Category Archives: Interviews

PenTAS Exclusive: A Chat with Funnyman Douglas Lim

By Yasmin Bathamanathan
Images courtesy of http://www.douglaslim.com/

My first introduction to Douglas Lim was the much loved Kopitiam. He was adorable, kinda-annoying (in my memory at least) and quite the nice guy. Then I found out he could sing and play the guitar! Oh, I wanted him as a friend (well, I wanted to hang out with the gang of Kopitiam – it was like our own version of Friends, only better and more realistic).

A decade and half later, Douglas has moved on to bigger and better things, in the process creating some really cool funny stuff online and offline as well as flexing his acting chops on stage. I, on the other hand, have yet to find crazy group of friends who hang out and do pretty much nothing. But, I have this the chance of hanging out with Douglas online to bring to you this interview with Douglas on his up-coming stand-up show – Planet of the Apeks.

YB: I just watched your KIA commercials, and I must say they are funny. The humour might be Chinese-centric but they are something all Asians can identify with. Would you say the same applies to the content or concept of Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians shows? 

DL: Thank you for finding the commercials funny. It’s my hope to introduce comedy to other fields like advertising and education so I’m glad that I’ve achieved some degree of success with the Kia commercials. Yes, the humour MACC does usually cuts across race. Although the 4 of us are Chinese, the first word in MACC is MALAYSIAN and that applies to us too. We are Malaysian first and foremost.

YB: What can we expect from Planet of the Apeks?

DL: Stand-up comedy in English, performed by 4 Malaysians. Because of who we are, the content will also be very Malaysian, involving issues and aspects of which we are all familiar.

YB: How involved are you in the production of Planet of the Apeks? From the poster, it looks like you are the lord and creator and all the other guys have to do is show up and deliver their lines.

DL: It’s actually a team effort. The bit where my name appears throughout the poster was added to fill up empty space. Chi Ho is our main publicist, Jenhan is in charge of graphics and colouring and stuff while Dr. Jason is there in case we get sick. I er…finance the whole endeavour.

YB: Why apek? You guys aren’t all that old, am I right? Or is that a blanket term for Chinese men above a certain age?

DL: It was a play on the title “Planet of the APES”. Apeks was closest.  And I guess all 4 of us do exhibit some form of apek-ness in out behavior.

YB: Personally, what makes you laugh? Do you think Planet of the Apeks will make, say, a 31 year old Malaysian Indian woman get the humour of your Apeks?

DL: As I said, as long as she is Malaysian knows the current issues of Malaysia, she should have no problems understanding and enjoying the show. I think, much more important than race, is the person’s ability to take a joke, laugh at each other and laugh at himself/ herself.

YB: The first time I saw a MACC event poster on my friend’s FB wall inviting his friends to watch the show at penangpac, being the clueless person I sometimes tend to be, I commented something in the vein of “oh, but I don’t understand Chinese, so I can’t watch la”. Needless to say, I kena teruk-teruk from another poster who basically said I was a dumbass for not getting the “English-speaking” clause of MACC. 

The story behind MACC ‘s formation is out there, and you (or your publicist or the person who wrote MACC’s profile) point out that it was born out of you not being in the right hue for Raja Lawak and that you were “convinced that the Chinese can be funny”, leading you to hunt high and low for people like you – Chinese and funny. What I am getting to is that the Chinese are known for their humour, which can be quite slapsticky, crude and very no-holds-barred. Is MACC’s brand of humour anything like that?

DL: That’s a really long question. But I’m afraid I can’t give you a yes/ no answer. Our “brand” of humour is actually just staple stand-up comedy fare. You get anecdotal humour, observational humour, some word play, some funny songs, self deprecating humour, etc…  But we definitely don’t go out of our way to be crude or offend. We just want to make people laugh.

YB: If no, could you elaborate more on that and what does it mean to be a relevant Malaysian comedian in this time?

DL: The comedy “scene” in Malaysia is still at its infancy but is experiencing rapid growth. And it’s nice to see many Malaysians getting into comedy – whether as a stand-up comedian or an Instagram humourists or Facebook joker. Any Malaysian comedian can be relevant as long as you talk about stuff Malaysians talk about among themselves.

YB: When it comes to comedy, is there any line that you would not cross? The reason I ask this is because our local news headlines are starting to sound even more outlandish than the ones The Onion dishes out, making our current reality like a bad B-grade comedy flick. 

