, is an Actor and a Director – he’s been in feature films opposite Harrison Ford and James Woods, TV shows like LOST, LAW & ORDER SVU, and he was an Artistic Director for the second largest API Theater company in Los Angeles for 10 years, Lodestone, which he and his Co-Artistic Director, Philip C. Chung decided to close last year. Chil directed the stage production of THE MIKADO PROJECT, and then decided it was going to be his first feature directing project. He’s just finished directing his second feature, QWERTY, and he’s part of the ABC DGA Director Program. So, you know…he’s talented 🙂 Oh – and he’s going to be in this HBO movie coming up in March – Too Big To Fail, about the sub prime mortgage crisis.
ASIANCE: I recently posted the Wall Street Journal Article, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” and we received some scathing comments. I defended the book by Amy Chua of which the article was based upon. Can you weigh in on this?
Erin: I haven’t read it yet, so I can’t say.
ASIANCE: Do you have a sort of crush or deep admiration for someone in the public eye who is also of Asian and Irish Descent?
Erin: I don’t really have Eurasian crushes, because everyone kind of looks like a Cousin to me. Obviously, I am very partial to Asian Irish people who have a last name beginning with Q, so I will take Maggie Q, she’s doing a great job on NIKITA and I wish her very well.
ASIANCE: What is the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow“ for you?
Erin: If I had a ‘pot of gold’, I hope it hold a Series Regular spot on a sitcom, or another Original Broadway Show in it for me….I’d even wear a harness!
To keep up to date with Erin Quill’s performances and to purchase her beautiful CD of Traditional Irish Songs, please go to www.erinquill.com.