Dee Kwan is a proud, witty character who enjoys every win: big and small. What have you enjoyed most about exploring her bold personality, and how much do you resonate with the character on a fundamental level?
I really enjoyed Dee’s journey in finding strength and confidence within herself to handle difficult situations in her life. I resonate with her journey in stepping into adulthood in terms of how she deals with conflict.
You’ve delivered award-winning performances on stage, most notably as Eliza in the hit musical Hamilton. How have you substituted the visual dimension of storytelling to carry the same impact in an entirely audio-only production?
I don’t think they are entirely different. The finished product of a play is visual, but a musical starts with words and notes on a page. The first thing I do is read the play, and the second is read the play aloud. Similarly, I read the manuscript of the book and then read aloud as I record.
As this is now your third collaboration with Lily Chu, you’re somewhat of a power duo. Please tell us what the directing and recording process looks like, and how your familiarity with the system has elevated the final product of The Takedown.
It’s very simple. It’s myself, in the booth, an engineer in the recording studio, and a director listening in. In this case remotely. We read through, stopping along the way if we need clarity or if I mess up or need to cough, and work our way through. I think with my experience from the first two books I have a shorthand now with my process and knowing what to ask for as we work.
You took care in reading Chinese Fables and Folk Stories (Mary Hayes Davis and Chow Leung) in a way that brought magic to the listener’s ears. What have been the greatest aspects setting this apart from narrating first person in The Takedown and your other works with Chu?
Since the narrator is the main character, I really had a lot to work with in terms of understanding Dee’s perspective. The audiobook itself is her interpretation of her own experiences, so we really get an idea of her inner thoughts and inner conflicts.
Chu slots realistic topics of racism into a moving romantic comedy. How did you tackle these scenes, while providing relief and humour to Asian audiences?
I think it’s all there in the writing. I don’t have to do a lot of heavy lifting because the writing is doing the heavy lifting in terms of dictating tone, perspective, when we are hearing a sincere part of the text and when and how we get comic relief.
If you could take any one of the roles you’ve played on stage and translate them into an audiobook character, who would be most fitted, and what would you enjoy most about portraying them in a different media?
Guenevere from Aaron Sorkin’s revival of Camelot is such a captivating heroine. She has to navigate through a world which doesn’t make space for her, as a woman. She has grace, intelligence, integrity, wit, and sense of humor that I think would be absolutely so captivating to hear more of beyond the play.
Your co-creation, Piper Chen Sings, which is to be released next year, is inspired by your own early life. How do you hope to energise young Asian creatives in your works, who aspire to become successful in acting and similar pursuits?
To put it simply, before finding any insight or inspiration, it is my hope they experience joy and pride in hearing or seeing Asian stories.
After having well-established yourself as a talented multi-hyphenate, what creative venture would you love to try given the chance?
I’d love to direct one day. Film or theater.
If you could speak to your younger self today, what would you say?
Don’t use self doubt as a way to protect yourself from disappointment.
And lastly: what music, TV and films have you been enjoying lately? Is there anything in particular that has been nourishing your soul and why?
Music: I have been listening to a lot of early Streisand on Spotify. She is a national treasure!
Film & TV: my recent binge watch was Lupin. I loved the genre. Very fun, very good writing.
You didn’t ask but I’ll throw in… Books! Reading has been nourishing my soul, especially as the weather gets colder. I love to cozy up with a cup of tea and a book. One of my recent favorites was Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin. Current read is Circe by Madeline Miller.