From Music to Multimedia – Meet Mervin Wong!

Mervin Wong loves creating new worlds and finding new ways to make music and tell stories. Find out how this classical musician found his way to designing the immersive audience experience for You Are Here!

What do you do as a multimedia designer?

A multimedia designer literally does anything and everything – it really depends on the nature of the production, the nature of the script, the nature of the creative team involved and what kind of a vision is being driven for the show. Sometimes, for instance, it involves more hand-drawn material. Sometimes, more filmed material.

Multimedia design stems from the basics of theatre – the idea that theatre itself is a multimedia medium. It’s something that is born out of the need to express, to create worlds, and of course, to tell stories.

More than ever, I feel that multimedia design is all about being a strategist – it’s about figuring out the best way to combine and layer elements to build the world of each production.

What inspires you about You Are Here?

You Are Here is a very touching story of migration, and it explores a lot of situations in very different lights. These are stories that a lot of us can actually connect to in Singapore. My grandparents came from China as well as Hong Kong. In You Are Here, we touch on a lot of stories from Pooja’s immediate family – her parents, her grandparents, her daughter.

How does this factor into your multimedia design concept for You Are Here?

Speaking for our entire creative team – the world that I’m translating to the stage is actually Pooja’s inner world. We are bringing that to life. This involves a lot of archival material and photography, as well as a little bit of videography.

We actually went to Pooja’s house to film her, her house, and the things around her that she holds dearly, as well as her family. It’s a very intimate story that we are experiencing here. Logistically, this will be in the form of projections that will appear on stage and around the theatre. Hopefully, that will help immerse audiences into her world.

How did you get started working in multimedia design?

I didn’t even know there was such a thing as multimedia design! About five years back, I was working as an intern on a theatre production with some friends. It was an all-hands-on-deck kind of situation, and I was tasked with creating a visual world for that show – one that included still images and videos. This entailed properly mapping these visual elements to the space that we were performing in. That’s when I first learned how to create illusions in a space.

So this wasn’t your original career plan. Can you share what that was?

Music has always been my first love. When I was younger, I was lucky that my mother exposed me to a lot of different art forms, like ballet, modern dance and fine art. I fell in love with acting too, and I loved performing in Chinese theatre from the ages of 7 to 12. But, when I went to secondary school and there was less time to divide between all these activities, I chose music.

So I have a diploma from NAFA, where I majored in classical violin. I then went on to get a degree from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, majoring in classical viola performance.

From your background in classical music, how did you get to where you are today?

I started to realise that I could only do so much in a purely sound medium. I’ve always loved performing and I’m very expressive. More than that, I discovered that I love to share experiences with my audiences, and to bring a visual dimension to my music and performances. In that context, classical music taught me a lot – it gave me a really solid foundation as a musician – but it was a limiting factor, and so I had to break out of it.

Luckily, my mentor – Lionel Tan of The T’ang Quartet – encouraged me during my years as a student to explore other mediums, genres and forms of expression. That led to me opening more doors: collaborating with artists across different genres, while bringing different mediums into my work as a musician and as a performer.

Currently, I’m an electronic music producer going by the alias, PLANESWALKER. To explore my passion for other forms of expression, I have also established my own studio – Theemptybluesky Productions – through which I collaborate with performance artists, dancers, choreographers, theatre companies and more to help bring their works to life in different ways.  

Mervin taught himself the tricks of the trade!

Since you were a classical music major, where did you pick up the skills (like video editing) that you use as a multimedia designer?

Even as a kid, I was always really excited about immersive experiences. I think very visually as a musician too. So it came naturally to me to explore film, photography and video editing to bring this dimension to my music. I picked up these skills purely out of interest and passion. I learned a lot from YouTube and Google!

I’ve also learned on the job. Take my last production, The Feelings Farm – Edith Podesta, my director, suddenly asked for something to be animated, and I’m not an animator by training! Having worked in multimedia over the years, I understand enough about how animation works. But I still had to sit down and slowly plan, strategically, the most efficient way for me to go about achieving what Edith had in mind.

That’s actually the part of being a multimedia designer that I love most! As a creative artist, I like stumbling upon things or tools or techniques I’m not familiar with. Because that leads to me discovering new things that excite and inspire me, and new ways of expression.

Why is working in the theatre important to you creatively?

Community. Theatre is a multimedia, multi-discipline art form and, more than the technicalities of the craft, it brings people together. I think that’s very powerful. It’s very exciting to meet different people, to work with different companies, to be in different spaces, and work on telling stories together.

Click to find out more about You Are Here!

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