These words have been the guiding light of Filipino American actress Christine Bunuan both professionally and personally. They make up a theme that resonates in her work as storyteller, capturing emotion and human values in real and relatable ways. She has the ability to fully engage with those around her, and this allows her to be a better performer and person.
Hailing from a family oriented towards the sciences, Bunuan found herself in an unconventional position as her interest leaned to the creative arts. Her father was an engineer for Anheuser Busch; her brother is now working in the same field and company. Her mother was a homemaker while also working in customer service, whereas her sister is currently a nurse. Her parents, made the move from the Philippines to California in the ‘70s and, with much sacrifice, created a home life for their children in the United States
Bunuan fondly recalls childhood memories filled with extensive road trips that reinforced tight familial bonds. “We had a motorhome when we were kids and would go camping in style,” she narrates. “We saw the Grand Canyon, visited Busch Gardens and took road trips up and down California to Disneyland, Universal Studios, Sea World and Hearst Castle, among others. We are a family of travelers.”
The family is currently spread out in different states; her parents--who are now retired--and sister are in California, her brother is in Florida and Bunuan is in Chicago. However, the travel bug has not left them. “Though it is hard to be apart, it is a great excuse to visit different parts of the country and we make every effort to see each other as often as possible,” she says.
Bunuan found herself inclined to the creative side at a very young age. She started singing and piano lessons at ten years old and played the clarinet. Theater appealed to her when she watched The Wizard of Oz staged by a children’s theater company. “I was hooked. I thought, if they could perform, so could I,” she remembers.
She went on to act in Grease, her first musical, in high school. She eventually joined the performing-arts program at Solano Community College in Fairfield, California, and pursued a bachelor’s degree in acting at the Theater School of DePaul University in Chicago. From thereon, she has considered Chicago home.
Acting has fulfilled a sense of identity through the years for Bunuan. “I feel my purpose is to bring laughter into people’s lives, to teach empathy, to show that we are all equal and that we can learn and embrace our differences and similarities,” she notes.
Her personal life echoes her perspective on cultural assimilation. She is married to fellow actor, Sean Patrick Fawcett, who is of Irish-Jewish heritage. So while she keeps her Filipino roots close to her heart, Bunuan also demonstrates an inclusive perspective towards how humanity, regardless of belief, can come together. “We celebrate my Catholic beliefs and his Jewish beliefs by honoring each other, celebrating our different cultures, embracing our differences,” she says. And this outlook is self-evident in her many performances.
Her first solo show, Christmas at Christine’s, in December 2016 at Silk Road Rising, a performing arts company that tells stories through primarily Asian American and Middle Eastern American perspectives. The production was a memoir of sorts as it demonstrated her own path as a child of Filipino immigrants and how she has built a home of varying religions faiths. “My show was a story about my family, my theatre friends, and my Jewish Catholic household. It’s an immigrant story. Its a love story,” she remarks.
Some of her other roles include: Christmas Eve in Avenue Q; The Ghost of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol at The Goodman Theater; Jasmin in Aladdin at Marriott Theatre; Jade in Jade Heart at Chicago Dramatists; Calphurnia in Julius Caesar at Writers Theatre; Mary Chang in Chimerica at TimeLine Theatre; Maddie in The Hundred Dresses at Chicago Children’s Theatre; and Marcy Park in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in its first national tour.
For Bunuan, the joy she feels from performing comes from the heart; that is, she feels it a duty to be of service to the audience. She is deeply introspective with her acting approach and, ultimately, how she acts boils down to the narrative. “The story is the most important thing to serve,” she tells me. “How can I help make this story better? How can I help this director make his vision clearer? When I focus on what I have to offer to the process, it shifts nerves from anxiety to service."
At home, she leads a simple life with her husband. From reading to knitting to going for walks, Bunuan finds time to relax and clear her mind from scripts, rehearsals and takes. Music is one way she detaches. “I play my ukulele,” she says with a laugh.
There is an authenticity and easy demeanor to Bunuan. She exudes an optimism that helps her in soulful portrayals of many roles. She enjoys making people laugh and finds fulfillment in the ability to affect her audiences. “I hope that I can help people take a moment and look at life from a different perspective. I hope I make a difference in someone’s day," she says.
Every day, Bunuan is grateful that she has followed her heart and has been able to breathe theater into her daily routine. This is evident in every role that she takes on–on stage and in real life!
The author wishes to thank Almira Astudillo Gilles, Ph.D., for her assistance in the interview.
Serina Aidasani divides her time between New York and Chicago. She works in marketing communications and public relations.
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