DL: You know The Onion? Wow. Guess you’re quite a satire fan. Personally, I think the main problem facing our news agencies is their primary role. I would like to think that the main role of a news agency is to INFORM. In Malaysia, they seem to INFLUENCE more than inform. And the headlines mirror this reality.

YB: In the light of the ludicrous turn the country’s politics and social construct is taking, how do you see the coming future of comedy in Malaysia?

DL: Extremely bright. GOOD things, NICE things, HAPPY things are NOT funny.

YB: Last Question: are you funny because you are Chinese or are you Chinese because you are funny? Why do you say so?

DL: Neither. I really don’t think race has anything to do with “funny-ness”. I guess I have an obsession in always looking for the funny angle in everything. I thoroughly enjoy teasing out laughs from people. Being a “clown”.

YB: Before we end, I have to admit I have always found you adorable. I believe I was in Form 3 when I first saw you on Kopitiam. The fact that your little videos and skits are relatable and outright funny just makes it all the better. This is going up as one of my dream-interviews.

DL: Thank you. Your questions were definitely not the usual ones I’m used to getting. Hope to see you at the show in Penang.

Yasmin Bathamanathan is a published writer, produced playwright and director based in Malaysia. Her script, “We Were Made Fools”, won the Best Script at the Short + Sweet Theatre Festival (Penang) 2012. She also made her directorial debut at the Festival with “Somnus” which won the Best Male Actor award. An avid supported of performing arts, she is also the founder of this blog, PenTAS.

PenTAS Exclusive: A Chat with Stephanie Van Driesen of Marrying Me

*This is the third of a three-part feature about Marrying Me. Read the first part here and the second part here.

We have read how Christopher Ling describes this musical comedy of his and so have we heard from EllaRose Chary. How about the leading lady, the star, the heroin of Marrying Me? We wanted to know what is it like for her to work with such an international group, and how it is like playing someone else shares something in common with her.  So, for the third and final installment of the Marrying Me special, PenTAS talked to Stephanie Van Driesen.

Bitten by the acting bug when she was a just teenager, Stephanie has embarked on a long and arduous journey, all in the name of art. This singer/actor/dancer not only has a degree in musical theatre from one of Asia’s leading art schools, Lasalle College of the Arts in Singapore  but she also nabbed the college’s coveted President’s Award [Source: R.AGE]. Upon graduation, she returned home to Malaysia and has since made quite the name for herself in the local performing arts scene, appearing in hit shows such as The Secret Life of Nora and Cabaret. In a week’s time, you will get to see Stephanie on stage. Before that, let’s hear what she has to say about the world the folk of Marrying Me have created.

How do you see Marrying Me?  
A musical about one woman’s journey towards self-acceptance. All throughout the musical other “voices” – that of her mother, tradition in general, her own doubt and fear – keep her from owning up to how she really feels about who she is and what she wants, so she fights against the labels people put on her, as they try to get her to fit into what they want her to be, to make them happy. But in the end she realizes the only one who can truly make her happy is herself, and she begins to own that.

What drew you to audition for this musical? 
I didn’t actually audition for the role. It was more of an invitation. I had worked with Christopher Ling before on Songs for a New World at the beginning of this year, and with Onn San on The Secret Life of Nora in 2011 as well as on his début album Epomania on which I sang. I really enjoy working with them and I admire their work so any opportunity I have to work with them I would be keen on. They both approached me with this idea of a new musical and really wanted me to be part of it. So I said yes even before I had heard the music or read the script (which was still being written at the time).

Could you tell us a bit about Stephanie? 
She starts of as quite an angry, frustrated character, she has a lot of fight in her, and she doesn’t give in. Throughout the musical it is revealed why she is as she is. She talks to herself a lot, and tries to get the audience on her side. She is someone who had changed herself earlier in order to keep moving on from her past, but now she has become stuck in the conquest to prove others wrong. We see her unravel and we see her weaknesses, and hopefully we find ourselves relating to some of what she goes through.

How did you approach the character you play?
I relate to her in some ways and in many ways I don’t. So it was a combined effort of fleshing out the character’s landscape in collaboration with the playwright’s (Mark Beau) view, Christopher Ling’s vision, and in conversations with the other actors. For me, it’s an organic process too where I like to keep adding layers to her in the scenes, finding out what she really is looking for in every moment, and bringing it all together so it makes sense. It’s still an evolving process. I take many cues from the music, which is very emotional and evocative, to help build her inner world, because very often in musicals it is in the music, i.e. songs that you discover what the character truly feels and wants.

