Updated: May 14
As the leading sponsor for Broadway Bound Live, the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) has an incredibly impressive list of alumni. One of which is J. Elaine Marcos, a talented Broadway musical performer, and actress who has been seen in productions such as A Chorus Line, Annie, and Pricilla Queen of the Desert. She has also been featured in many film and television projects such as Rent: Live, St Vincent, and many more. I had the honor of interviewing J Elaine Marcos, during which she shared her journey in pursuing the arts along with her involvement in supporting the next generation of performers.
While growing up, Marcos said her parents put her through lots of different classes including many types of dance. That led her to enjoy performing in plays and musicals in high school, but the one class she hadn't taken was voice lessons. Not once did it stop her from auditioning for things because she was doing what she loves.
“I don’t think [my parents] knew I was going to pursue this because nobody in my family was a performer,” Marcos said. “I’m sure there was a moment in my last year of high school when I decided to pursue this.”
That moment came when Marcos saw a performance of Miss Saigon for the first time, which she said inspired her to start considering musical theater as a career.
“It was the first time I saw a lot of Asian people on stage, and I’d always go see musicals but I never really pictured myself pursuing it,” she said. “But then when you see people on stage that remind you of you, then you go like Oh! Now I can see myself in something.”
Almost like fate, a production of Miss Saigon was holding open castings to replace a few positions and they specifically asked for Phillipino Canadians so she knew she had to try out. She said, “when they’re calling your name, you gotta go to the audition.”
When she found out she didn’t book a role in the musical, she was crushed. But it didn’t destroy her. Instead, she realized that she can’t just rely on her skills in dance. She needed to study and improve her skills in singing and acting too. She needed to become a triple threat. That's when she started looking into AMDA College of Performing Arts as a school that could provide her with the appropriate training she needed to get into big musicals.
“There was no other school that I saw that really addressed musical theater,” Marcos said. “Cause there were schools for dance but I wasn't gonna be a ballerina, and for singing, and I wasn’t gonna be an opera singer, and I didn't just want to act, I wanted to do all three, so that's when I found AMDA.”
One thing she knew for sure was that if she is going to move to New York to study the arts, she had to fully commit to it. So she saved up money for six months before moving and even took a little bit of Taekwondo to feel safer in the city.
With a combination of the skills AMDA gives students to conquer the world in performing arts and the hard work and determination of J Elaine Marcos, she was ready to start working! Right after graduating, she booked her first big role on the musical A Chorus Line which went on a regional tour in 1996, and again in 2007 and 2008 at the Hollywood Bowl.
While constantly on tour, one thing she realized was that she would never stop to just breathe and take a break. It wasn’t until she found herself uncontrollably crying 30 minutes before a show that she realized sometimes she just needs a day off. When you live a life as dedicated as J Elaine Marcos, it's easy to forget that just because you’re doing what you love it doesn't mean you don’t still need breaks.
After years of experience working on so many incredible different projects, J Elaine now lives in Los Angeles. But she spends a lot of time involved with different outreach programs for AMDA, including things like Broadway Bound Live. She was an adjudicator for the first round of callback auditions in season 2 of the musical theater competition that will award four dedicated contestants with generous scholarships to AMDA College where they can experience many of the same opportunities that J Elaine had when she first attended school there.
She also started teaching online acting classes towards the start of the covid-19 pandemic because she realized all the knowledge she has could be shared to help inspire others. She said when she was first trying to break into the industry, she was always subconsciously told she had to stay within the box of only Asian roles as an Asian actress. But she said she didn’t want anyone who is starting out (especially BIPOC actors) to feel like they are limited to the things that other people say they can or can’t audition for.
“I really felt like what I could give [to] anyone younger than me or who is just starting is the permission to do what they love,” Marcos said. “I wanted to teach what I wasn’t given, or what I eventually learned, which is, as long as you focus on yourself and try not to be anybody else, then you will thrive in this business.”
J Elaine Marcos is still teaching through private online sessions on occasion as well as many workshops and events for the board of AMDA. At the end of the day, she said in everything she does, whether it's an audition, a show, a class she is teaching, or a class she is taking, she always wants to make sure she is still having fun. That is the energy she wants her experiences to reside in as opposed to the need to book a role or anything else. For the full interview with J Elaine Marcos, check out the video here.
Daniel Ward is an actor, writer, and contestant finalist of Broadway Bound Live Season 2 and can be contacted on Twitter @wordsofward34 or Instagram @wardledorp