In Part four of a series of interviews with the cast of Adventure Theatre MTC’s The Emperor’s Nightingale meet Andrew Quilpa.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform on our local stages.
Andrew: My name is Andrew Quilpa; I have lived in the DMV area for almost 4 years and have been active in the theatre scene for about 3 years. I originally came to the area thanks to Americorps, and did service with Byte Back, which provides IT training to DC residents in need. My most recent credits include “Riot” at The Highwood Theatre and “The Little Crane and The Long Journey” which was part of the 2015 Capital Fringe. I am also a team member of Mr. Lifeguard, Laugh Index Theatre’s long form improv team.
Why did you want to become a member of the cast of The Emperor’s Nightingale? What moved you the most when you read the script?
I wanted to be a cast member for this project because I did a previous show for young audiences and wanted to do more shows like that. I really enjoy doing shows for children because they are the most unabashed critics; if they like something (or don’t!) they will certainly let you know! When I heard Adventure Theatre was planning on featuring this show with an all-Asian American cast, I knew I had to at least audition! When I first read the script, what really caught my attention besides the split-personality Tiger was how the competition between the brothers ultimately did not focus on a battle of wits and knowledge, but rather which brother ended up acting upon the knowledge they had collected.
Who do you play in the show and how do you relate to these characters?
I play Prince Hongshi, Bao’s older brother as well as the Tiger Tail. I found Hongshi relatable in a few ways. Like Hongshi, I am an older brother, who definitely saw his younger sibling as a rival early on. When we were younger, my sister and I were both enrolled in piano lessons, but eventually she would overcome me skill-wise, even playing the songs I found difficult with ease! You can bet younger me was jealous of that! My sister also speaks Ilocano (a dialect in the Philippines) a lot better than me, which impresses many family members who wonder when I will ever learn to actually say things correctly! I can also relate to Hongshi’s ambition. As an actor, I audition for roles and want to be recognized; much like Hongshi wanting to show his father he is the better emperor, I do my best to show I am the best person for the role. Finally, Hongshi loves technology, and I am similarly fascinated by high-tech gizmos.
When it comes to Tiger Tail, I relate to his silliness and frivolity. He also likes a good variety of meat like the carnivore he is; I felt the same way last time I was at a Korean barbecue joint! Ultimately, Tiger Tail is a friendly guy whose head (tail?) is in the clouds, is always at the side of his best buddy (Tiger Head) and loves his steak.
What personal experiences did you bring with you that helped you prepare for your roles? Did you base your performances on anyone you know-a friend or family member or someone else?
While reading Hongshi, I couldn’t help but remember some of my earliest experiences teasing my younger sister, so I brought some of that out. While I never pulled my sister’s ears (at least not that I remember!) I definitely did mean things like make fun of her clothes and claim “older sibling status” to get a lion’s share of dessert. Spoiler: we are totally close now that we are older! The other main source of inspiration for Hongshi was Dante Basko’s portrayal of Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender. I saw definite parallels in that they are both hotheaded, confrontational young princes born into privilege and guided by their own respective mentors. I did choose to portray his “fighting style” as a mix of earthbending stomps and stances with a mix of firebending fury!
A lot of inspiration for Tiger Tail’s character came from my housecat, Earl Grey. I spent a good amount of time just watching his tail, especially whenever anything piqued his interest. The way it flitted around but also formed certain shapes made it seem as if it spoke its own language. The other source of inspiration for Tail came after I watched Zootopia. Nate Torrence’s portrayal of the cheetah Officer Benjamin Clawhauser was so high-energy and sociable that I found it a perfect contrast to the more level-‘headed’ Tiger Head (played by the amazingly talented Jonathan Frye).
What lessons can young theatregoers and their parents learn while watching this show?
One of the first big lessons is definitely that each of us does have the ability to have an impact on the world; we don’t have to wait to be President or a grown-up to have a positive impact on the lives of others -it can start in our families and our classrooms. Technology is not everything; in an age where our phones and televisions are smart we can sometimes forget the importance of actual human interaction and actually experiencing things for ourselves.
Director Natsu Onoda Power is known for creating stunning visuals in her work. Tell me about how the visuals tell the story and what impresses you most about the look and design of the show?
