American Artist: Kim Montelibano Heil: Aiming to Fill American Scenes with Diversity

Kim Montelibano Heil was not born in America, but she believes her quarter-century work in American theaters, her Asian heritage, and her global outlook have prepared her to help usher in the next generation of American actors. that will better reflect the diversity of this nation. .

In May, the Spring Valley resident, 46, announced on social media that she was chasing her dream of starting The Nuance, her own casting and consulting agency that will focus on helping people of color pursue a career in the arts. Last month, she also accepted a newly created position as associate producer at the Old Globe. During this time, she will continue to work at the San Diego Repertory Theater, where she has been an associate producer and casting director since 2017. She also recently joined the Casting Society of America, which earned her a position earlier this year as as a casting director for a new musical. adaptation of the Chinese film “Farewell my concubine”.

Montelibano Heil said the pandemic gave him leeway to start tying all the threads of his education, career and interests. But it took a tragedy, the suicide of his brother, to clarify the vision for his future.

“What grief does is it forces you to stop doing the things that are no longer productive and pay attention to the things that really matter. I feel like I would take it all back if I could. new to have my brother, “she said.” But he would be proud of me. If this is the result of grieving, it is his gift, his life and what he has done for me.

Kim Montelibano Heil, one of the two new associate producers of The Old Globe.

(KC Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Born in the Philippines to Filipino parents, Montelibano Heil was in second grade when her family moved to Indonesia. There she attended the Jakarta Intercultural School, a private preparatory school for international expatriates. On the positive side, she grew up seeing wealth and privilege evenly distributed among children of all ethnicities. But on the negative side, she was exposed to racist stereotypes about Asian women who appreciated pale skin tones and Eurocentric facial features.

After graduating from high school in Jakarta in 1992, she got her green card and moved to Malibu to attend Pepperdine University. Her passions were theater and dance, but as a child of Asian immigrant parents, she felt compelled to pursue a more stable career like finance, engineering or science. Reluctantly, she studied psychology as she was always curious about people, but after graduating she hated the jobs offered to her in the field.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do other than be with theater people, but it was so taboo,” she said. “I was trying to be an adult, but my father saw that I was unhappy. He could see that I wasn’t living my best life.

So, with her father’s blessing, she auditioned for an unpaid role in a community theater production in Los Angeles. This led her to East West Players, a small company of the time that has since grown into one of the first Asian American theaters in America. Over the next five years, she performed and volunteered for the company, which is dedicated to ending racist portrayals of Asians on television and in movies.

“They gave me a community,” she said. “I was so upset to find my tribe, but this time it wasn’t just theater people but theater people who looked like me and understood what it meant to be an Asian actor in this impenetrable industry.”

In August 2001, she moved to Manhattan to study at New York University for a Masters in Performance Studies. A month later, the terrorist attacks of September 11 took place. She said the tragedy gave students in her class a sense of unity and purpose.

“It gave the whole experience that urgency and added importance,” she said. “It wasn’t just about telling stories, but about trying to uplift audiences in a way that you were brought up as an artist.”

While in New York City, she gave up comedy to focus on theater administration. She has worked for Asian-American theater company Second Generation and for Broadway producers Arielle Tepper Madover and Bill Haber. She also met her future husband, actor Jason Heil, and during a 2003 vacation visit to her parents’ house in Chula Vista, they decided to move to San Diego. A few weeks after arriving in 2004, she landed a job at the Old Globe as an artistic and literary associate. In nine years there, she rose to the position of Manager of Education Programs.

In 2013, she was hired as Director of Education at the San Diego Junior Theater. And three years later, she moved to the San Diego Repertory. Shortly after arriving at the Rep, Montelibano’s brother Heil committed suicide in 2017. She coped with his grief inadvertently, listening for hours and hours to educational podcasts.

“They brought me back to this place where I grew up in Indonesia where I absorbed all these cultures around me,” she said. “It made me recognize how unique my perspective was, not only as a woman, but as a mother, a person of color and a person who developed a very strong sense of motivating people by culture, community and their own identity. “

With this awareness, Montelibano Heil began working with other advocates like La Jolla Playhouse Production Manager Eric Keen-Louie to teach, emphasize and encourage the importance of a culturally appropriate cast. This work led to the development of The Nuance, which Montelibano Heil initially launched in May 2020 on Instagram: @ thenuance2020.

Over the past year, she has published over three dozen interviews with artists of color in theater, music and the arts that prove it is possible to make a living in their chosen field. From this launch pad, she hopes to create The Nuance agency within the next 12 months.

Montelibano Heil has said it could take a decade for true diversity to fully infiltrate the industry, but she is optimistic that this will happen as she and her two theater-loving children – Katrina, 15, and Tristan, 12 years old – will be grown up. Her confidence comes from the fact that she has seen the progress made by youth organizations like the San Diego Junior Theater in choosing actors of different diversity and abilities.

“The theater has always been a place of liberation for young people, where they can truly be themselves,” she said. “Somehow there was just a mismatch between the inclusion that occurs organically and naturally in youth theater and professional theater. There is a way to do this. I just think some people can’t quite see it yet.

Kim Montelibano Heil

Profession: Associate Producer and Casting Director, San Diego Repertory Theater; and associate producer, The Old Globe

Age: 46

Place of birth: Philippines

Favorite movie scene: Hearing the familiar click of women moving mahjong tiles around a board in the opening scene of “The Joy Luck Club” made her cry because she felt “seen” as an Asian woman.

And after: Launch of The Nuance, a casting agency that will focus on portraying black, indigenous and colored artists

Online: Instagram: @ thenuance2020;

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