The Deputy Done It! An Interview with Student Performers Dylan Ngo and Alexis Turbat (and their dads) about The Mystery of Edwin Drood

I now swear and record the oath on this page that I nevermore will discuss this mystery with any human creature until I hold the clue to it in my hand! In a TheatreBloom exclusive interview, we’re getting clues of all sorts to help us solve the mystery of The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Symphonic Metal Edition, and just what it’s like for young performers Dylan Ngo and Alexis Turbat to play with the big boys of Landless Theatre Company in their current production of Dickens’ unfinished mystery tale turned musical. Speaking with both young performers, their fathers (the stage dads) and the company’s artistic Director, Andrew Lloyd Baughman (who also plays John Jasper in the current production), we get the inside scope on this mystery!

Let’s do a quick round robin of introductions, and then, as they say— it’s off to the races!

Dylan Ngo: Hi, my name is Dylan Ngo, I’m in seventh grade, and I go to St. John’s Episcopal School. In Edwin Drood I am the character of Deputy. I’m just learning the experience and it’s very fun.

Tom Ngo: I’m Tom Ngo, I am Dylan’s dad, you can call me a theatre dad, I guess, after working with Andrew for countless junior productions, but this is Dylan’s second Landless production. It’s been a blast. It’s occupied our summers in a fun way. We’ve met lots of different people with lots of different talents that I never thought he’d be able to meet at this young of an each. It’s been an excellent experience.

Alexis Turbat: My name is Alexis Turbat, I am ten years old, and I go to St. John’s Episcopal School and I’m in sixth grade. In Edwin Drood I play Deputy. Last year I was in Sweeney Todd and I played the role of Toby.

Vincent Turbat: I am Vincent Turbat. I am Alexis’ dad. I’m a big supporter and a big fan of what he’s done here at St. John’s and at Landless Theatre.

Andrew Lloyd Baughman: I’m Andy Baughman, the Artistic Director of Landless Theatre. And I am the theatre teacher here at St. John’s Episcopal School. I’m both Alexis and Dylan’s teacher and I am in Drood as well. I play John Jasper. I’m also an Arranger for the symphonic metal portion of the show along with “The Fleet Street Collective.”

How did you guys get involved with Landless?

Andy: I scouted them.

Dylan: During an OASIS (Olney Arts School in a School), which is a class where we sing and perform for the more talented, Mr. Baughman called Alexis and I and gave us a piece from Sweeney Todd and that’s how we got started.

Did you guys have any idea what The Mystery of Edwin Drood was about before you came into it? And what do you think about it now that you’re involved with it?

Dylan: No.

Alexis: No

Dylan: But’s been really fun.

Alexis: Yeah. It’s fun and upbeat.

Dylan Ngo (left) as Prince Albert and Matthew Baughman (right) as Queen Victoria in The Mystery of Edwin DroodTom Ngo
Dylan Ngo (left) as Prince Albert and Matthew Baughman (right) as Queen Victoria in The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Tom: I had never even heard of it. I like the rock aspect that they have infused into it. I think that’s made it a little bit edgy and added excitement to it. But if you don’t anything about it you really have to focus in on the lyrics, on the dialogue, otherwise you can get lost. But the fact that it’s being done by a company with good music, it makes it easy to hone in on that. So I enjoy it.

Vincent: I too didn’t know anything about this play. I find it fun. It’s a lot of fun, but if you ask me, which I preferred? Sweeney Todd, definitely. It’s easier to follow in a way, and the kids had a nice big part in that one.

Tom: I was surprised by how much improv the show had, Edwin Drood. I’ve never really been to a play where there was that much audience interaction with a cast. They want the audience to react and that part of it is what really made it fun for me.

Andy, how did you decide you wanted to have actual youth performers involved with The Mystery of Edwin Drood?

Andy: The role of Deputy is written for a child of some age, whether it’s an eight-year-old or a 16-year old is a directorial choice. But I think it’s a little bit funnier when it’s played by someone a little bit younger because the character does engage in some stage combat. Just seeing younger kids beat up older adults is really funny.

Are you guys enjoying the stage combat?

Dylan: It’s always fun to kick a grown man.

Alexis: I learned the stage combat and it’s fun.

Do you guys like theatre in general?

Dylan: Oh yeah, especially with OASIS. We do plays with OASIS. We do a winter play and this year we’ll be doing Elf Jr. And then there’s a summer play, but we don’t know what that is until later on. Last year it was Beauty and the Beast.

Alexis: I enjoy doing shows as well. It’s always fun, especially when Mr. B directs it because he’s very intuitive.

What do you find challenging about being in a musical with adults?

Dylan: You have to fit in with everybody but still stand out.

