Today we’d like to introduce you to Jo Yuan.
Hi Jo, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
Geographically, I’m from Orange County—ideologically, I’m from LA. I was a painfully shy kid. I couldn’t talk to people and I was deathly afraid of public speaking (which, funnily enough, the fear of public speaking ranks higher than the fear of death).
I knew that this was something that I had to get over and was determined to learn how to get a handle on my terror. My high school was a STEM-heavy magnet school (which was great for Tiger parents but not for their children). We didn’t have a drama club but we had a Speech & Debate team. I consistently forgot all my lines mid-speech, froze in front of everyone, and ran to the bathroom to sob. I must be a semi-masochist because when my public speaking fear hadn’t gone away by university, I signed up for acting classes. Even after suffering through years of bathroom sobbing, I was still determined to shed my fear and anxiety. Acting forced me to explore my truth and my relationships with other people. I got completely sucked in! I ditched my major and switched to Theatre Arts. And, when I had to drop out due to financial issues, I was determined to continue acting in Los Angeles.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
It’s been a bumpy road. I’ve struggled a lot–some I’m ready to talk about and some that I’m not. The years leading up to my move to LA, I lived in a garden shed that was so small I was actually jealous of Brie Larson’s room in Room… too dark? I was living below the poverty line, working two-three-five jobs at a time, and barely getting by. An ordinary day was waking up at 3:30am, starting my barista shift at 4:00am working an 8 hour shift, crashing from 1:00pm to 4:00pm, driving to my hosting job, working until 10:00pm, and getting home by midnight. Rinse and repeat. On my two days off a week, I drove two hours from OC to Santa Monica to take Meisner acting classes. I was determined to take as many acting classes as I could while I saved enough money to move to LA.
My first night in my Koreatown studio apartment, I cried the first night I moved to my first studio apartment in Ktown–I’d packed my clothes, my giant box of books, and a sleeping bag in my car, and as I laid there on the concrete floor, I bawled – because I made it, and because I knew that I could survive anything that was thrown my way after that. I will say this: during these years, I was fully subscribed to the “starving artist” myth–I believed that I deserved to live in poverty and that I deserved to struggle if I wanted to be an actor. This myth is so damaging and so pervasive; but I thought of it as a rite of passage. Looking back, I see that it is a false narrative created to generate the Hollywood dream. Suffering should not be a prerequisite for being an artist.
As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
Fear and curiosity are my primary motivators. Most people run away from fear, but there’s always transformation when I fight through it. When I’m scared of trying something, I have a gut feeling that ultimately it will be good for me. I say to myself, “Well, Jo, here’s the fear again–that means you HAVE to go for it.” Curiosity leads me to what I want to pursue, and fear propels me forward. I got tired of crying all the time and wanted to laugh instead, so I chose to laugh every day. Turns out I like avoiding my own bullshit, and laughter helps me do that sometimes in a healthy way. I believe laughter is healing and brings people together positively. So, I went to Clown School! It was like improv on steroids. I had never been so vulnerable and so uncomfortable in my life, so I got to know myself really well and how my discomfort (apparently) brings other people joy.
After Clown School, I dove into UCB improv because nothing can be as difficult as clowning. I started Second City Conservatory in 2020, which quickly turned online. Zoom improv is definitely something else, but I saw it through. My dream role is on a dark comedy (obviously) that explores how your traumas don’t have to define you, and you can learn to reconcile with yourself. I really admire the shows I May Destroy You, Ramy, Fleabag and Dave–I think they’re brilliant in portraying brokenness and personal triumph. These days, my fear and curiosity are pointing me towards finally trying stand-up and possibly creating my own content. I’m still fairly uncomfortable being vocal after being silent for so long, but we’ll see what happens in the near future!
Who else deserves credit in your story?
I have been so fortunate in my adult life to be surrounded by strong, independent women, and I really believe that community is absolutely essential for wellbeing, sanity, and success. Since I first moved out to Los Angeles, my most influential mentors have been Sue Hamilton and Heidi Godt. I found their organization, Artists Rise Up Los Angeles (https://www.artistsriseupla.com/), on social media and decided to attend the first meeting. Thankfully, I had no idea what I was getting myself into or I’m sure I never would have shown up. I just knew that there had to be a way to process my political rage through art. Sue also has her own acting studio, Sue Hamilton Studios (http://suehamiltonstudio.com/), and I learned so much about craft, mindset, and career through her classes. During the pandemic, I have been virtually meeting weekly with a group of Asian English-speaking female artists and together, we’ve completed the Artist Way series by Julia Cameron.
We’re all in different disciplines, countries, and time zones. It’s been refreshing to hear perspective outside the Los Angeles bubble and the entertainment industry. They have been my biggest believing mirrors, cheerleaders, and healers during this time. Julia Cameron has also been a soothing mentor through her books. Her words have allowed me to become kinder to myself and a better artist by moving forward in tiny increments and finding joys in small, everyday indoor life. I’ve also been breaking down and restructuring my life during quarantine through building structure, tiny habits, and incorporating radical self-care. My mentor, Britt Rentschler, keeps me accountable and gives me gentle guidance throughout the year. The initial tiny habits have compounded and expanded and have changed my outlook on life as well as my dedication to career and craft. Lastly, my group of female friends are amazing and uplifting, and they mean the world to me. They have been my biggest cheerleaders and keep me humble by calling me out on my bullshit.