The Making of Akoni Steinmann


In the ever-evolving and -expanding realm of the theater, where stories come to life and emotions unfold in and through captivating performances, we see young actor Akoni Steinmann stake his claim, and in the process, stand as a testament to the beautiful confluence of diverse cultural influences in the pursuit of artistic excellence.

Charting his trajectory from Thailand where he was born, his roots in the Philippines nurtured by his Filipina mother, and now carefully treading and thriving in his artistic path in the bustling streets of New York, it is with verve and passion that half-Filipino creative Akoni Steinmann‘s love for acting blossomed into what is now looking to be a flourishing career.

Looking back, at the age of 20, Steinmann, while still deeply immersed in the rigors of academia, found that the allure of Marymount Manhattan College, renowned for its liberal arts curriculum with a predominant focus on acting, dance, and musical theater, beckoned him. It was there, amidst the vibrant backdrop of New York City, where he honed his craft as an acting major.

The four-year program became a crucible of artistic exploration, offering a platform for the burgeoning talent to take on a myriad of plays, shaping his skills and cultivating a profound understanding of the theatrical arts.

Jacket, Muji. Quilted trousers, Nina Amoncio. Photographed by Edrey Paul Biteng.

Completing his education, Steinmann stood his ground and stayed in New York, immersing himself in the pulsating heartbeat of the city’s theatrical scene. His days were marked by auditions that carried the promise of opportunity and the intoxicating thrill of the stage.

The city’s theater aficionados bore witness to his growing presence on stage, where each performance was a nuanced revelation of his dedication to the craft. Steinmann’s name resonated through the hallowed halls of New York’s theater district.

In all of these, the genesis of his artistic journey can be traced back to the fifth grade when he assumed the role of Captain Hook in the musical adaptation of “Peter Pan”. Through a nascent foray into the world of performance, it laid the foundation for a passion that would later come to shape, build, and define his identity.

However, the allure of the arts temporarily took a backseat as Steinmann immersed himself in the world of sports during high school. He shares, “I was deeply into basketball, American football, and volleyball. I played all of them, and at one point, I even considered pursuing college volleyball.”

Custom ‘Mahal Kita’ shirt, Proudrace. Photographed by Edrey Paul Biteng.

But, securing the role of Warner in “Legally Blonde: The Musical” at the Mariners Theatre prompted a decision—Steinmann chose the stage over a potential college volleyball career. This turning point marked his commitment to acting and set the stage for a transformative journey.”My mom suggested I audition for ‘Legally Blonde’ actually, the musical, during my senior year of high school. I took her advice, auditioned, and ended up landing the role of Warner,” he narrates, reflecting on his beginnings.

Initially entering acting school with aspirations for film, Steinmann’s journey took an unexpected but very welcome turn. He shares, “I went into this acting school thinking, like, oh, I want to be a film actor. But when I went in there, I fell in love with theater.”

But for him, theater is more than a stepping stone; it is a profound love affair. He declares, “Theater, became, like, my first love, honestly.” The stage became his sanctuary, underscoring the deep connection he has forged with the live performance as a medium and an art form.

His words transcend mere preference, paying homage to the ephemeral beauty of live action, emphasizing the distinctiveness of theater, where each moment is unrehearsed, and spontaneity reigns supreme.

The constraints of the stage, the necessity for extensive rehearsals, and the nature and demand of live performances that go beyond the confines of the written script largely contributed to an acting style he describes as “animalistic” and profoundly immersed in at the moment. This commitment, he asserts, has subsequently enhanced his prowess as a film actor, creating a harmonious synthesis between the two mediums.

Denim pants, Nina Amoncio. Shirt (worn underneath), HLA Philippines. Custom ‘Mahal Kita’ Button-down shirt, Proudrace. Photographed by Edrey Paul Biteng

A growing force in the art of theater, the actor would then build a diverse repertoire of roles ranging from Shakespearean classics such as “All’s Well That Ends Well,” “King Lear,” “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” and “Othello” to poignant portrayals of complex roles like that in the musical “Anytown,” addressing the harrowing issue of opioid addiction. Steinmann articulates this multifaceted artistic journey as one that has contributed to the depth of his person.

Amidst this rich tapestry of roles, one production stands out, “The Skin of Our Teeth.” Steinmann vividly recounts the challenges of portraying a character undergoing complex transformation, “I had to play a 12-year-old, a 20-year-old, and then a 35-year-old in two and a half hours every night.”

Despite its brief run, to him, this role left an enduring imprint, serving as a turning point in his career. Steinmann reflects on the impact, stating, “It was the hardest and most rewarding role because, in one night, I had to play different roles and emotions. It’s unlike any training I would ever have the honor of getting into.”

