By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
When it comes to his schedule, Shorecrest High School’s Logan Yao has it figured out most of the time. After all, he sings, dances, acts, plays piano and trumpet—on top of everything else required of a high school senior.
But when the news that he’d won one of the prestigious YoungArts foundation for the advancement of young artists, he got thrown off his timely game just a touch.
“I was getting ready for school early in the morning,” said Yao, “and didn’t realize they had announced the winners yet, but one of my friends who also applied did. She texted me saying ‘Congratulations!’ with a screenshot of the winners.
“I opened the website and saw my name. I was shocked, but super excited and happy. It was a wonderful way to start the day, and I thank my friend for telling me!”
Yao was one of only 20 students in the entire United States and the only one from Washington state to earn a 2024 YoungArts award in the category of Musical Theatre.
“I have been aware of YoungArts for several years, and also very aware of how competitive it was. When I was a junior, I decided to just go for it and applied. I was not shocked that I wasn’t a finalist, and it was helpful when they offered feedback on my audition. I was humbled and chalked it up to good learning because it was information about how my skills compared to others at a national level.
“This last year has been a huge year of growth in terms of my performance skill. Last summer, I went to a program at the University of Michigan called MPulse. After three weeks of college level training, performing in two more shows, and continuing to work with my coaches, I was curious where I would land if I applied again. I didn’t think I was going to be a finalist, so earning this is a huge honor, and everyone who has supported me played a factor in my success.”
Yao grew up half-Chinese in the Shoreline area. His first time singing in front of a crowd was in fourth grade singing “When I Grow Up” from the musical “Matilda,” with a multi-generational choir.
“In the sixth grade, I started training more seriously at KIDSTAGE at Village Theatre in Everett through their Institute program. That’s where I learned a lot of foundational skills in dancing, acting, and singing. I also take private voice and acting lessons.”
He didn’t give much thought to his ancestry at first, but an early acting experience changed that.
“In eighth grade, I was in a production of ‘In The Heights’ at Village Theatre with an all-BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) cast and production team. The first rehearsal, our director sat us all down, and we just talked about our backgrounds and experiences. I had never really thought about how being half-Chinese was important, but this opened me up to really think about the power and impact that comes from my background. They taught me how important it is to have more representation in telling our stories through this art form.
“Since then, I have been trying more and more to advocate for BIPOC voices in the theater. I proposed and created a BIPOC speaker series, bringing five local BIPOC professional theater artists to do a talk-back with young artists.”
His favorite roles through the Shorecrest drama department include the starfish Patrick Star in the “SpongeBob” musical, the clerk Cornelius Hackl in “Hello, Dolly!” and the half-mortal, half-god Percy Jackson in “The Lightning Thief.” He can’t pick a college until he finishes auditions for all of his picks, but he definitely hopes to make a career of performance.
Asked for advice to young people like himself, he summed up:
“Theater is a safe place. It’s a place where you are allowed and encouraged to explore who you are by making big, silly, and absurd choices. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but the more comfortable you are with being uncomfortable, the more enjoyable everything will be.
“At the end of the day, remember theater should be fun!”