THE Q&A: New King Tut exhibit brings boy king to life

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By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

Ever since his tomb was unearthed 100 years ago on Nov. 4, 1922, people have been captivated and fascinated with King Tutankhamun, affectionately known as King Tut.

What’s known about King Tut’s life is on full display in National Geographic’s “Beyond King Tut: The Immersive Experience” now playing at the Magic Box LA through Feb. 26.

It’s a new exhibition built in collaboration with the National Geographic Society that will transport visitors to Ancient Egypt. The National Geographic Society’s archives are brought to life in a multi-gallery journey through the boy king’s story.

The show, a cinematic immersive exhibition 3,300 years in the making, unlocks the secrets behind ancient Egypt’s most iconic king in a ground-breaking experience.

The exhibition portrays the true story of Egypt’s fabled boy king and allows attendees to embark on a journey of one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time 100 years after the tomb discovery.

Through next-generation visual storytelling, “Beyond King Tut” goes beyond a traditional artifact display and leverages soaring photography, objects and larger-than-life multimedia to bring guests into the world of King Tut and the archives of National Geographic.

Mark Lach, a New York native, is the creative producer of “Beyond King Tut: The Immersive Experience.”

Inspired by unique settings to shape the way visitors experience some of the world’s most popular traveling exhibitions, Lach, who graduated from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications, has worked on the Titanic wreck site at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean, the Vatican’s private museums and libraries, and King Tut’s tomb in Egypt.

Because of his storied career that spans three decades as the creative force behind some of the world’s most popular traveling exhibitions, Lach was uniquely poised to lead the execution of “Beyond King Tut.”

Through Lach’s own company, Immersive Experiences, he led the creative team behind the exhibit.

I recently spoke to Lach, who calls himself “the luckiest guy on the planet” about the exhibit and what attendees can expect.

DD: You worked with National Geographic for a year on this project.

ML: Started our relationship many years ago. When we did the artifact exhibition. Those are now back in Egypt as part of The Grand Egyptian Museum. Nov. 4 was the 100th anniversary. What do we do to celebrate the most significant archeological find of all time? I think it’s by bringing a new experience that modern technology can bring us now.

An immersive experience where you lose yourself in your imagination. This needed to have a storyline that had a beginning, middle and end. It began with the discovery of the tomb, Egypt, his life and family tree, and what the Egyptians believe about their journey into the afterlife. Then DNA testing to understand his family tree, and then the cause of his death. He was 17 or 18 when he died.

We cover all of that. We have 52 large-definition projectors. There are didactic panels with things to read. We hope we’ve done something good with National Geographic’s academic oversight.

DD: How does someone go from graduating with a B.A. in mass communications to being the creative producer on this production?

ML: It was really the best stroke of good fortune in my life. I received a phone call from someone who was doing an exhibition on the Titanic. I had seen the movie. That’s all I knew. He said, ‘I hear you are the guy to do my Titanic exhibition.’ I gracefully declined. I said, ‘that’s not what I do.’

Then I thought, this is something I could be good at. I entered the field not knowing what I should have, but I had a curiosity. King Tut is more than entertainment. It’s entertaining. It captivates people. It’s worth talking about. It’s been a journey to Egypt. I have a responsibility to bring the story.

DD: Tell me about the exhibit. What will attendees see?

ML: There are nine galleries. It includes an introductory film. We take everybody to the same level of information. The galleries include an Actual Discovery, the burial chamber, and getting to know the boy king. ‘A King’s Life.’

We have included a game called ‘senet,’ which King Tut used to play. It’s kind of a board game with pieces that you move. One was found in the tomb. He played it as a child. We made a larger version in the middle of the gallery so guests can play it as well.

There is also a gallery that focuses on the mummification process. Then there is a gallery that has a bunch of linens. It’s called ‘Between the Linens.’ It’s prints or photos of things wrapped on the mummy itself like gold sandals or jewelry.

Next, there is a large immersive room with a boat in the middle of the room that is three-dimensional. In the last gallery, we talk about DNA research — to drill down on his family tree. It’s a postcard from Egypt and to Egypt. We focus on bringing you to Egypt today. Then we talk about pop culture’s take on Egypt — like Steve Martin on “Saturday Night Live.” Everyone is fascinated with his untimely cause of death.

DD: How do you begin a production or presentation of this magnitude?

ML: Good question. We started almost two years ago. The initial conversation was can we do this justice? National Geographic was looking at it with a critical eye. It has to be quality. There is a lot involved. Budget, technology, experts.

Everyone involved had to be the best of the best. They felt comfortable. It takes months. You need a storyline that drives the galleries, then work with scenic elements and then you start building the show. It’s not just about projection screens that are built and arrive at the venue to be turned on.

DD: What goes into the creative development of the projects you’ve worked on?

ML: I’ve always had an inclination for design. My father was a designer in the architectural furniture field. He sat me down at a drafting board. I had this fascination with design and storytelling. I want to take ideas that are impressive and learn from them. What would I want to experience? I like to watch and listen to people to see what they are responding to or not responding to. Then I form my own sense. You have to surround yourself with the best people.

DD: Why do you think the public is so enamored with King Tut?

ML: First of all, he would have gotten lost in the pages of history if not for this discovery of an intact tomb. He wasn’t a significant king until then. Today it’s the only one intact. Then we discover he’s a nine-year-old boy who died about 10 years later. We’re able to see his real possessions. Then, there is his unexplained untimely death. Plus, it’s fun to say King Tut.

DD: Should the discovery have remained hidden or are you happy about the discovery?

ML: For me, if the discovery and the care and the preservation are done with the most consideration and expertise for that history, I think it’s the right thing to do. Great history is appreciated.

National Geographic’s “Beyond King Tut: The Immersive Exhibit” is at Magic Box LA, 1933 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, through Feb. 26. Hours are Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (last entry at 7 p.m.), Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (last entry at 8 p.m.). The experience is self-guided and takes approximately one hour. For tickets, visit beyondkingtut.com/city/los-angeles/.

“The Q&A” is a feature of Wave Newspapers asking provocative or engaging questions of some of L.A.’s most popular newsmakers or celebrities.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

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