By Samantha Samant
Rhaamell Burke-Missouri, 2018 Post graduate, is casted as a dancer and the puppeteer of King Kong in the Broadway production of “King Kong.” He began his performances as a dancer and puppeteer on Friday, Oct. 5. Burke-Missouri graduated with a bachelor’s degree in dance from the School of Performing Arts.
Performing on Broadway is different than his life as a dance major at LIU Post. “It’s different in many ways, but one that really stands out to me is that at school you work hard because you want to be in front of this number or show out in class,” Burke- Missouri said. “On Broadway, you still work hard, harder than you ever thought possible, but this time your reasons change. Now it’s your livelihood, your art, your life.” One thing Burke- Missouri said school taught him was to make dance his life and Broadway makes that possible for him.
“Something else that I have noticed – at school you’re concerned about others. Don’t lie, it happens to the best of us,” he said. “But when you finally land that gig it’s all on you. No one is better or lesser than you. You just gotta show up and be on it every day for your reputation and consistency.”
The theatre professors at Post are proud of Burke- Missouri’s success post-graduation. “I am sure Rhaamell used the unique process of integrating the Suzuki and Stanislavski techniques that we teach at LIU to prepare for his audition,” theater professor David Hugo said. According to Hugo, this integration of techniques has been developed by professor Maria Porter and is the reason why students are having a great amount of success after graduating.
Hugo was invited to attend a dress rehearsal of “King Kong” and said “watching Rhaamell dance and sing and achieve one of his major career goals was the bonus check we never get as teachers. I wouldn’t trade it for any amount of money.”
Hugo assists students like Burke-Missouri in preparing for auditions. “I know the business and can talk to the students about how to navigate the business of being a professional actor,” Hugo said.
“Winning in this business is 85 percent perseverance and 15 percent talent,” Hugo said. “You need to want it and be willing to fight to get it. Winning in this profession is when opportunity meets preparation. The professors at LIU prepare the students, the students’ job when they graduate is to find the opportunity and to audition as much as possible.”
Before opening on Thursday, Nov. 8, the show went through various previews, and parts of the show can still be changed. Unlike rehearsals, previews are full run-throughs with an audience. Previews are experimental; what you see in a preview you may not see during a real performance. Once opening night happens, the show doesn’t change.
The previews have been “unreal,” Burke- Missouri noted. “It’s unreal how much your body grows and adapts to the work. Since I puppeteer and dance as part of the ensemble, everything is being challenged. Every part of my body is going to the extreme for the work,” he said.
“My performances have changed because our show also changes,” he said in regards to the previews. “Since the show isn’t frozen, meaning we can no longer make changes, we spend our rehearsals touching up and refining the production as a whole. That being said, my body hasn’t gotten used to the newest additions. It’s certainly something that I haven’t done before but I’m enjoying myself nonetheless.”
According to wired.com, King Kong is a 20 foot, 2,400 pound puppet with robotics within its’ face. Burke-Missouri felt it was something he never thought he could do. “It’s unbelievable. We have the responsibility to not only maneuver him around, but we also bring him to life. That goes for all those that work on Kong from automation, to voodoo operators, to us on stage. It takes a village to bring KiKo to life.” KiKo is the cast’s shorthand for King Kong.
The voodoo operators are the remote control operators in the lighting/tech booth who control the facial expressions and movement of King Kong’s face using a radio or Blue- tooth signal. They operate the servos placed throughout the robot’s head to control things like King Kong’s eyebrows and to create facial expressions for the puppet.
Burke-Missouri has advice for students on being a working actor. “Always be the hardest working person in the room. I’m here only because I sacrificed and put my best foot forward. Whenever there was a ‘no’ and I felt the weight of my dreams on my shoulders, I’d go to work. I’d sing or dance to allow myself to let go and remember why I started. Believe me, wanting to be on Broadway is easy, you can wish and wish to make it happen. It’s the work that will get you there. You work hard because at the end of the day, that’s the only way to make this happen for yourself. You remember where you [are] at any given moment and understand that you can always grow and do better.”
Working actors are sure to face disappointment about 85 percent of the time, according to Burke-Missouri. You may hear things about your talents and skills that make you want to give up, but Burke-Missouri said that at these moments, “you buckle down, stare that disappointment in the face and smile, because one day it will get better.”