Colombian Actor Frank Viveros Chats With El Mundo Boston
By: Elvis Jocol Lara
The Phantom of the Opera is in Boston and if you’re not excited, you should be. One of the most critically acclaimed shows of all time has received a bit of a face lift and comes to town touting impressive new set designs and lighting. After 27 years of delighting audiences, the Phantom is now better than ever.
One of the show’s strengths is its cast, and one notable member of this company is Frank Viveros. Viveros, who plays Ubaldo Piangi, is Colombian born and Brooklyn raised and finds great pride in his Latino roots. I recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with the rising actor before he shipped up to Boston and discussed everything from growing up undocumented to finding his passion in acting and, of course, the World Cup.
Growing Up Sheltered and Shy but a Passion for the Stage
Frank’s story begins like that of many Latinos which makes his journey all the more relatable and inspiring. He was born in Latin America and brought to the United States by his parents at a very early age. As a Colombian-American raised in Brooklyn, Frank struggled to straddle the cultural lines that so often present great challenges to Latino youth.
“As an immigrant, there was a shyness about me,” Frank Says. “I grew up in the shelter of my parents and they were my only friends.” Brought to America at the age of four, Frank also grew up knowing he was undocumented. Living with the constant fear of the unknown that millions of undocumented families across the country live with day to day, Viveros led a sheltered and protected life early on.
But while he struggled to find his place among his peers, he always had an inner performer that peered his head out with family. “I was the little boy who would always dance with my tias and primas. The other men were too macho to dance but I’ve always enjoyed it.” He quickly found that dancing and performing brought joy to others and in return, brought a sense of happiness to him that was difficult to find elsewhere.
Others soon took notice and began to foster his artistic expression. Frank applied – and was accepted – to the LaGuardia School of the Arts in Manhattan at the behest of an art teacher who noticed how we would light up when he performed for others. He began as a student in visual arts, but the joy he found in performing inevitably called him back to the stage. He found singing and acting to be his true vocation and made it his full pursuit. “Performing allowed me to find joy,” Frank told me.
A Lack of Diversity is no Excuse for Failure
Upon graduating from LaGuardia, Viveros went on to college, attending a school where, as many Latinos can relate, diversity was in short order. However, while college and universities across America fail to reflect the diversity of the country at large, he found the lack of diversity to be even more evident at his performing arts schools.
Even so, Frank never looked at his background as a hindrance. “From an early age, my parents never let me feel like I was less than anybody else because I was an immigrant. They taught me that with hard work and determination, anything can be accomplished. And that has made all the difference in my life.” Now a citizen, Frank graduated College determined to pursue his passion with his parent’s advice as a guiding light.
That perspective has served him well. Not surprisingly, much like college, Broadway can be a lonely place for a Latino, or a “heavy set, brown and short” actor, as Viveros describes himself with a chuckle.
Unlike in other professions, actors are very much judged and given jobs based on their appearance, and that is perfectly acceptable. If you fit the look of the traditional leading man, you’re in luck. If not, well you better be prepared to take on some not-so-glamorous jobs. Many roles are not written for men or women of diverse backgrounds which limits the roles available to talented actors such as Viveros.
“Of course the lack of diversity in theater has been a challenge in my career,” he says when asked if he has encountered difficulties because of his ethnic and racial background. “Especially when people find out I’m Colombian. They expect me to look like Sofia Vergara; light skinned and blonde. But I’m not. I could sulk and say that I could have a fantastic career if I was tall, white and skinny, but that will get me nowhere. I take great pride in what I do and consistently work towards being the best.”
The Changing Face of America is Coming to Broadway but it Needs Community Support
Despite the difficulties encountered thus far in his career, Viveros sees changing winds on Broadway that every day present more and more opportunities for Latino performers. “There is brilliant Latino talent out there; rest assured we are out there. And not only that, but there are more shows that tell our stories each and every day that are making roles available. We have had shows that have been huge hits like ‘In the Heights’ and ‘Westside Story.’ Change is coming.”
Amidst all of the positivity, however, Viveros reminds us that Latino talent needs greater support from the community to truly thrive. “We have to tell the community that we have to support our Latino actors. We have to get rid of the perception that theater and the arts are only for privileged white families. As a child, I always did my best to attend as many shows as I could, and my parents encouraged that.”
