Typically, doctors don’t prescribe laughter when you’re ill.
However, according to Gwendoline Yeo, a ’97 UCLA alumna who has guest starred on “Desperate Housewives” and has done voice work for “Family Guy,” laughter is the best medicine.
In her theatrical debut, Yeo will star in “Laughing With My Mouth Wide Open,” a semi-autographical story of Yeo’s life, detailing her transition from life in Singapore to America.
The one-woman show, opening on Saturday at the El Centro Theatre in Hollywood for a five-week run, emphasizes themes such as being comfortable in your own skin and breaking free of tradition, especially in a strict Asian American household.
“I was the rebellious one and the youngest of three (in my family). My parents felt like law and medicine was the only way, and I never knew you can make a living to be an artist. … We’re all works in progress, so I thought it was fun and a good story to tell,” said Yeo, who graduated as a communications studies student from UCLA.
Although being Asian American is a pervasive theme, the play focuses mainly on family. Director Mark St. Amant said he agreed that any person can connect with Yeo’s play.
“I think there’s a little dynamics of family structure and family order which everyone can relate to. You can relate in some facet. Some things will remind you of stuff that happened in your family,” St. Amant said.
The actress, who plays a grand total of 12 different characters, also incorporates her talent on the Chinese long zither (“guzheng”) into the show.
“It becomes a little bit of a fairy tale and (has) magic in the story. It becomes a character in the piece, and it grows and changes. I totally rock out on it,” Yeo said.
By day, Yeo does voice work and shoots commercials for television. But by night, Yeo polishes her show four hours a night, six days a week.
The producer of “Laughing With My Mouth Wide Open,” Gaalan Michaelson, works with Yeo nightly and said he has witnessed Yeo’s strong work ethic.
“(Yeo is) incredibly, incredibly diligent. … I think she drives herself over the edge sometimes, but in terms of not being satisfied with mediocrity and stuff that is just okay” Michaelson said. “She is really one of the hardest-working people I’ve ever come across.”
Yeo began her career shooting commercials as Miss Chinatown USA before landing voice work for cartoons and eventually larger projects.
“I liked being on set, doing voice-over work and cartoons, and then I got into TV. I loved it. I think that it was a god-given gift and it was my purpose,” Yeo said.
Currently Yeo stars in commercials for State Farm and Michael Jordan advertisements and is the first female lead in a Sony game, “SOCOM 4,” which will be released in March.
Yeo said her switch from television to theater performance is still foreign to her.
“The theater process is different from television. In TV, you shoot five pages a day, while in theater, it’s the same 40 pages over two months, (which means) a lot of rehearsal and a lot of changes,” Yeo said. “I started writing it two years ago, it started with me holding a binder and reading in front of a small audience. It’s grown a lot since then.”
Yeo said that she wants audiences to laugh and emphasized that the central goal of the performance is for audiences to relate her life story and realize that it’s all right to be different.
“When I perform in front of people, in just 70 minutes people were coming up to me, telling me it was a piece of art that moved them. I hope their hearts open and they feel less alone but feel entertained and see me,” Yeo said.