Alexis: Well, first of all, since you’re a kid it feels like you have a little bit more responsibilities. You need to know your lines, you need to know the dance moves, otherwise everybody’s going to think, “oh, they really didn’t need him in the play.” So you always have to stand-out.

What do you stage dads find challenging about this whole experience? Is it the schedules? Juggling homework and school?

Tom: It’s nerve-wracking. It’s nerve-wracking to watch. It’s different when I watch a play with him and his peers at school versus with professionals. You can mess up at school and kind of still slide by. But if you’re messing up around professionals…well, there’s a good and a bad. The good is that you’re around professionals, they can help improv you out of the mess. But you don’t want to give that impression, you don’t want them to think you’re not up to the task. So every single show I watch is nerve-wracking, but in a fun way! If it wasn’t nerve-wracking that means it’s not interesting.

Vincent: I would agree that it’s nerve-wracking but I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for them to learn and love to play with professionals. I see them grow much faster than they would if they were not performing with these adults.

Do you guys have a favorite part of the show?

Dylan: The favorite part for me from Drood is not my part, it’s the part with the Opium Den Woman. She’s a very interesting character to say the least!

Alexis Turbat as Deputy in The Mystery of Edwin Drood Landless Theatre Company
Alexis Turbat as Deputy in The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Alexis: In the song “Off to the Races” we sing about Queen Victoria, so at the very beginning of the play before it starts, Deputy walks out with our dad from the play (actor Matthew Baughman). He dresses up as Queen Victoria and invites people up on the stage to take a Selfie with him.

Andy: Matt Baughman plays the dad character, so they’re learning the art of hammy-ness right away.

Stage Dads, what is your favorite part?

Tom: I have two! “Off to the Races” because that’s where they get to just let it lose and be a rocker. And the boys are one of the three primary singers in that song. And then at the end, it’s a very audience-participation type of thing, and the audience gets to choose the lovers. There is always the possibility that one of the boys could get chosen as a lover. And sometimes the crowd likes to have that little edginess about it. Dylan’s been chosen twice, and each time I’m like, “Oh God! I gotta record this!”

Dylan: It’s actually been three times.

Do you have a favorite moment?

Vincent: For me it’s the songs, especially the songs between Mr. B (playing John Jasper as mentioned) and Shaina (actress Shaina Kuhn, playing Rosa.) I find it very, very beautiful. I like the music; I like the songs. I really enjoy those moments. I also think they have a very good band this year. Some of the orchestrations are very nice, very catchy. The musical part is my favorite.

Andy: Actually, one of my favorite moments is with these guys. It’s when they beat up the Neville Landless character, who’s played by Andre Brown. He’s a very intimidating looking guy, so it’s hilarious when they come out and wale on him for a couple of minutes.

Why do you think Theatre Arts is an important part of your education?

Dylan: Because it makes you expand beyond what you’re comfortable with. In later years you’ll have to do projects in college where you’ll have to do it in front of your class and that will take a lot of courage to do. Also it helps free your mind with imagination that can help with all educational subjects.

Alexis: Being able to do this is really good experience. It’s really good for college applications, high school applications, and scholarships. It’s just fun overall too because you meet new people, you learn more about the theatre, you can sing better as you go along and it’s just really fun.

Stage Dads? Why is theatre an important part of your kids’ lives?

Tom: To me, when I was in school public speaking was terrifying. Even right now I’m kind of nervous just speaking with you. To me, the best way to get a child comfortable in that kind of setting is to start them young. The more they do it, the more second nature it is to them. I can’t go in front of large crowd and deliver an effective performance or speech because I’ve never had the experience to do that. Seeing Dylan do it, I know that it’s going to help him tremendously, no matter what profession it is. Everybody needs to be comfortable speaking like that, so this is really great in that regard.

Vincent: Alexis was shy and introverted. But not anymore! When he was three we started some lessons at Imagination Stage, and then they selected him to do a ten-minute demo as an actor. In that time, he totally changed, and now he’s doing a lot of singing on stage, in galas, for gigs in restaurants and pubs. He also just recorded his first single that is going to be out in a few days. As a father, I think that we support our kids in what they like to do. To me, it was very clear that what he was liking was acting, singing, and playing music. I think it helps develop the brain. All the studies show that there is a clear correlation between music and math, and the capacity to memorize and learn things more quickly. I definitely support him. Alexis knows that school comes first, that is very clear. But if he can do a career in music? Why not?

Andy, why do you think that theatre education is important?

Andy: That’s a big question. There are so many reasons that arts education is important. My short answer would be that our society is becoming so high tech the fine and performing arts are becoming more important than ever so that the next generation stays in touch with the humanities. For my long answer, check out my book Sing Out, Louise: A Parent’s Survival Guide to Raising a Drama Kid. You can find it on Amazon and Audible!

