Juanita champions diversity through acting roles

Oct 20, 2023

TAFE SA acting graduate Juanita Navas-Nguyen

Over the past three years, actor Juanita Navas-Nguyen has inhabited a range of characters taking on their causes and concerns, but her next role will be more personal.

In a new show for Adelaide Fringe 2024, Juanita, who is a TAFE SA acting graduate, will reflect on her bi-racial identity in a conversational one-person performance entitled Confessions of a Boba Liberalist.

“There are moments in my life where I’ve felt I’ve had to navigate my identity. I feel I’m perceived as ‘one half’ of my race and the other part gets pushed aside,” she says.

“I think it’s important to be able to create your own work and I feel like I need to do this.”

Juanita completed an Advanced Diploma of Acting at TAFE SA’s Adelaide College of the Arts (AC Arts) at the end of 2020.

Although primed for the “sporadic nature” of work in the performing arts field, she says she has been fortunate to be in regular demand, beginning with a six-month tour of Bluey’s Big Play in 2021.

She’s been part of the cast of three State Theatre Company of South Australia productions – Eureka Day, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Single Asian Female - and performed in Theatre Republic’s incubator project Future: Present 2.0.

While she is grateful for all the projects she’s worked on, she says appearing in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 2022 was a highlight.

“In the theatre world, it’s an extremely famous play but I’d never actually considered that I’d be part of that show because it traditionally has an all-white cast,” she says.

“Director Margaret Harvey made the choice to cast people of colour and it was such an interesting experience to do that play.”

The production was part of Sydney Festival 2022 before travelling to Adelaide and Brisbane, and Juanita says the opportunity to perform at the famed Sydney Opera House added another element to the experience.

Juanita starred in the 2022 production of Single Asian Female by Michelle Law, which she says was a steep learning curve but a favourite piece of work, with a script that resonated strongly.

“It’s the first script I’ve read that I’ve felt at the centre of, it was so relatable,” she says.

While it’s a family comedy set in a Chinese restaurant, at its heart are themes of racism and stereotyping and Juanita says the opportunity to bring to the stage “voices that haven’t been heard” is a strong motivator in her career.  

Reflecting on her time at drama school, Juanita says studying at AC Arts enabled her to make industry connections and start building a professional network.

“My teachers and mentors were actively working in the industry and that was really important,” she says.

“We also had people from the industry come and see our work at AC Arts and I remember my first introduction to the State Theatre Company was in second year when Artistic Director Mitchell Butel came to see one of our shows.

“I think the most important thing I learnt was a sense of discipline. When you’re cast in a show the work is constant and it’s not just about learning lines, there’s a more creative, less definable side of the job that you need to work on for any role.”

More information about the Advanced Diploma of Acting is on the TAFE SA website. Auditions for entry into the course in 2024 will be held on 27 November and 11 December.