David St. Louis is currently playing Jake in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of SIDE SHOW, the tale of conjoined twins and their lives as performers. Jake plays a significant role in their upbringing and career. Before divulging too much information, let’s hear from him about his experience in the theater and this show!
The Playbill Collector (TPC): Before diving into your work on SIDE SHOW, I’d love to talk about some of your past work and what lead you to working in the theater. When did you start in the industry?
David St. Louis (DSL): I started off as a voice major at Oberlin Conservatory, but decided after a while that I didn’t want to sing for a living. I took a semester away at Howard University to study acting in the theater department. I fell in love with it. In order to keep most of my credits rolling, I concentrated in musical theater. While I was in school I was lucky enough to land some TV gigs and a number of jobs at some really good theaters. I graduated with all of my union cards and a Helen Hayes award to boot. I didn’t realize it was anything special at the time, but looking back I feel really fortunate.
TPC: You have performed on Broadway in RENT, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and a few others. What was your favorite production to be apart of?
DSL: My favorite production in New York was HARLEM SONG. It was an extremely taxing show. A power-packed 90 minutes of sweat and really hard work. I was one of three leads that headed the show and played a number of different characters. The best part is that after staring at me for 90 minutes, many people thought several actors did the roles that I alone performed. Most of them couldn’t place me at the stage door unless they knew me. It felt good that they couldn’t tell. It reinforced I was doing my job the way I had hoped I was.
TPC: After doing Broadway and Regional shows, how did you land here at the La Jolla Playhouse?
DSL: After working 9 years in New York, I decided it was time to check out the west coast. Recently, I’ve been doing quite a bit of regional theater in the Los Angeles area and got a call about the SIDE SHOW audition while I was doing a show at the Kirk Douglas in Culver City. They asked me to put my audition on tape. The next thing I knew, I’m in La Jolla on the first day of rehearsal meeting Bill Condon, our superstar director, for the first time. He shakes my hand and tells me: “I saw you in PARADE. You were wonderful!” I suspect that was my real audition. I do theater because I love it, not to be seen. But it’s nice when it pays off in other ways.
TPC: You have a uniquely rich, deep voice. When I first heard you sing in the show, I thought of the song “Ol’ Man River” from SHOWBOAT; a wonderful, soulful tune. Do you feel there are certain roles that work best for your voice?
DSL: Very few people write music for low voices. It can be difficult for me because composers generally write for tenors or lyric baritones. Impossibly high notes have been the fashion for some time. It’s nice when a creative team, like the one I’m working with now, can see the value in what I have to offer and decide to arrange songs in a great key for me. I don’t think there are certain roles that are better or worse for any range of voice. People tend to cast villains low and heroes high, but when people work against those ideas you’ll find some of the most heart-wrenching songs out of a broken character with a low voice and some the most frightening songs delivered in a high voice.
TPC: For those who have not seen the show yet, how would you explain Jake and his contribution to the musical?
DSL: Jake provides a bridge into this weird world for the audience. He wants what the audience wants, and in a way becomes their representative in the show. He’s the big brother you had, the one you wish you had, the person who loves you in the way you hope to be loved, all of the above, or he’s even You.
TPC: What element of the show sticks out to you the most: costume, set, lighting or music?
DSL: The most novel element of the show would be the costumes. This is by no means a stock / pulled from the costume racks type of show. I’ve never been in a production with this degree of imaginative costume builds in my life. And of course, the music is wonderful. The melodies tell stories that hook into you without you noticing. These songs are what singers and actors dream to be able to perform and what audiences clamor to hear.
TPC: Do you have any pre-show rituals to get you warmed up to go on stage?
DSL: I generally like to hang in the lobby or outside the theater before a show. That’s my normal ritual until about the five minutes to places call. This show is a little different for me. I’m not used to wearing a lot of makeup or any at all for that matter, but I start this one with some pretty elaborate face paint. That takes up most of my pre-show time. The closest thing I have a to a ritual in this show is cranking out some push-ups before I go on stage. Warm body, warm voice.
TPC: What’s the most exciting part of this show for you?
DSL: The most exciting part of the show for me is the curtain call because it means I’m done. I love my job, but it is exhausting. It’s kind of like going to the gym or playing a sport you love. After you’ve gone and put your all into a thing there’s nothing better than collapsing.
TPC: Any favorite local hot spots you like to go to to grab food?
DSL: I wish I had an answer. I haven’t had much opportunity to check out classy San Diego. I’m taking suggestions.
TPC: Your bio states in addition to theater you have done film work as well. Any plans after SIDE SHOW?
DSL: After we close on December 15th, I’m heading back to LA to figure that out. Things started picking up a little on that front in LA before I came down for SIDE SHOW. Some seeds were planted. Who knows? It might be time to harvest.
SIDE SHOW is running now through December 15th. For more information check out the La Jolla Playhouse website: http://www.lajollaplayhouse.org/