Were there any challenges in personifying Stephanie? 
Yes. Aside from the technical aspects of getting everything down, i.e. music, script in such a short time where we had scenes and musical numbers still being written and rewritten even as rehearsals began, I had difficulty accepting her. What this means is that I as the actor had certain judgements about her and it became difficult to really step into her shoes because there are many things she does, says, or reacts to in a manner I would never in my own life, and wouldn’t want to. So the fact that I was bringing to life someone I didn’t “endorse” was hard, but I had to discover that she really is a part of me somewhere inside me, perhaps a persona that I had locked away somewhere, or shut off the way the other characters want to hush her voice. But slowly I began to accept that she had a unique voice, and I began to use her voice as an opportunity to say things I personally would never voice. I began to enjoy the release and license it provided. Actor’s privilege! What was and is still challenging is keeping the through-line of her story fresh and alive in my mind as we progress through the play, as there is a lot going on all the time from start to finish, and it has to make sense very clearly every step of the way of where she is on her journey.

Both you and the character you play share the same name. Is there anything else that you two share? 
Yes, and more than I’d like to admit at times. We both have this fighting need to be free. To be free of convention and do things our own way. In life, we often don’t allow ourselves to really challenge all that we believe in when it doesn’t work anymore, and fewer of us have the courage to really take the action required to move things along in that direction. The character and I are both free spirits caught somewhere between flying free and giving in to doubt and fear. We want to do things our way, even if others agree. And we both still need to accept ourselves more.

How was it like working with the rest of the cast of Marrying Me
Fun and crazy! I’m so glad I get along with everyone in the production. *breathes sigh of relief* It just makes the whole process more enjoyable. We crack each other up so sometimes it’s hard to keep a straight face even in more serious scenes! Of course, playing off the other actors is always the best part. We’re still finding our nuances and I’m sure we’ll discover more even on the stage once we begin the performances as the audience is also another important participant in the show. The energy of the show can change depending on the audience, too.

How was it like working with Chris? 
He is a very visual director, and so works a lot in terms of how he wants the audience to view the scenes, the characters, and what he would like the audience to come away with thinking. There is always a point he wants to emphasize in line with the story. So I think he works towards that in every scene. He also allows the actors the freedom to realize their characters and only steps in when something we choose to put into the characters isn’t working or doesn’t feel right. So you have to be an independent actor and do your homework! I really enjoy his creative use of space. On top of that he is like the gleeful spectator, and really enjoys himself in rehearsal, unless we are all over the place, which is when he doesn’t think it’s funny at all!

What kind of experience can the audience expect when they come to see Marrying Me?
I think it’s really a slice of true honest Malaysian life. Those at or above 30 years in the audience may totally relate to the pressures of getting married that families place on them, and everyone will recognize someone in the musical as someone they know in real life. The musical is also very exaggerated especially in certain musical numbers where something major is being highlighted. Hopefully the honesty still comes through even with all the fanfare. In that there is quite an absurd element, so the audience is in for a treat. It’s a musical that has everything – comedy, pathos, some tragedy, danger, etc. Also, it’s not a musical where audiences are just passive onlookers. We really want the audience to feel they are part of the goings on, and that they have a voice too that is heard and felt in the story.

Finally, what would you like to say to those coming to see Marrying Me?
Just have fun! Come with an open mind, and have a few drinks before so we’ll all look much more attractive onstage!! Haha, maybe not. But seriously, just come and enjoy a truly Malaysian musical with quite a lot of something extra. If you are a hardened nut and the story doesn’t move you, then the songs will! I think the audience will come away humming some of the tunes. I’m glad to be working on a very groundbreaking musical and I believe this musical can go far, even onto international shores. So, here’s hoping for the best, and the audience support is very much needed in order for this to take off.

So, here you have it people. Now that you have read all about Marrying Me, it’s time for you to get your tickets and join the cast and crew at penangpac from 5 – 8 December 2013!

Marrying Me takes place at stage 2, penangpac @ Straits Quay (3H-3A-1, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjung Tokong, 10470 Penang) from 5 - 7 December 2013 @ 8.30pm and 8 December 2013 @ 3pm. For information on ticketing, check out penangpac.

