Artfully curated by Culturadar
August 19, 2014
"DJ" Kelvin Moon Loh gets the party started in HERE LIES LOVE
Here Lies Love, the immersive downtown musical from David Byrne and Alex Timbers, features a hard working and magnetic ensemble who play multiple roles around leads Ruthie Ann Miles and Jose Llana. Cast member Kelvin Moon Loh, however, has a rather unique role. As the “DJ” in the nightclub environment, he opens the show with a high energy welcome that sets the tone for the evening—and closes the show with one of the evening’s most memorable numbers. Serving as our guide, he takes us on an amazing journey to the Philippines and the world of Imelda Marcos. The multi-talented performer was recently cast in the upcoming musical Side Show, where he will make his Broadway debut this fall.
Culturadar sat down with Kelvin to talk about his experience working on Here Lies Love.
Culturadar: You seem to have many talents -actor, DJ, singer, guitar player, etc. What is your musical and performing background?
Kelvin Moon Loh: You know, I was just one of those kids in school. I wanted to be involved in every club and extracurricular activity I could- anything that was outside the normal math and science. I would sneak off to the music practice rooms and eat my lunch on a piano bench. It seems kind of sad from the outside, but there was actually a whole group of music “nerds” who did it. That’s where it started and at some point I took whatever I was working on in the practice rooms and put it on a stage and never left.
CR: How did you become involved with Here Lies Love?
KML: Third times a charm, huh? I had auditioned for two of the out of town try-outs and I distinctly remember the creative team keeping me longer but with a face of “I like this kid, but we have nowhere to put him”. Or maybe I was just really terrible? Hah. My part in Here Lies Love was new to the production for the run at the Public. They brought me in again and boom!
CR: Describe your role in the show. You seem to be the host for the evening, the person guiding us through this journey. How was your "character" developed?
KML: My role in the show is the DJ, kind of the hype man for the show. I sometimes think of him as a really, really cool bar mitzvah hired dancer? You know, the guy whose paid to dance the biggest so that everyone else doesn’t feel bad about getting their groove on. I spent a lot of time talking with our amazing director, Alex Timbers about how to make the part functional for our immersive experience and uniquely authentic in terms of coming to a disco- let alone a Filipino disco about dictators and their wives. For weeks before, I was told to just sit and take in the music- bop along and groove with it. My headphones are directly plugged into the music every night. The bopping came naturally. As for the DJ turn at the end of the show- well, that’s a secret you’ll have to come to show to see for yourself.
Photo by Joan Marcus
CR: You have the crucial role of getting the audience in the mood for the participatory nature of this show. How do you work up the crowd? Are there times when the audience won't cooperate and if so, how do handle this? Has anything surprised you about how audiences are reacting to the show?
KML: The audiences are primed for the experience they’re about to see. I think theater audiences are savvy and have done their research. A general disclaimer for our show, even as you buy tickets, is “wear comfortable shoes.” But regardless, I believe energy to be an infectious thing and inherently everyone wants to have a good time. That’s what I bring to the microphone every night and the audiences have been great and responsive!
As far as my view of the show, I always get the bird’s eye. My favorite moments are watching the audience transform themselves from scene to scene. Sometimes, they’re disco club go-ers and in an instant they take form as a bold and passionate crowd at a political rally. Immersive and participatory theater where everyone is game to play!
CR: This show is so unique in its staging and 360 performance space. What was it like to rehearse such a show?
KML: You just have to do it in the space. As an audience member, the space transforms and disorients on purpose. The actors shouldn’t feel that way and the only way to create the show was doing it on the physical stage we perform on every night. This is the luxury of rehearsing at the Public Theatre under Oskar Eustis. He gave us the time and resources to really nurture the piece without pressure to get it done but instead to get it right. He knew it was new and just needed to find its legs. Well, we’re off and running now!
CR: Tell us about working with David Byrne and Alex Timbers. Was Byrne very involved with the development of the piece?
KML: There was rarely a day (earlier in the run) that David and Alex weren’t dancing along in the audience during the show. These men are geniuses at work and truly believe that theatre is a living and breathing art form. The music is layered and complex- these two obsessed over transitional moments, which take up stage time of three seconds but they spent an hour to perfect it. They’re not afraid to experiment. They’re not afraid to fine tune. That’s what comes with vision, research, and really strong voice in creation.
I remember the first day of rehearsal; David and Alex presented us with a library of books that were used to create the show- every page lined in it’s margins with notes. There were multiple copies of books read by the same person with new notes in each. This is the quality of research necessary to create something like Here Lies Love.
CR: People seem to really become immersed in the story of the show. Given that she is such an icon, did it surprise you that the history of Imelda Marcus could be told in this way, without employing irony or camp? Was there anything surprising about her life that you learned about?
KML: I knew virtually nothing about Imelda Marcos coming in. I think one of the major things people say as they leave the theater is that they want to know more about this time. The Marcos administration was big news in my parents’ era- so to make it relevant now is a great feat. I think as time passed there were broad strokes leftover when talking about Imelda. All I ever heard about were the shoes. But there is more significance in that this piece really points a finger at US politics and how we handle our foreign affairs. We’re installing dictators overseas as a means of policing democracy?! That seemed ludicrous to me and yet the Philippines was just another major example of that. I think the thing that surprised me most about Imelda is the cold hard facts about “Handbag Diplomacy.” You need to Wikipedia it and become genuinely shocked that this was a thing and that it actually worked.
CR: Describe what has this experience been like for you, both personally and professionally.
KML: It’s always a pleasure to work with an All-Asian company of actors and for this show to be so well received –and have no one feel tokened or marginalized—that is a major win for the Asian theatrical community. On a personal level, sometimes as an actor you feel like you’re a cog in a machine that can be replaced by any old cog. But, with the creation of Here Lies Love under our amazing creatives, producers, and crew- I feel like I’m been given the wheel for my job every night. I proudly drive high up in my DJ Booth nightly with the radio cranked all the way up!
Here Lies Love plays at The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette. For tickets and info, visit www.herelieslove.com.
Follow Kelvin Moon Loh on Twitter at @KelvinMoonLoh.
Posted at 10:03 PM