In the last couple of months, even if I thought I could slow down, I have been busy as hell. I’m booked flat and had to turn down a few jobs, cause I only have two hands and a bunch of cameras!
Even with the fast pace of the city, when you meet someone special you pull the brake, cause it’s a magnetic moment and you wouldn’t forgive yourself if you let it pass by. I had the luck to meet and photograph talented actor Devin Ilaw, Thuy in the Tony-nominated Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.
Devin has that friendly yet confident vibe you find in some New Yorkers, now and then. It’s quite rare.
“I was born in Bayonne and grew up in Vernon, New Jersey, and both of my parents worked in New York City, so we were in and out of the city all the time during my formative years. My brother and I were both competitive classical musicians as kids, and made our debuts at Carnegie Hall both before our teenage years. As a high schooler, I decided instead of music I wanted to pursue theatre and furthered my training at The School of Drama at Carnegie Mellon as a double major in Acting and Musical Theatre. Upon graduation, the logical choice was to move to New York City (it was already basically home anyway), and now it's been over a decade since I've been here on my own!”
Devin is one of those people that discovers their tales early on, but kept adding new areas to expand them in many directions.
"I was a straight-A student and a huge dork. My parents discovered I had musical ability as an early age and enrolled me in weekly piano and violin lessons around the age of 7, and I soon found myself entering a lot of music competitions in NJ and NYC. In middle school I became interested in sports (finally!) and eventually ended up being the school track team captain. By high school I was playing on the tennis team as well. Around this same time, my piano teacher suggested I take singing lessons to enhance my piano skills, and once I started singing, I also got involved in theatre. That's when I totally got bit by the theatre bug. I soon stopped doing sports and instrumental music and spent all my free time in high school singing in all the choirs and acting in all the plays and musicals. Academia-wise, I loved English and American Literature and I LOATHED all things mathematical, haha!"
I am always curious to know how people become who they are, how they achieve their success. I think there is a lot to learn from others.
"Um, I don't really know how, drive and passion, I guess. Upon graduating college, I had a great network of friends and contacts in the biz who were eager to help and serve as a great support system to my budding career. Plus, as a result of my college senior showcase, I came to NYC already signed with an agent who always kept me auditioning. Luckily the regional and off-Broadway bookings came pretty easily at first, and I suddenly found myself a working actor. Aside from that, I'm also pretty resourceful and scrappy. My friends from college would always ask me to teach them their audition songs, or accompany them on the piano to practice. Soon, they recommended me to their friends, who recommended me to their friends, and then when other actors who I worked with found out I could play the piano and sing like I could, I suddenly found myself with a full roster of students and vocal coaching clients and I ended up incorporating my private vocal studio just a couple years right out of college. So, whenever I was doing a show in NYC or between acting gigs, I'd teach during the day. Since I've been lucky enough to be in a couple Broadway shows the past few years, that's basically what my life's been like: teaching during the day and performing onstage at night and on the weekends."
Devin is so talented, and I wonder where he gets all the energy and the motivation, the discipline and the constance to keep going in a sometimes harsh city. What are the things he can’t do without?
"I'll say two things, because they kind of go together. Number one, my friends and family. Oh man, I seriously consider myself the luckiest man alive when it comes to friends and family. I have a great big circle of awesome friends, but above all, two best friends who are, like, my soulmates; and I go to them for EVERYTHING. Advice, guidance, help, an ear to listen, a hug, help learning lines, honest opinions, a laugh, a night out dancing... anything. And I'm there for them too ("drop-everything-and-run" there for them). I'm also really close with my family. My brother is himself now a professional musician based here in NYC, and our parents are still close by in NJ so we see each other relatively often. It's a real gift. Having these people in my life and being as close to them as I am, a real gift. And the number two thing I rely on in life? MYSELF. Listen, the life of a performer is hard enough. Add on how overstimulating, money- and soul-draining living in NYC can sometimes be. Let's not even get into how hard dating is in NYC, haha! Add that all up, and it's a perfect recipe for disaster and a breakdown, and I've been there. Maybe a couple times. Over the years I've learned that if you want others to believe in you, YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE IN YOURSELF FIRST, and that inner spark, that light, will shine and get brighter, and suddenly you'll find yourself attracting others who vibrate on the same level you do, and that communion, that "togetherness" of bright light... man, it will always be there to illuminate the dark times. That's not only how I get by in life, that's how I thrive and shine."
This idea resonates with me completely. Appreciation and believing in yourself is a precondition to succeed. The other element is inspiration.
"I have many sources of inspiration. But as of late, the thing that I am drawn to most has been a sense of HUMANITY. I am inspired by people who share their true, deepest, innermost, raw selves with me. Here we are in the age of social media, and "how many followers do you have?" or "how many likes/retweets did you get?" has become more important in society than simply holding the door for the next person, or giving a smile to a stranger on the street who maybe looks like they're having a bad day. That being said, I wonder if this current trend of "branding oneself" and establishing an "online presence" has turned people into merely that: a fierce pic with a killer caption. But where is the humanity? Where's the REAL stuff? It's getting harder and harder to find. BUT! When I do encounter a person who isn't afraid to share their real, most human selves with me, that inspires me. That gives me hope for the future of humanity. Those are the people I try to surround myself with in life. That is the kind of character I want to bring to life in my performances onstage. That is the kind of human I strive to be offstage."
See what I mean, folks? How can you resist, how can you not want to connect with a person like Devin? New York is big and fabulous, but the real jackpot is when you connect with some of the special people that live here. Where do special New Yorkers hang out?
"Ugh, I'm rolling my own eyes at my answer. But honestly, truly, my favorite place in the city is anywhere my two best friends and I are together. Whether we're sweating at the gym, laying out in Sheep's Meadow or Christopher Street Pier, gorging ourselves at Won-Jo in K-Town or at Jeepney in the LES, going for a run to the lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge, people watching from the TKTS steps in Times Square, or sitting on my couch eating Dominos and watching "Transparent"/"Chef's Table"/"This is Us" (our favorites)... at the end of the day, it's not the place, but the people I can never do without. But, if you consider that a cop-out answer and you really want me to pick a place, then I'll probably say the pier by the Intrepid. I love sitting on the bench at the very end of the pier at dusk and watching the sunset, listening to the waves, feeling the gentle breeze on my skin, and hearing the distant sounds of the city at night. It's my favorite time to spend with myself and my thoughts during the warmer months."
Devin garnered critical acclaim for his portrayal of Thuy in the Tony-nominated Broadway revival of Miss Saigon. Devin was seen as Marius in the national tour of Les Misérables, a role he also understudied and performed in the most recent Broadway revival. Favorites include Bernstein’s Mass (Soloist, Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nezet-Seguin), M. Butterfly (Song Liling), and Wearing Black (Evan). Regionally, Devin has played leading roles at PCLO, NSMT, Marriott Theatre, TUTS, Dallas Summer Theatre, WVPT, Stages St. Louis. Concert and cabaret work include performances at Feinstein’s 54 Below, The Green Room 42, The Triad NYC, The Laurie Beechman Theatre. Devin is also a classically trained pianist and has served as music director and conductor for several off-Broadway shows and numerous concerts and cabarets in NYC. Devin owns and operates his own private singing studio in NYC. BFA Carnegie Mellon. Upcoming: Devin stars as Gabe opposite Tony-nominee Christiane Noll in Next To Normal in concert for Quintessence of Dust Theatre Company on Feb 1st, then directly afterwards will make his debut at the renowned Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. as Action in West Side Story with the National Symphony Orchestra, Feb 13-17. Instagram: @hellothereimdev.