Do you guys have a favorite musical or show that you would like to do some day?

Dylan: Someday I would like to be Aladdin in the show Aladdin.

Alexis: I think it’s called Oklahoma. I really like the song “O, What a Beautiful Morning.” When I watched the Broadway version of Hugh Jackman doing it? I just love that show now. Oh! And also Grease. I watched it over my cruise last summer. I watched it too many times. I watched the original movie, I watched the live version, and the second movie too.

Stage Dads, is there is a show that you’d like to see your sons do? Or maybe if you decided to take to the stage is there a show that you’d like to do?

Tom: I’m never going to take to the stage. I don’t have the talent for that, but personally, one of my all-time favorite plays is Phantom of the Opera. Just the music alone, I could listen to it over and over. I just never get bored with it. It’s such a beautiful show. If he’s ever fortunate enough as an adult to be in any part of that show, no matter how big or small of a role, that would be a dream come true.

Vincent: For me it would be Tony in West Side Story. That would really be something.

Andy, you’ve done all of your bucket role lists, right?

Andy: Most of the best roles for me are “older guy parts” so I’m just now aging into them.

Vincent: I am interested. What is your favorite?

Andy: Jean Valjean from Les Miserables.

What would you say is the thing that you have learned from being a part of Edwin Drood? What is it teaching you?

Dylan: So, back to the love scene…it’s teaching me how to step out of my comfort zone and be a lover.

Alexis: I’m still a little bit shy when they want me to do something like the love scene. I feel a little bit uncomfortable doing that. But also, Edwin Drood is more of a group show. You have to work with other people in the ensemble. Sweeney Todd was more solo stuff and not so much dancing. So this is teaching me how to dance and how to work with other people.

Andrew Lloyd Baughman (center) as John Jasper singing "Jasper's Confession" in The Mystery of Edwin DroodAmanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
Andrew Lloyd Baughman (center) as John Jasper singing “Jasper’s Confession” in The Mystery of Edwin Drood

What is the big learning lesson for the stage dads for this show?

Tom: The biggest thing is just making sure that he’s ready in every single regard. Be there on time, know your lines, perform, give a good show, and just seeing him embrace that and take on that responsibility is amazing.

Vincent: It is difficult to strike the right balance between very firm by saying “Okay, you are in this, you have to act professionally, so you need to know your lines, you need to sing it perfectly and be on time” and being not judgmental. To accept that he can make mistakes, to say, “Okay, he’s still a ten-year-old.” That is what this has taught me.

Andy, what are you learning here?

Andy: For me it’s more learning how to put together these kinds of metal-adaptations of shows. What we learned about this show versus Sweeney Todd was that we made it much smaller in scale. Sweeney Todd was a show that we wanted to take on tour but we made it so big, with the big set, the huge cast, the big band. With this one, it’s nice and small and it really does fit in the arts barn. The set can almost fit in one car’s trunk. We can certainly take this show a lot of different places.

Why do you want people to come and see you in The Mystery of Edwin Drood?

Dylan: I want them to see me express myself, be different than what they do know me as if they know, and to have fun because the audience does interact with the play. I just want them to have fun as well.

Alexis: I want them, if they came to Sweeney Todd last year, I want them to see how I’ve changed. I want them to see how I can express myself differently depending on what role I play. I want them to see the other cast members and how they do. And overall it’s just a nice play, a fun play, and you get to have a part in it and that’s really fun to do that.

Dylan: It’s a different experience. A normal play you go in and you’re 30 rows back, you’re enjoying the show but you’re detached. This show, every single seat is good. The crowd interacts, it’s an interactive show and it’s very intimate. It’s impossible to describe it unless you come.

Vincent: For this play I’m not thinking about Alexis, I’m thinking about the group. Last year I wanted people to listen to him singing or see his acting. But this year it’s more about the group, so I’m hoping it will open the audiences’ mind a little bit. We are living in dire times. When I hear things sometimes I am totally horrified at what I am hearing. If people could become a little bit smarter watching this kind of play that would be a great thing.

Andy: Last year when we were doing Sweeney I was doing a lot of research on Sondheim, obviously. I read a quote he had in an article where he said, “Rock music couldn’t be funny.” I took it as a challenge. I thought, “For our next metal show, we should try to find something that’s a little funny and humorous to see if we can prove him wrong.” I think we did. The music is great but it’s just a fun show, people are really cracking up!

The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Symphonic Metal Version plays through September 25, 2016 with Landless Theatre Company at Arts on the Green in the Kentlands Mansion & Arts Barn— 311 Kent Square Road in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets call the box office at (301) 258-6394 or purchase them online.

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