Taiwanese Actress Leaves Home to Pursue Broadway Dream

photos and text by Yam G-Jun

Ya Han Chang at home in Rego Park, Queens. G-Jun Yam / NYT Institute

Ya Han Chang at home in Rego Park, Queens. G-Jun Yam / NYT Institute

Getting ready to leave her job as a shopkeeper in Manhattan, Ya Han Changcleaned up the desk, put everything back on shelves, took a careful look at the prized antiques, turned off the lights and shut the gates. Taking an hour break for lunch, she ate a bowl of noodles at Hinata Ramen, a Japanese restaurant, and took off for her next job as a hostess. She made it back to her home in Queens at 10 p.m.

Like most of her days, this is what May 26 looked like for Ms. Chang, who is trying to achieve her Broadway dreams while holding four jobs.She also works as an actress and a music teacher. Originally from Taiwan, she has spent eight and a half years in New York, pursuing her goal of becoming a Broadway actress.

Clockwise from left: Ya Han Chang, who teaches Mandarin to pre-K students every Wednesday at Purvis J. Behan Elementary School in Brooklyn, leads her students to class on May 25. Top right: Ms. Chang keeps her wedding picture pinned to a wall in her apartment. Above right: Ms. Chang at work at an antiques shop in Manhattan, one of four jobs she has. G-Jun Yam / NYT Institute

Clockwise from left: Ya Han Chang, who teaches Mandarin to pre-K students every Wednesday at Purvis J. Behan Elementary School in Brooklyn, leads her students to class on May 25. Top right: Ms. Chang keeps her wedding picture pinned to a wall in her apartment. Above right: Ms. Chang at work at an antiques shop in Manhattan, one of four jobs she has. G-Jun Yam / NYT Institute

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After finishing her master’s degree in classical singing in Taiwan, Ms. Chang said, she made a leap of faith and came to New York, where she enrolled in a two-year musical theater program at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

Ms. Chang, 36, has stuck it out in New York despite the fact that acting opportunities for Asians are not abundant. “Chances are limited here. Throughout the eight years that I have been here, there is only a handful of people that are still staying in the United States,” Ms. Chang said of her friends from other Asian countries.

But she has had some success. “I am very lucky that I got cast in a few supporting and leading roles after I got out of school,” she said. “It is hard to find someone who can sing and act at the same time, therefore I had the upper hand.”

Another obstacle Ms. Chang had to overcome was her immigration status. She acquired her artist green card, which cost her $12,000, she said.

“We are like outsiders in an industry that is made for the locals,” she said. “We have to spend a long time and a lot of money to maintain our status.” She also recently joined the Actors’ Equity Association union.

Ms. Chang and fellow actors after a five-hour rehearsal for "Lost in Shanghai" before its run at the Pan Asian Repertory Theater. G-Jun Yam / NYT Institute

Ms. Chang and fellow actors after a five-hour rehearsal for "Lost in Shanghai" before its run at the Pan Asian Repertory Theater. G-Jun Yam / NYT Institute

To make ends meet, Ms. Chang also teaches Mandarin to pre-K students in an after-school program, instructs private vocal clients and gives piano lessons on Saturdays. And, she still has to take vocal and acting lessons, rehearse for her show at the Pan Asian Repertory Theater called “Lost in Shanghai,” go to auditions and have a personal life.

Her family is supportive, she said, but her mother did ask her to come home to Taiwan when she found out her daughter was working in a restaurant. She got married last December, but her husband lives in Taiwan, so seeing each other is challenging.

Though her progress as an actress has been slow, she said she didn’t think she would get even this far when her journey began in 2007. She said she was humbled by the amount of support her family and friends have given her throughout the years.

“I am not sure if it is worth it or not,” she said. “I didn’t have my big break yet, but I love what I do. I am going to stay for two or three years more. If things don’t go well, maybe I will go home.”

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A student records Ms. Chang's feedback during a private singing lesson. G-Jun Yam / NYT Institute

A student records Ms. Chang's feedback during a private singing lesson. G-Jun Yam / NYT Institute