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The multitalented Mirla Criste talks "Miss Saigon," working in Wilmington, and the future of her craft

Mirla Criste is an actor, writer, director, choreographer, vocal coach, producer, composer, and teacher.
Chris Brehmer
Mirla Criste is an actor, writer, director, choreographer, vocal coach, producer, composer, and teacher.

This week, WHQR’s arts reporter Demia Avery interviewed Mirla Criste — a multi-talented artist who made her Broadway debut as part of Miss Saigon’s original cast and won a 2023 best actress award in Wilmington In this excerpt from their interview, Criste discusses her career — and the future of representation in casting.

*This project was supported by the North Carolina Arts Council, a Division for the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

Listen to Demia Avery's full interview with Mirla Criste

Mirla Criste's bio, from her website:

Mirla Criste has written, directed, choreographed, vocal-coached, produced, designed, composed for and performed in many years of professional film, television, concert dance, and the dramatic and musical stage.

As a young actor in New York City, Mirla played lead and featured roles in a variety of classical and contemporary dramas, musicals, films and commercials before making her Broadway debut in the original cast of Miss Saigon.

Mirla has theatre degrees from Oberlin College and the University of California Irvine, and has designed and taught acting, voice and movement courses, full- and part-time, for a number of theatre programs all over the country.

In the Fall of 2013, Mirla dove headlong into Wilmington's theatre Community. Since then, she has directed, choreographed and performed in theatre productions with a number of area organizations. Mirla has been nominated for an Encore Magazine Award, a Thalian Association Award and eight Wilmington Theatre Awards in a variety of categories, with three wins.

Mirla's 2023 projects included playing the tile role in Big Dawg Production's June production of playwright Lloyd Suh's acclaimed play, The Chinese Lady, for which she won the 2023 Wilmington Theatre Award for Best Actress in a Play. Mirla also served as filmmaker on Theatre for All's dance/film collaborative piece, Every Body, in November's Dancealorus showcase.

In July 2024, Mirla will join the cast of Jacob Joyner's independent feature, Clementine Rodeo, in the role of Ady Bell.

Demia Avery: She is an actor, writer, director, choreographer, vocal coach, producer, composer, teacher, and so much more. Please welcome Mirla Criste

Mirla Criste: I'm very happy to be here.

DA: So listen, Mirla, you have so many talents. We will have to peel some of these layers back a little and focus in on just a few, because otherwise we will be here until tomorrow. So let's just start with your early beginnings in acting. So can you tell us about your first acting role and how it influenced your career path?

MC: Hmm, my first acting role. Let's see. I wonder if I should tell you about the one that I did when I was, I think, six years old, in the Philippines. My sister and I got to play the daughters of a prominent figure who was about to be murdered, and we were all about to be murdered. And all we got to do, run screaming across the stage, and we were supposed to, supposed to be killed at the at the end off stage. So that was maybe my very first quote, unquote, acting job.

DA: You studied theater in California, but a lot of your theatrical success came from New York, especially making your Broadway debut and the original cast of Miss Saigon. So tell us a little bit about your experience with that.

MC: Well, I would say maybe it was sort of the most exciting, maybe the pinnacle of my professional career. I guess, I guess you could argue that would have been it. It was a beast. It was this huge Broadway spectacle from the kind of British tradition of British composers bringing their musicals over. Jonathan Pryce was the lead engineer – he played the engineer. And then Lea Salonga, who was found in the Philippines, as a matter of fact, when they went to find Asian people who could sing English language songs, and they, Alain Boublil, told me that it was sort of like finding this kind of treasure trove, because everyone in the Philippines speaks English, right? We were on Broadway, and I was lucky to get into the first cast. That was actually an interesting ordeal. I think I auditioned 10 times or something. How amazing. It was interesting. And then finally, one day, Vincent [G. Liff] said, ‘you don't have to audition anymore,’ – he was the casting director – ‘You don't have to audition anymore. Mirla, we're gonna call you back.’ And in fact, he did.

DA: So how did you end up here in Wilmington?

MC: My husband got a job in Wilmington, and I joined him six months after he got here, because I was finishing up a contract, a teaching contract in Georgia. And we have now been here 13 years or – well, it'll be 13 years for me in August.

DA: You know, I understand that you won the 2023 Wilmington Theater Award for Best Actress –

MC: I did.

DA: So that has to be awesome. So just tell me what your experience – the difference between New York and here, and how do you like the theater experience here?

MC: Well, let me just say that I hadn't won any awards for acting until I got here. So that's definitely one difference that I can say, right? It's a bit less stressful, I would say, in general, the theater scene here. Okay, I think people are a little less How do I say this a little less rule based, and I think possibly people have a little more fun.

DA: Now, before we wrap this up, is there anything that you would like to leave with us to maybe inspire another actress, or anyone that's interested in the arts.

MC: Don't give up! In my speech accepting my theater award last year, I mentioned that Hollywood, Broadway, television have really opened up casting and are taking lots and lots of risks to put people of color and people of non-binary genders and people of disability into prominent roles in the American theater, film, and television, and that's been extremely exciting, something I would love to take advantage of. It seems to be the time to be an Asian actress! But I just want to encourage the Wilmington theater scene, as well as the theater and film scene and Hollywood scene outside of Wilmington, especially in the South, to take that kind of chance.

The funniest thing is that I have always felt that casting should be open, except maybe in situations in which race is germane, is important, you know, a parent and a child relationship maybe should be cast authentically. I had a friend from the very liberal school that I went to, Oberlin College, I had a friend from there, a classmate from there, tell me that, no, that doesn't matter either, that it should always be open. It doesn't matter if the child is a different race than the parent, and so that's something I'm still wrapping my head around. But I'm just thinking now, what if theater and film and television got to that exciting point in which the only thing that mattered was your level of talent? What if that was the only thing, that mattered, as far as getting cast is concerned, that would really be –

DA: How amazing would that be –

MC: Amazing. Really, really amazing. Then we could really explore one another's space, and then all spaces would then be open, and there would no longer be this kind of block, this wall. I don't know if that'll ever happen, but –

DA: But it sounds great.

MC: But it sounds really great, exciting.

DA: Alright, guys, I want to thank Mirla Criste for joining us today. This is Damia Avery for WHQR.

Demia has over 20 years of entertainment experience. She has worked in almost every facet of the entertainment industry, from radio promotions to talent coordinator, publicist, podcasting, and now to journalism.

In addition, Demia is co-founder of The Avery Agency, a SAG franchised talent agency located in Atlanta, GA, alongside her partner/sister, Gerra Avery.

Demia is the author of two motivational eBooks entitled, "The Roadblock is You," and"Meditations For the Right Now", as well as a twice being a nominee for the Delaware Black Awards and recently a Wilmington Chamber of Commerce Minority Excellence in Business Award nominee.

Lastly, Demia is CEO/Host of the local podcast Whatchu’Doin NC (formerly Whatchu Doin Wilmington).