J. Elaine Marcos knew she wanted to be a performer during her awkward years for many, that would be the pre-teen to teenage years when her mother enrolled her in dance classes and performing arts camps.
I realized I had so much fun singing and dancing, loving it so much and thinking that it was so much fun to do. It was like coming out of my shell, Marcos says.
Nobody in the family pursued a career in showbusiness, although J. Elaine says that her dad, who is now a computer consultant, had a brief career in radio back in the Philippines. Her mom is a nurse.
After winning dance competitions and scholarships, she realized that she had to pursue it further to see what happens. If not, she says, she can always be an accountant.
She did not have to crunch numbers, as it turns out. Her career blossomed and she never looked back.
Born in Burlington, Ontario (Yes! Im Canadian, she remarks), Marcos grew up in this neighborhood, roughly about an eight to nine-hour drive from Toronto, where most of the Filipinos in this part of Canada live. Growing up, she did not have a lot of Asian neighbors, much more Filipinos. They would trek to Scarborough or Mississauga to be with relatives.
It wasn t until I did Miss Saigon did I really get to embrace my being a Filipino. In high school, I didnt even think of anyone else being different. We were all just kids, she says.J. Elaine remembers a friend back then who went to Filipino lessons every Sunday. He was learning Tagalog because his grandmother lived with them. Because she didnt have grandparents living with them, and their parents didnt teach them the language, J. Elaine and her brother grew up not speaking Filipino fluently.
Asked if, in hindsight, she regrets not learning the language, she let out an exasperated Yes!
I actually do. I have a Rosetta Stone at home. What an asset, not only is it very close to Spanish but your mind works better back then, it just picks things up, she says.
J. Elaine made her Broadway debut via Miss Saigon when she was about 20 years old. She studied at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York and she was working at Disney World at that time when Broadway called.
Her audition process took about four years on and off, so when she got the call, she was beyond ecstatic. She joined the cast during the tail-end of Miss Saigons fabled run on Broadway, becoming a part of the musicals last year and a half on the stage.
She also joined the cast of other Broadway musicals such as Sweet Charity, The Wedding Singer and A Chorus Line. She has also ventured into TV and film, appearing on shows 30 Rock, Rescue Me and the film Morning Glory.
Now, J. Elaine Marcos is part of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, essaying a Filipino role.
This is such a great opportunity. My agent called me and told me that they are doing Priscilla and they are looking for a feisty Filipina. Im like, okay, I am right there! she recalls.
Upon looking at the characters description, she knew she had to get the part. It also said that the character wants her own club act, shes over the top, has comedic timing, singing and dancing a plus.
Thankfully, the casting office had seen her in The Wedding Singer where she had to impersonate Imelda Marcos so they knew she had a history of doing the schtick.
The audition felt comfortable. The casting people introduced me to the creative team from Australia. Thankfully, I was called for a callback, she says.Now, she is known as Broadways ping-pong lady. No spoilers here, so if you are in New York, run to the Palace Theatre (or TKTS across the street) and try to get tickets for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
There was a number of Filipinos in the audience when we watched and biases aside, J. Elaine had us in stitches. The role of Cynthia which may be a bit caricature-like fit her to a T. Her timing was perfect and her movements were just incredibly funny. Plus, she gets to deliver the crispiest Filipino curse ever. Yes, on a Broadway stage, every single night.
After I say that, I get a sense of how many Filipinos are in the audience or how many of them have heard the phrase or are familiar with the phrase because they have Filipino friends. I have a blast every time, she says laughing.
As a performer, she knows that theres a fine line between over the top and over-acting, between hilarious and irritating, and thats the line she treads in every performance. For ably doing so, she gets rewarded with nice words and accolades and she is grateful when people tag her as a scene-stealer.
Asked what the best part of her job is, J. Elaine rattled off her reasons one by one.
The highs of being silly, happy and fun. The highs of going to an audition and being nervous and scared at the same time. Just performing and having that blood rushing through your veins. There are a lot of lows but there are lots of highs as well, she says.
For now, these highs J. Elaine mentioned are the reasons why she cant imagine herself doing anything else. These are also the same reasons why she wakes up with a big smile every single day because for her, going to the theater is not work, its her lifestyle.