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From UNCSA to Macau, Acting & Adventure With David Bowen

By Ashley Sutherland

David Bowen graduated from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in 2015 and was immediately hired to play the male lead, Jean in the multi-million dollar mega show The House of Dancing Water created by Franco Dragone in Macau, China S.A.R at The City of Dreams. David joined TheatreArtLife to share his journey from college to China and the exciting journey he has experienced along the way.

TheatreArtLife: How did you get started in your career?

David Bowen: I graduated from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts School of Drama in May 2015, and by July, I was in Macau auditioning for The House of Dancing Water and by the first of October I was playing the role of Jean. I guess it was a quick start.

Can you share your journey from Georgia to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) to Macau, China?

I grew up in a small town called Clayton, Georgia, which is really only known as the filming location for the movie Deliverance. I got into the University of North Carolina School of the Arts School of Drama high school program when I was 16.  I did my final year of high school at UNCSA in Winston Salem, NC and continued in the university program, where I graduated in 2015.  So how I got to Macau.  When I was still in school, my senior year at UNCSA, Chad Leslie, the former Artistic Director of The House of Dancing Water and also an alumnus of UNCSA School of Drama directing program, came to do some interviews and scouting, more for the School of Design and Production, but also decided to do a bit of a workshop, an informal audition for the actors in my class. Our dean told us at 5pm that we were going to be doing this audition at 6pm.  We had very little backstory, didn’t really know what Chad’s deal was; we knew he was working on some circus show in China. A lot of our training was movement-based, and I’d done a bit of clowning in university. I had this clown piece that I had been wanting to create so I decided to just improvise my way through it for the audition. Our dean told us Chad would see pretty much anything, so I put on my red nose and ate a bowl of Cheerios onstage and that was the first step in booking the gig.  After, Chad asked if I would be interested in coming to China to audition, and I said “absolutely.” He asked if I could do a falling backflip from 20 meters into the water and I said “absolutely not, but I can learn.”  He gave me his card and two months later I went to audition in Macau and ended up booking the role.

Tell us about your role at The House of Dancing Water at The City of Dreams in Macau, China.

I work in one of the world’s largest theatrical productions, it’s a technical beast of a show set in a 3.7-million-gallon swimming pool. It’s the size of five Olympic pools, but the stage can be brought to completely dry in a matter of seconds. It’s massive.  I play the role of Jean, your “hero” if you will, and the storyline is pretty straight-forward (magical princess is held captive by a dark queen, prince arrives in a strange land and falls in love with princess, prince saves princess, peace is restored to the kingdom.)  That’s obviously a shortened version, and there are a lot of other performance aspects to the production, including various circus acts (high diving, acrobatics, motorbike stunts). I spend almost the entirety of the 90-minute show onstage, so there’s a lot of swimming, scuba diving (which I never thought I’d be doing, especially in a theatre); I also have a lot of fight scenes (mostly getting the shit beaten out of me), some high diving, and ballet partnering.

Photo Credit: Tom Fairchild Photography

Did you have the opportunity to see The House of Dancing Water prior to moving to Macau?

They brought four people to Macau to audition, myself being one of those four. We had the chance to come and train a little in the theatre and get to know some of the other artists and basically do a week-long audition/interview process.  I saw the show a few times that week.

Photo Credit: Tom Fairchild Photography

What have been the greatest challenges you have faced integrating into the role of Jean?

The diving of course, there are a lot of technical elements, there’s the high diving and the scuba diving and learning to dance and all of those things, but those are pretty straight-forward, they’re technical skills that can be learned.  But I guess the greatest challenge in integrating into the show was, we perform in a two thousand seat auditorium that’s almost in the round and there are two thousand people and as many cell phones pointing at you as soon as you come onstage.  Learning to be confident and grounded and hold that space has been the greatest challenge. It’s a massive theatre and it’s really important to find stillness and recognize that you’ve got 95 other performers onstage with you and most of the time what they’re doing is the focus of the act.

Photo Credit: Tom Fairchild Photography

What have you learned the most from your co-workers: performers, managers, technicians, etc during your two years at the show?

The hard work that people at the highest level are actually putting in.  And it was easy to say that, as someone in an acting school, “oh yeah, I go to school every single day and I work from eleven in the morning to eleven at night, I’m working so hard.” And yeah, I was working hard and I was committed at university, but it’s a whole different kind of drive when you see it in this environment.

I’m surrounded by so many people who are coming in and working their asses off every single day in their highly-specialized profiles, and the collaboration of all of these world-class performers and incredible technicians working at such a damn high level.

There’s really no other option but to strive to meet them at that level of work ethic.

Photo Credit: Tom Fairchild Photography

What do you do to stay creative and engaged in on a long-term resident production?

That was actually one of my big fears coming into this production because I had never worked on any long-running show before. How do you stay engaged and creatively stimulated especially in a show that’s quite commercial and precise?  I play a game with myself.  Every day, at the top of the show, I have one thing I like to focus on for that day.  I’ll think, “ok today I’m going to focus on my breath and I’m going to make sure I’m not holding it at any point in the show.” Or I’ll focus on one specific moment, a reaction or really nailing a punch or a kick, like I’ve got one thing in my head that I’m going to focus on for that day.  And I find that helps.  Even if I’m only focusing on one thing, it always brings up something else and it keeps me engaged in the process and not ambivalent towards what’s happening onstage.