Attending shows should not be a matter of economics, either, Viveros continues, “you don’t have to break the family budget to attend a show. Lots of times you can attend a performance for as low as $20. I always recommend that families look for weeknight shows or daytime performances on weekends; those shows are always more affordable. Sure, you might not have the best seats in the house, but it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. I attended countless shows from theater balconies as a child and I always found myself fully engaged in the performance.”
“Believe me, I know what it’s like to struggle, and for that reason, even today, I will always look into the balcony after a performance and bow to the very last seat in the very last row because I was once there. And at the end of the day, I hope I’ve inspired somebody else with my performance to pursue their dreams.”
So what does Viveros recommend to aspiring young Latino actors or actresses? After all, acting, especially on stage, is not a typical career path for Latinos.
“Preparation, preparation, preparation,” Frank says. “I can’t stress that enough. I would first ask any aspiring actor, ‘are you taking classes? Are you taking it seriously?’ You have to be serious about it and respect the craft. Passion is not enough if you are not prepared. Don’t be good. Be great. Don’t be arrogant, but feel confident so you can walk into a room and know you are ready.”
Staying Ready for the Big Break
Frank embodies the spirit of hard work and preparation. He has consistently worked on his craft and stayed ready for his big break even after ten years of highs and lows. Before landing his role on the “Phantom of the Opera,” Frank worked at Disney World for two years in stage performances of the Lion King and Finding Nemo. He also performed in a variety of roles in off Broadway productions, including “Yellow Brick Road,” an Urban Spanglish retelling of the Wizard of Oz. Yet, he was not quite fulfilled in his career and was ready to abandon the stage for the camera and move to LA.
When The Phantom called, Frank was in the midst of his move to LA but excitedly accepted the opportunity. His time with the company has been a whirlwind of shows across America in cities big and small which has allowed him to get to know the country like few have.
“When we travel to each city, like we will in Boston, people don’t realize that we basically live in that city for a month or two. We kind of become locals. You find your bodega wherever you are, and you get to see the country based on its people and it is amazing!”
“So far on this tour, we’ve been to New York, Providence, Chicago, Philly, Cincinnati, and we have LA, San Francisco and Portland to come. America can be called many things, sometimes negative, but its people are so warm and welcoming. I’ve yet to have a negative experience. In fact, it might surprise people to learn that I love going to the most rural cities. They have amazing cheese!” He tells me with a laugh.
Coming to Boston
Franks says he’s never been in The Bean for more than a day, and never seen much of the city.
“My father is a huge sports fan, and I think he’ll disown me if I don’t take a picture at Fenway Park,” he confesses with a huge laugh. “But we’ll be in Boston for four weeks and I’ll definitely be a tourist for the first couple of weeks and check things out. I love the accent and I just look forward to meeting all kinds of people, especially the intellectuals. You have so many intellectuals in the city. We also do a lot of work with students in each city we visit so I always look forward to that, especially if I can work with Latino students.”
At this point I mention to him that there is a burgeoning Colombian community in East Boston. “I love that!” he exclaims. “I can’t wait to venture out there during my days off! I always love to meet the locals and especially if I can connect with other Colombians.”
Colombia en El Mundial!
Speaking of Colombia, “Los Cafeteros” have fared extremely well in this World Cup thus far. “I’m not a big sports guy but of course I’m cheering on Colombia and the US. I don’t even have to follow the games though, because my family are such huge fans that they text me after every game. To give you an idea of how serious my family is about “futbol,” my parents actually named me after two Greek players from the 1982 World Cup!”
That certainly is some serious passion and passion is something that Latinos are known for. Frank Viveros is certainly no different; his charisma and love of his craft is evident even in conversation and becomes contagious. I have little doubt that the show, and Frank’s performance, will help anybody become a fan of the arts and the Phantom. And who knows? Maybe one day, you’ll be naming your son after Frank Viveros. So make sure to check Frank out as he plays Ubaldo Piangi in the Phantom of the Opera now through July 20th at the Boston Opera House.
Elvis Jocol Lara is Founder and President of Casa Guatemala and an experienced Marketing professional who has worked with some of the world’s leading brands. A child of Guatemalan immigrants, he was born in Boston and raised in Waltham, MA. Follow him on Twitter @ElChapin.