For many years, actor Trieu Tran has performed the stories of others. Now, at ACT Theater, he will perform his own.
After developing the story of his journey from Vietnam through Thailand and finally to the United States, Tran now brings his one-man show, “Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam,” to Seattle.
Just as his childhood journey to America was lengthy and circuitous, so too was his journey to theater.
“I was never one of those kids who grew up wanting to be a star, or even wanting to be a part of the arts,” Tran says.
Instead, he began with entirely different goals. “I attended college with the dream of becoming a public defender,” Tran says.
But that dream didn’t last. “I took an acting class as an elective for an easy ‘A’ and was told it was the best way to meet smart creative women.” And he did meet at least one woman who inspired his future career.
“I had a wonderful acting teacher, Caleen Jennings,” Tran says. “Her passion for theater really inspired me. In her classes, I was introduced to great playwrights and their abilities to tell great stories.”
This experience changed his life, and he has worked extensively in both theater and film.
“Shakespeare is the greatest writer, period,” Tran says. “His characters and themes are still relevant today: honor, revenge, death, rebirth, jealousy, love. I always want to challenge myself and make myself better as an actor. The classics provide that.”
Tran has also challenged himself through screen acting. “I’ve enjoyed the movies that I’ve made,” he says. And his two upcoming projects continue along this path: “Trade of Innocents,” a film exploring the child sex slave trade in Asia, comes out in September, and then Tran begins work on the second season of “The Newsroom” for HBO.
Until then, he will focus on his own story, presented in collaboration with director Robert Egan.
“Robert was intrigued with my life, and encouraged me to tell my story,” Tran says. “Bob and I met for lunch, and several hours later, Bob knew all of what the audience will hear in ‘Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam.’”
And then the real work began. “Robert and I worked together on the play for several months,” Tran says. “Bob encouraged me to write and stay true and honest without fear.”
Once his story was established, Tran sought outside feedback. “Two years ago, I was able to workshop the play at The Ojai Playwrights Conference,” he says, while he also continued to refine his work with Egan. “I am very fortunate to have someone with Bob’s commitment and love for the art of storytelling.”
No part of this journey was easy. “All artists start out facing financial challenges,” Tran says. “I have been a waiter, bartender, and even valet. The key is to budget really well, always save for a rainy day—and ramen noodles.”
But, he also says, “I think we are living in a time when everyone is facing financial challenges. I have been lucky to have the support and encouragement of family and friends.”
The support of his mother has been crucial since their long journey of exile to America. Only afterward could Tran make the journey to the stage and to his own story. “I caught the bug,” he says. “My first love and heart is in live theater.”
Theater’s immediacy provides the ideal platform for Tran’s storytelling. “It is a more intimate experience, and you feel the connection with a live audience,” he explains.
Onstage, he says, “I felt I was finally home.”
“Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam” runs September 7 to October 7, at ACT Theater, 700 Union Street, Seattle.