Photographed by Edrey Paul Biteng

When asked about the challenge of detaching from taking on an array of roles, Steinmann articulates this delicate balance, stating, “It is sometimes hard to shake off. It takes, like, a week or something, or two, to get back into your normal routine. But it is important to create that separation between the roles you portray and yourself but as any artist would say, it is not always the easiest.”

He emphasizes the importance of returning to oneself despite this deep, immersive experience, acknowledging the melancholy that accompanies leaving a character behind and the necessity of grounding in life outside the role. Speaking with him, there’s a sense of self-assuredness and understanding that this is the nature of the world he seeks to be thrust into.

On this, he says he continues to draw inspiration from iconic actors such as Eddie Redmayne, Bradley Cooper, and Daniel Day-Lewis. And with his body of work continuously beefing up, with more and more performances tucked under his belt, there sure is no looking back.

Photographed by Edrey Paul Biteng

As he delves into the trajectory of his career, the young actor expresses a fervent desire to deepen his involvement in film and television. Passionate about the elaborate transformation in period pieces and the art of peeling layers off complex characters, he leans into films like Shakespeare in Love, Marriage Story, and Fantastic Beasts, stating, “I want to morph into different roles.”

His aspiration encompasses an eagerness to play characters with diverse accents, motivations, and backgrounds to embrace and transform into someone else. He adds, “Eddie Redmayne’s career is one that I want to follow a lot. Like, those kind of roles he plays. He can play something that is more mainstream to the ones that are more edgy and surprising. You see that he really disappears into the role he is portraying.”

It goes to show that Steinmann is not merely an actor looking to break through the industry but an artist with a nuanced understanding of the emotional complexities inherent in inhabiting various roles with a breadth of stories to tell. The delicate interplay between immersion and detachment, coupled with an unwavering commitment to artistic evolution, defines his approach to his craft.

Getting into the best acting school in the world is a challenging feat. For Steinmann, who’s currently taking his master’s at the Old Globe and the University of San Diego, a 12-hour day filled with rehearsals, acting classes, yoga, martial arts, and voice speech lessons is typical.

Beyond acting, his artistic proclivities extends to music; he plays guitar and sings. This holistic approach underscores a seamless integration of his all of his talents and interests, creating a comprehensive and enriching artistic expression. 

Photographed by Edrey Paul Biteng

In the pursuit of consistently being the best version of himself, his decade-long experience in the industry has taught him strict discipline and time management. The extremely competitive nature of the theater industry has pushed him to make sacrifices along the way, especially for things that do not serve him in the long run.

Although driven with immense passion for his craft, Steinmann at his core is just Akoni—the guy who likes to dance and play the guitar. And key to separating all the roles he’s played from the real him is just knowing who he is and keeping himself grounded to his own values and worldview.

“I’m not going to try to be like Adam Driver or Eddie Redmayne or Daniel Day-Lewis. They’re all taken. I’m going to be Akoni. I want to be myself and understand myself, and I think that correlates into the acting. [That’s when] I can transform into Akoni, the emo guy or Akoni, like, the clown,” he furthers.

He admits that this industry could be heavy on the mind and mentally taxing, especially with its intrinsic nature of auditions and rejections. However, Steinmann sees this as a part of the constant trial that the industry entails. At the end of the day, he says getting an opportunity to audition is and will always be an integral part of the job.

Blazer and pants, Edwin Tan. Shirt (worn underneath), HLA Philippines. Photographed by Edrey Paul Biteng.

“It all boils down to knowing yourself and believing in what you do. Especially because there are some things in this industry that would require you to be alone,” Steinmann adds. As such, for him, your conviction and confidence in yourself extends to the people around you and in turn, encourages these people to believe in you.

This same conviction is what motivated him to pursue his dreams, do more and not cower amidst the pandemic. He shares that even in a time when the world turned to a standstill, he saw himself auditioning more and collected a lot of self-tapes that helped him get his name and his work out.

Steinmann adds that in the process, it is and will always be about continuously working on yourself, from taking acting classes, learning about the range of roles you sink your teeth into, and even writing. To date, he has since worked on a short film he personally wrote and collaborated with a friend that opened a whole new dimension to his artistic sensibilities, now also looking at filmmaking behind the camera.

With the riveting world of being a film actor in the horizon, he sees this as an extension of his artistry and a progression of his art. He explains that the industry is a waiting game and so he is taking steps in furthering his career. Steinmann is now eyeing making his mark in the United States, not just staying true to his theater roots, but strengthening his grasp in the world of film and television, while maintaining a close relationship with the bridges he has built and nurtured in the Philippines.

“I think the world is really your oyster. If you want to do something, just have the confidence to try it.”

Photographed by Edrey Paul Biteng

Photographed by Edrey Paul Biteng

Styling and interview by Leo Balante

Shot on location at Discovery Primea

With acknowledgments to Keren Pascual