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Highlighting My AAPI Artistic Inspirations: Ajay Pawaan

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

As an AAPI artist myself, I felt that it was only appropriate to end the month of May by highlighting one of my artistic inspirations and one of the individuals who undoubtedly changed the trajectory of my artistic career for the better. Angelynne Pawaan, or Ajay Pawaan, is a San Diego-based theatre artist who is currently in grad school at the University of San Diego for her MFA in Acting.

While the world will soon get to know her as an absolute booked and busy Hollywood star, I know Ajay as a friend who took a chance on a fresh high school graduate to help work on her passion project. After graduating high school and deciding to go to community college, I had no clue what my next step was, especially in terms of where my artistic career was going. I had no outlet, no spark, and no motivation to get myself out of my slump. That is, until Ajay decided to hire me as an Associate Producer for her independent film about the Filipina American experience. Ajay has helped me grow tremendously, not only as a creative, but as a person. I don’t know what in the world made her put her trust into some clueless 18-year-old kid but, God, am I thankful that she did.Β 

When Ajay agreed to let me interview her, I was so incredibly happy. She has served as such an amazing role model to me and has given me so much; it is such an honor to be able to share a bit of her story with you. So, here is my lovely interview with Ajay Pawaan. Ever since Ajay was a child, she had a passion for performing. Like many children, myself included, Ajay made use of her living room and transformed it into her very own personal stage.Β 

Ajay: β€œI would perform variations of Britney Spears songs in the living room. I was enthralled by music, movies, and then eventually theatre growing up. I was always more drawn to it than anything else.”

While her love for performing arts was stronger than her love for anything else, Ajay still decided to pursue a more practical career path after high school. Prior to her current educational pursuits, Ajay was a former UCSD Triton majoring in Cognitive Science. However, during her time at UCSD, Ajay discovered that theatre was her true calling and decided to become more serious about pursuing her dreams.Β 

Ajay: β€œI really made the decision to commit to this career path during my time at UCSD as an undergraduate student. At the time I was only studying Cognitive Science, but I discovered the potential for a career in theatre as an actor and director through the theatre department on campus. Since graduating in 2020, I took the extra time to really figure out what I wanted to do. I decided that my path towards pursuing a profession in acting, directing, and hopefully one day teaching would be my ultimate dream career.” 

As someone who strictly lives by the popularized phrase of β€œYOLO”, I simply couldn’t agree more. Life is too short to not do what you want to do.

Ajay has always encouraged me to follow my dreams above all else. Despite the anxieties that come with pursuing a creative career, especially as an Asian American woman, Ajay has always inspired me to put faith in my abilities and trust that they will guide me to where I want to be. She has helped me learn how to block out the noise and listen to my own voice. Watching Ajay grow and accomplish the next steps in her artistic career has been nothing short of incredible and has helped me put more confidence in myself as well. Ajay is currently a working actress at The Old Globe! As of recently, she performed as Silvia in a production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona and recalls it as her favorite work she has produced.Β 

Ajay: β€œAs an MFA Acting student, it was my very first show during grad school and it was such an incredible challenge of balancing my imagination while also having a strong perspective on who the character should be and where her morals stand. It’s not the most produced Shakespeare text, and it definitely has deep problematic aspects, but learning about my process in approaching all of that was really enlightening and important for my educational journey here.” 

If you find yourself in San Diego and she happens to be performing in a production, you must see her. I cannot stress enough how talented Ajay is. She is such a machine, onstage and offstage, and her magic deserves to be witnessed. She will have you absolutely glued to your seat. If you see Ajay in a production, you will have the privilege of saying that you stanned her before she blew up and became incredibly famous. With that being said, Ajay is currently in rehearsals for another production at The Old Globe!

Ajay: β€œThe most rewarding thing thus far has been being able to be in the room with incredible professional artists at The Old Globe. I’m currently in rehearsals for the historical production adaptation of Henry 6: Play 1 and Play 2 which begins performances on June 30, 2024. It’s testing my full physical vocabulary while tackling rich texts about the War of Roses.”

What can I say? I love seeing my girl get her flowers. If you can, go see Ajay perform. You won’t regret it.Β 

As an Asian American artist, Ajay has used her identity as a Filipina woman to shape her work and her artistry. Her identity as a Filipina woman is an integral part of her theatrical career and has guided her in her storytelling.Β 

Ajay: β€œMy identity as an Asian American woman follows me in every little decision and detail that I pursue in my work. Whether I like it or not, my body and how I look will always be a deciding factor in how I am used as a vessel to tell a story β€” I find it an extreme honor and privilege to represent Asian American women in this industry. I try to integrate it in every acting job and let it aid my imagination in the work of the character. I’m very cognizant about my identity in relation to other folx in the space. The only way I can honor that identity is to fully be myself β€” in owning my truth and being confident in my artistic opinions and decisions while being in this particular identity.”

When I asked Ajay what her hopes are for the future of Asian representation, I couldn’t help but tear up at her answer.Β 

Ajay: β€œI hope for more normalcy for us. I want us to be considered for ALL the canons, from Shakespeare to contemporary to ANY piece of work that has come before us and after.”

To hell with the stereotyping and type casting! Let us play whatever roles we want.

I hope Ajay gets everything she wants and more out of this life and I hope she plays every role she wants to play ever.Β 

Ajay: β€œI hope to continue working professionally in the theatre and TV/film space. My ultimate purpose as an artist is to demystify the path of an actor. If I’m able to crack the code on how to achieve this profession holistically (financially, mentally, spiritually, etc.), then I would love to share that with those who will come after me.”

We will be so seated.

Ajay is, without a doubt, one of the reasons I am where I am today. She has played such a huge role in my artistic career and I cannot thank her enough for putting her faith into some clueless 18-year-old who had no idea what she was doing. The kindness that she has extended to me so early on in my life will truly never be forgotten. She has helped me in more ways than she knows; the gratitude that I have for her is so endless. She is such a light and I cannot wait to see where life takes her.

Lauren Del Mar is a third-year World Arts and Cultures major at UCLA! She is from San Diego, California and she is beyond excited to be a part of the Her Campus team! From writing to performing on stage, Lauren absolutely adores storytelling and is so happy to be able to tell stories through Her Campus!