HomeVietnamese AmericanVivienne Truong advances from production assistant to actress

Vivienne Truong advances from production assistant to actress

By Tenzin Wodhean, AsAmNews Intern

Since its premiere in London in 2012, The Play That Goes Wrong has been a hallmark production of the play-within-the play format. The multiple award-winning comedy has become beloved globally, with the San Jose Stage Company returning with its recurring production this winter. It was especially beloved by Vivienne Truong, who auditioned for Annie Twilloil, the stage manager, twice before landing the role on her third try.

“You know what they say, third time’s the charm. So when they put out the show for the third time for auditions, they invited me to audition,” said Truong. 

Directed by Kenneth Kelleher, the play follows the Cornley University Drama Society staging their production of The Murder at Haversham Manor on their opening night which takes a sudden turn for the worst. It’s described as a blend between “Monty Python’s madness and a Sherlock Holmes-Agatha Christie mystery” in a 1920s whodunnit style. It’s a show where the actors are constantly trying to recover from the physical disarray and chaos in a dramatic and comedic manner, Truong told AsAmNews.

She describes Annie as a shy stage manager “made for backstage,” yet confident, persistent and unstoppable. She’s “made for the backstage”’ so much so that she detests the stage and would rather avoid the spotlight. But she undergoes this transformation into what Kelleher described to Truong as a “homicidal person where nothing matters except becoming Sandra Wilkinson,” a character who plays Florence Colleymore.

In this version of The Play That Goes Wrong, the Cornley Drama Society is on tour with Annie being brought on for the North American leg. For Truong, this explains why she is not close to the British characters.

Truong’s pursuit of acting traces back to her three years at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose when she auditioned for Les Mis at a community youth theatre and “fell in love with it.” After talking to her mom, she decided to pursue a double major. What drew her especially to acting was how it allowed her to be whoever she wanted to be amidst all the anxiety she experienced from being uncertain about which major she would pursue. 

Since then, the characters she’s portrayed have been wide-ranging.

Truong played a “racist, biker” man, a “goofy little” soldier, a “heart-struck simp man,” and a “hippie dude” all in Vietgone and both a goddess and mother in Anonymous. And it was from playing all these different roles that she realized this was the magic she loved.

It was a magic that she was intent on being a part of given her persistence in auditioning for this production. She was already familiar with physical comedy and being a stage manager, given her past role as Poppy in the Pear Theatre production of Noises Off. In fact, in between her second and third audition, Truong got hired as a production assistant and was able to connect with production managers, stage crew and other members of the San Jose Stage Company. Her involvement as a PA allowed her to not only acclimate to the space with ease but it also foreshadowed the fate she would face onstage in front of an audience. It’s an experience that has served the way she assumes Annie.

“When working as a production assistant, I worked with other production assistants who hated being on stage. Their hearts would start racing, they’d start sweating. It’s all fear for them. They can’t be in front of an audience. So I like to imagine channeling that other PA into Annie,” said Truong.

In one scene Annie is trying to find a ledger for Chris, who is the Cornley Drama Society director. Truong scrambles backstage in preparation for her agitated entrance on stage after realizing he was addressing her to find the ledger.

Truong says the show is incredibly physical with it being especially demanding for the male characters where they are falling off of heights and tripping so often. The characters experience disarray like messing up their lines, losing a lead actress and props being misplaced and the audience watches them navigate through these sudden overwhelming obstacles.

“So a play within a play that is a hilarious, physical comedy farce that will take you on a journey through what an actor’s worst nightmare is,” said Truong. 

Tickets are available here and range from $34 to $74. The show is running at San Jose Stage until December 17.

(Editor note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Kelleher, clarify the past roles Truong has played and correct some details about The Play That Goes Wrong. We apologize for the errors.)

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