Former golfer teaches theater

By Sergio Berrueta

Golfing was always a passion for East Los Angeles Theatre Arts Department instructor Natalie Wong before she came to ELAC to help teach the community she lived in.

Wong built a small, yet illustrious professional career in golfing for 10 years while attending Yale University.

“I played junior golf, high school golf, college golf (at Yale) and mini-tour golf. Pretty much, every level of golf except for the highest level, so I retired.  It was something on the side,” Wong said.

Wong’s father, Bing Wong, taught her the sport of golf at a young age.

Wong played golf since she was 11-years-old.  She won events during middle school, high school and college.

“On the pro side, I was a really steady player. I would always make the cut and finish around 20th or 30th.  My best finish was finishing 2nd in an event. I didn’t win it and I didn’t really make it onto the big tour,” Wong said.

Wong started here after getting offered a position at Mission College’s financial aid office, but ultimately ended making the move to be a part of the ELAC theatre arts team.

“I did not want to be part of financial aid and could not make the drive.  I eventually got interviewed for two positions here and thought that theatre (department) would be fun,” Wong said.

Wong was hired as a secretary despite not having a background in theatre.

“I could have gotten hired for the English Department or the Journalism Department.  Luckily, the department was big enough being alongside Speech and Broadcasting in order to get someone like me.

“I have learned so much. I totally did not look at this part of education or even the arts at all growing up – since my parents were never around theatre people,” Wong said.

Rodney Scott, a fellow professor who works with Wong in the Theatre Department, says that the addition of Wong to the department has boosted morale.

“She is hardworking, very organized, efficient and a good personal role model. She gets along with everyone here and helps us. There is not a teacher in this department that can say she is not a benefit. We all recognize her worth to us,” Scott said.

With the new experience, Wong found theatre to be similar to the work that one may find in the real world.

“We are rehearsing and working long hours. It is a fun department and feels real compared to sitting down, taking notes and doing examinations. It prepares you for what is out there,” Wong said.

Wong grew up in the East Los Angeles area in Montebello and attended Montebello High School. After high school, Wong studied at Yale and majored in Geology.

“I was actually thinking of majoring in geology in order to teach geology here at ELAC.  I thought I would be more successful in the science field since all these smart people were taking English and History.

“I switched majors after realizing it was not for me, but I always enjoyed the aspect of nature and the environment,” Wong said.

At Yale, Wong went from the familiar sights of Southern California to the yet-to-be discovered Connecticut.

“It was really different, very academic. The architecture is different with it being from the 18th Century.  The people are different.  There is a big culture shock, and you just have to grow up.

“You are pushed out of California, you have no one to depend on, so you must make friends. It was hard, but fun. Going back after freshman year – you think ‘wow, I got this, I can do this’ and it makes you really grow.”

Wong takes classes alongside her occupation at ELAC diving into a bit of everything as a modern Renaissance woman from stage lighting to house management.

“The first semester I was at ELAC, I took stage management because I wanted to learn something about the theater department. I also took Microsoft Word and Excel,” Wong said, “And every semester, I take a dance class.”

Wong had a role as the Other Woman in the Spring production of the thriller Dead Man’s Cellphone, playing a mysterious femme fatale that is just one clue surrounding the mystery of the titular dead man.

Outside of ELAC, Wong is a self-made weekend warrior continuing her golfing with the Los Angeles Chinese Golfing Club and learning martial arts based self-defense at Fit from the Ground Up in Montebello.

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