Marrying Me takes place at stage 2, penangpac @ Straits Quay (3H-3A-1, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjung Tokong, 10470 Penang) from 5 – 7 December 2013 @ 8.30pm and 8 December 2013 @ 3pm. For information on ticketing, check out penangpac.

PenTAS Exclusive: A Chat with EllaRose Chary of Marrying Me

*This is the second of a three-part feature about Marrying Me by Yasmin Bathamanathan. Read the first part here and third part here.

You would think that to come up with something “quintessentially Malaysian”, one would need to be a Malaysian or have spent a fair amount of time in Malaysia. But have you ever thought of how one can learn about a foreign culture through speaking to people of said culture? Ah, ha. Thought so.

In the upcoming production of Marrying Me, the lyrics of the songs in the musical were penned by an American – one EllaRose Chary, to be exact. Mind you, EllaRose (oh my god, so in love with her name!) is no calang-calang (translation: ordinary) lyricist. Her extensive CV states that she is “a writer, performer, dramaturg and activist based in New York City” and has seen her work featured all across the US, in Australia and now, Malaysia. EllaRose was just recently named a 2013 Fellowship Finalist by the New York Foundation for the Arts in the Playwriting/Screenwriting category.

Intrigued by the very idea of this trans-Atlantic-and-Indian (oceans, la) collaboration, PenTAS does a bit of that emailing biznes with EllaRose to pick her brains on Marrying Me, writing and cross-cultural pragmatisms. 

In a few short sentences, how would you describe Marrying Me?
At its heart, I think it’s the story of a woman who is trying to balance her responsibilities to society, her mother, and herself. It’s also (I hope) a funny and poignant show that mixes a traditional musical theatre sensibility with a Malaysian flair. There are a lot of fun moments in the show, but there’s also something deeper going on, which makes it really interesting.

How would you describe the music of Marrying Me?
It’s a contemporary musical theatre score with a pop sensibility. We’d try to make the songs melodic and hook-y, without making them cliched, and so there a lot of styles working together. I think the melody Onn (San) wrote for “Marry Me” is  just beautiful, and it was easy to write lyrics to that one because you can just feel the emotion coursing through the song.

How did your involvement in Marrying Me come about?
Onn and I were in the same class at NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. We worked together a bit in the program and really liked the songs we wrote together, so we knew after we finished we would keep writing together even though he was in Malaysia and I was in New York. When the opportunity came up to write Marrying Me, Onn asked me if I wanted to write lyrics, and of course I did.

Have you had any prior experience with Malaysian theatre?
My only prior experience with Malaysian theatre has been through Onn; I know what he’s been working on the past few years because of our collaboration and friendship. But, the real answer to that is no, I had no prior experience and I’m so excited to have had the chance to get to know everyone working on this project and really look forward to connecting with other Malaysian artists when I visit in December.

Could you share with us how did you pen the lyrics for the musical?
Coming up with the lyrics definitely grew out of a strong collaboration with Mark (Beau De Silva) and Onn. We all started writing around the same time, and we came up with a lot of the ideas for the show as a team, so when Mark would give us an outline, we would start to decide what the song moments might be. Sometimes we were right, and sometimes we were wrong and would have to change things as the script developed. The first song, “I Don’t”, which is one of my favorites, was the first thing we wrote and it was before we really knew a lot of the details of the story. We knew the basic idea that everyone around Stephanie was saying “I do” and she was resistant to that, and so it just seemed natural to me that she would say “I Don’t” which felt like a strong hook for a song. Once we decided on the title Marrying Me and we knew what the show was going to be about, both Onn and I knew that Stephanie had to have an 11 o’clock number called “Marrying Me”, but that ended up being one of the hardest songs to write because it felt like I had to capture what we were trying to say in the whole show in one lyric while keeping it specific to the story and the character.

What was the process like?
The process was actually really fun and sort of easy for me because I was 12 hours away and so all the fighting happened while I was asleep and then I would wake up in the morning and everything would be resolved (just kidding). Seriously, though, it was great because Mark, Onn and Chris are all real professionals and so everyone was focused on getting the work done in the short time we had to put everything together. There were certainly stressful moments, because the deadlines came very quickly and I knew I had to get Onn the lyrics as soon as possible so he could work on the music. The basic process was that Mark would write the scenes and we would figure out what the songs were, then Onn and I would decide whether we wanted to start with lyrics or music depending on what seemed right for the song. After we started having drafts of the show, we would meet on Skype with Chris and read through it and give notes and make adjustments based on what we had.

