Vancouver-based playwright, actor, and acting coach Rick Tae doesn’t take himself too seriously. While he does pursue his career with a relentless passion, his current rom-com play My Little Tomato, which will be produced during March at The Cultch, was originally meant to satirize Tae’s own tree-hugging environmentalism.
My Little Tomato centers on a Chinese-Canadian kindergarten teacher and farmer who falls in love with his tomatoes, grown on a farm he inherited from his parents. “I admit I’ve always been sentimental towards every single living creature on this planet, perhaps because of my parents’ Buddhist upbringing, or just my saccharine view of this beautiful world,” Tae said. “Farming pertains to the wonderful life my parents have harvested for me and tomatoes are my ode to saying fuck off to labels and identities. Fruit or Vegetable, who cares?” Tae is grateful for the play development assistance he received from the Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre MSG lab and the dramaturgs of the Playwrights Theatre Centre.
Tae’s foray into writing is more recent, after performing onstage since childhood and watching compelling theatre such as City of Angels on Broadway. “There was a brilliance there that found the right balance between drama and comedy, film and stage, song, dance, compelling characters and incredible music,” Tae remembered. “It took me to a world that I had never seen before.”
Born in Hong Kong, Tae came to North America on his own. “While my parents were still in Asia, I was in boarding school in St. Louis and Detroit, and ended up in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon University for Managerial Economics before transferring to Point Park for Theatre Arts and Musical Theatre,” Tae reported. “My parents moved from Hong Kong to Vancouver, and upon visiting the city during my summer vacation, I instantly fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and moved here after graduation.”
This enchantment was also fortuitous for Tae’s career. “Little did I know that Vancouver, BC, was Hollywood North and the transition from Theatre to Film and TV happened instantaneously for my acting career,” he said, “as I sought to find the right combination between my love of the craft and also making a full-time living in the entertainment industry.”
But Tae’s success didn’t arise just from luck. “Stubbornness defines my career,” he said. “Every step of the way, I refused to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
The challenges of a career in the arts were compounded for Tae, with his Asian, Queer, and Canadian identities. “Every roadblock made me more and more unique in how I found success,” he said. “Since I had chosen to take this path in life to pursue creative endeavors, the difficulties only added further nourishment towards my goals.”
Tae finds himself equally inspired by work in theatre, film, media, software, or education. “I needed to tell stories of East meets West, of society’s underdogs, of fringe lives worth living as long as no one else was harmed,” he insisted. “I have been blessed with a great life, and so it has been my responsibility to do something with it, and give back to a community that embraced me.”
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Tae visited Seattle every year. “I love it there,” he enthused. “If you can help bring my work or my play to any theatre company in Seattle, I’ll be there in less than two hours.”
But back in Vancouver, Tae describes his primary passion as empowering and mentoring actors at his own acting studio, Sky Corner Academy. “One of the actors I’ve coached for over ten years now, Darren Mann, is also my writing partner,” Tae said. “He’s a three-time Leo Award winning actor, recently starring in feature films opposite Morgan Freeman and Dermot Mulroney, and soon premiering in the Yellowstone prequel, 1923, next to Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren.”
Tae is also happy to share his expertise and invites actors to reach out for advice. “Readers who love stories and content just awkwardly and slightly right and left of mainstream,” he beckons, “please keep an eye out for My Little Tomato and other projects soon to come!”
My Little Tomato runs March 9 to 19 at The Cultch’s Historic Theatre, 1895 Venables Street, Vancouver, BC.