Design-wise, everything came together to evoke images of China under the Qing Dynasty. There was a real sense of place and history when I first saw the pagodas topping the set! From the Imperial Palace to Tiger Valley, the projections were for me the most visually impressive aspect of the show. The shadow puppet scene was a spectacle that has to be seen to be believed. Kenny Neal’s sound design and scoring for the show also gave everything that final bit of musical awesomeness. A big shoutout to Hana S. Kim for the set design and projections as well as costume designer Deb Kim Sivigny, props designer Dre M. Moore, light designer Marie Yokoyama for providing some incredible visuals to the show -not to mention Natsu for bringing everything together!\
How would you describe Natsu’s style of direction and how has she helped you to mold and enrich your performances?
Natsu has a great eye for details. For instance, if you missed a cue and even try to cover it up (guilty as charged), she will let you know and have you repeat things until you get it to where it needs to be. I always found it funny in that she used a grading scale, and if she said it was a A-, you knew you had to do it again! On the opposite end, if there is something that you did that she liked, she will definitely let you know! That being said, Natsu was never a micromanager; she placed trust in the artists, which allowed us to freely explore our characters. For instance, I was given a lot of freedom to play with Tiger Tail’s movements and Brett and I did much of the choreography for the final fight between Hongshi and Bao. She also made it a point for us to get as familiar with props and music as soon as possible. I admire Natsu’s specific vision she brought to the project as a whole as well as the trust she placed in each individual artist; considering we had only two weeks of rehearsal, this was one of the smoothest and dare I say most enjoyable rehearsal periods I have ever had!
What is your favorite costume of Deb Kim Sivigny’s that you are wearing in the show and what is your favorite that someone else is wearing and why?
Deb did a really impressive job! Of the three costumes I wear, I have to say Prince Hongshi’s red jacket is my favorite. The red color with dragon patterning and gold highlights is simply stunning.The jacket is very comfortable to wear, and the fabric is breathable and stretchy-really useful during Hongshi’s onstage tantrums or during the fight with Bao. It also helps that every time I put it on, I really do feel like I could be a firebender (Avatar Nerd here, obviously)!
In terms of other characters, I would have to say Minister Wu’s costume takes the cake. I love his hat and spectacles!
How would you describe Stella Choi’s choreography and what were some of the challenges you have had learning it?
Stella is an amazing performer of traditional Chinese dance, so I was very honored to have worked with her. Stella, like Natsu, has a very good eye for detail. I remember when we showed her some initial choreography, and she remarked that one of the “traditional” poses the guys did was actually traditionally for women! Stella places a lot of importance on practice, and we drilled her choreography until it was pretty much second nature. This was especially important for someone like me, who admittedly has a small amount of dance experience. Stella’s choreography definitely took the characters into account and it was very cool to see Nadine’s transformation into Nightingale thanks to the choreography Stella helped with. Stella’s choreography for the Lion/ Tiger dancing was invaluable, and I am glad I can add that to my list of skills!
Have you ever played Pong Hau K’i before you got involved in the production, and now that you have had new experience, how would you rate yourself (from 1-5) as a player?
2-fair but nothing to brag about
4-damn good-I challenge you to play with me!
5-Where can I try out for the Pong Hau K’i Olympics?
I love board games but never played this before. I can now say that I am at least a 4! There’s a version you can play online.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing The Emperor’s Nightingale?
At some point during the show, Bao becomes obsessed with the mechanical bird, much like we as a society are becoming obsessed with our smart phones and tablets. Don’t let life just pass you by while staring at screens, and remember to interact with your friends and family (in-person!) every now and then! That being said, thanks for seeing the show and being a great audience!
Running Time: 55 minutes, with no intermission.
The Emperor’s Nightingale plays through May 30, 2016 at Adventure Theatre MTC – 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, in Glen Echo, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 634-2270, or purchase them online.
Kendall Mostafavi’s review of The Emperor’s Nightingale on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Meet the Cast of Adventure Theatre MTC’s ‘The Emperor’s Nightingale’: Part 1: Nadine Rousseau.
Meet the Cast of Adventure Theatre MTC’s ‘The Emperor’s Nightingale’: Part 2: Sue Jin Song.
Meet the Cast of Adventure Theatre MTC’s ‘The Emperor’s Nightingale’: Part 3: Jonathan Frye.
Meet the Cast of Adventure Theatre MTC’s “The Emperor’s Nightingale’: Part 4: Andrew Quilpa.