Outside the show, I drum. I’ve been drumming since I was nine so I’m actually probably more of a drummer than I am an actor historically. And I’ve always got my projects.  So for six months or so, I was learning French and now I can speak French.

What else do I do?  Handstands.  I’ve been working on hand balancing.  There are so many gymnasts and acrobats at the show who are always willing to teach you something new.

Can you share the cool things and some challenges you have experienced living in Macau?

Living in Macau is weird.  It’s such an interesting place.  Because it’s not really China, it’s more accessible; the language barrier is there but it’s never a big problem because you can always work around it.  And there are western supermarkets and you can get most of the things that you want or need. Hong Kong is a short ferry ride away, so there’s not much out of reach living in Macau.  I guess working in such an international environment with so many people from different places is fascinating because everyone brings a different set of values, a different set of expectations, a different set of skills to the table. Challenges living in Macau: long distance relationships.  My now fiancée Maddie and I did long distance for two years now and she’s been great, she’s been back and forth between Macau and New York, which is just a pain in the ass for her, but it has really worked out for us.  So that’s the greatest challenge.  Being away from family and friends and sometimes feeling very alone in Macau.

 What is the best role/job/gig have you done and why?

Well, I really only have my current position to offer so it’s a pretty short professional resume, and aside from that, it’s a job where I get to do a little bit of everything. I’m acting but I also get to dance and to fight and to do a little bit of high diving and scuba diving.

It’s really like no other acting position that I could possibly have taken.

What was the worst task you were given when you were starting out in the entertainment industry?

Worst task getting started in the industry would have to be getting used to wearing a dance belt ten shows a week forty-eight weeks a year.  That’s certainly an adjustment.

 What do you think is your best skill?

Wearing a dance belt for ten shows a week! (he laughs.)  No, I think I’m pretty good at picking things up so I learn quickly and I think that’s been valuable in my career so far.

 What do other people think is your best skill?

I like to think people feel they can rely on and trust me.

What inspires you the most?

A challenge.

Would you recommend moving abroad to work on a long-term residential show and what preparations or suggestions would you give that person before moving abroad?

Knowing what you’re signing up for, not having any false expectations, and really considering everything before you do it.  Because for me, it was definitely the right decision, and I’ve gained so much out of it.  But I can see that it could be unpleasant for some people. Research immigration law wherever you’re going if you have any concerns about spouses or partners.

Trusting your support system is important, and making sure you’re going to have the support that you need in a new place and also have connections back home.

Where would you like to see your life journey going over the next ten years?

For the next ten years, I’d like to focus on figuring out or at least starting to figure out the work-life balance.  I’m engaged now, we’re probably going to be getting married in the next year which is a whole new thing to consider, especially moving forward in the entertainment industry with prospects for jobs out of town or overseas. Hopefully, in ten years I’ll have that a bit more sorted.

Since you have been in Macau for the past two years are you doing anything special to prepare for your move back to NYC and returning to the audition world?

Learning to speak again.  The role I’ve got right now is a non-speaking role in a non-verbal show.  There are no lines.  I shout “no! no!” once in the show but that’s the extent of my lines.  So I’ve been trying to read plays and get back into that mind set.  And also, working on camera technique.  Started to do a few auditions and dry runs for auditions.  Working sides and stuff like that. It’s going to be very different.

How would you describe Your TheatreArtLife (your life in front of the curtain and what happens behind the scenes)?

A typical day in the life of David Bowen, in his Macanese life…  I get up in the morning.  Make some sausage and eggs. Every morning. And I’ll take care of errands or shopping around Macau.  Go to work around one or two.  Train for an hour or two before it’s time to do makeup and hair and get into costume.  We do a 5 o’clock show, which finishes at 6:30pm.  Eat dinner.  Get ready for the 8:00pm show.  8:00pm show is done by 9:30pm. Shower and home by 10:15pm every night typically.  Then chill out and get ready to do it again the next day.

Outside of the show, I’ve gotten to do quite a bit of travelling. Macau is a good jumping off point for visiting Southeast Asia, so I’ve gotten to visit a lot of new countries. I guess that has been a major benefit of being based out of Macau.

Photo Credit: David Bowen @david.m.bowen Instagram

Knowing everything that you know now, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Probably just to chill out.  I’m a very high-strung person, who’s very controlling and likes to have a tight grip on everything that’s happening to me and through university, I was very driven.  “Just chill the fuck out, it’s all going to be ok.”

How about your 23-year-old self (age when you started working with The House of Dancing Water)?

I think the best bit of advice that I got when I first got here was from the guy who played the role before me.  It was kind of a throwaway line when he was getting into costume one day, but it really struck me at the time.  He said, “give yourself permission to be boring for six months.” I took it to heart.  Just do the show, don’t try and reinvent it, it’s been running for five years for a reason. So don’t try to make it better.  Just do the show. Give yourself permission to be boring. If I had to go back, I’d give myself the same advice that he gave me.

Watch David Bowen’s @TheatreArtLife Instagram Takeover on Sunday, December 3, 2017 when he took us backstage at The House of Dancing Water shared his TheatreArtLife.

TheatreArtLife Instagram Takeover with David Bowen

ICYMI: Watch David Bowen’s Instagram Story Takeover where he took us behind the scenes and backstage at 「水舞間」The House of Dancing Water at the 新濠天地 City of Dreams in Macau. #MyTheatreArtLife #cityofdreams #thehouseofdancingwater

Posted by Theatre Art Life on Monday, December 4, 2017

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