Were there any challenges in coming up with the lyrics for Marrying Me?
Having to generate a lot of material very quickly was sometimes challenging, because I would feel like I was running out of ideas. I would look at a blank page and feel really stuck and just tell myself in 3 months, in Malaysia, this is going to be on a stage – you haven’t written it yet, but that’s happening, so you have to write it. And that helped, but it was funny because it also felt surreal and very far away. Another challenge was trying to not sound too American in my lyrics. I know there are some things that are commonplace here that sound odd in Malaysia, and vice versa, so I tried to be mindful of that, but sometimes I just didn’t know. Luckily, I had Onn and Mark, so they would tell me if something didn’t sound quite right. For example, I wrote in one lyric “50 pound dress” and Onn said we have to change that, and now it’s “10 kilo dress.” I also tried to learn from what Mark was writing and from listening to Mark, Onn and Chris talk, and incorporate that in, so I would put “lah” in – because it’s easy to sing and it rhymes with a lot, but I kept using it wrong and Onn and Mark would say “no, no, that doesn’t work,” but now I think I got the hang of it, lah.

How was it like working with the folks of Marrying Me?
I had a great time. It was really funny because for about a month and a half, Onn, Mark, Chris and I had this “WhatsApp” chat group, which is how we’d communicate. Because of the time difference I could tell what time everyone got up and started working and they always knew that about me. For example, Mark is an early riser, because it would be early evening here and I would get text messages from him before anyone else was awake responding to the things I had written at 4 in the morning Malaysia time. Then a few hours later, my phone would just explode with messages and I knew everyone was up and chatting and then I would go to bed and wake up in the morning with 50 text messages from a whole conversation the three of them had while I was asleep. And, I know that Mark and Onn also felt like they would come back to their phone and find they missed a whole conversation. Mostly it was very rewarding because I felt like I learned so much from watching everyone’s process and being involved with an arts community that is totally new to me.

What kind of experience can the audience expect when they come to see Marrying Me, especially in terms of the musical aspect of it?
I think the audience can expect to have a good time, but also to have their heartstrings tugged a bit. There are definitely some big, toe-tapping musical numbers that people will be singing when they leave, but there’s also some darker elements to the plot and that is reflected in the music. They did a teaser of the song “Superhero” and you can tell just from the little bit you hear in the video that that’s a song that goes for the heart. I don’t think anyone will get bored, there are some elements to the plot that are kind of zany, like the song “Win, Win.” We tried to structure the songs so that the energy stays high for most of the show.

Any message you’d like to give to those coming to see Marrying Me?
Give it a chance! Anytime you have a new musical, it’s a bit scary (for the audience and the writers) because nobody knows what to expect. But Chris and the cast, Stephen and Lex, the musicians, and of course Onn and Mark, everyone’s just been working so hard on the material, and I think that’s really going to show in the production. And, like with any new show, there are some parts that if you just hear about them, you might be uncertain if it will work, because it’s not a tried and true show that you are familiar with, but I think if the audience goes in with an open mind and is ready for something that hasn’t been done a hundred times, they will find something pretty exciting.

Marrying Me takes place at stage 2, penangpac @ Straits Quay (3H-3A-1, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjung Tokong, 10470 Penang) from 5 - 7 December 2013 @ 8.30pm and 8 December 2013 @ 3pm. For information on ticketing, check out penangpac.

Marrying Me takes place at stage 2, penangpac @ Straits Quay (3H-3A-1, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjung Tokong, 10470 Penang) from 5 – 7 December 2013 @ 8.30pm and 8 December 2013 @ 3pm. For information on ticketing, check out penangpac.

PenTAS Exclusive: A Chat with Christopher Ling of Marrying Me

*This is the first of a three-part feature about Marrying Me by Yasmin Bathamanathan. Read the second part here and the third part here.

Being the theatre newbie that I am, I asked Christopher Ling, in quiet earnestness, what had attracted him to adapting Marrying Me into a musical. You see, I took the “Book by Mark Beau De Silva” part quite literally. So, Chris, being the awesome friend that he is, proceeded to school me in the ways of musical theatrics. “A book in a musical means the entire story and script. It does not mean a pre-existing “book” that has been adapted into a musical,” chided a well-meaning Chris over Facebook chat.

Say what? A book that is not a book but is the story and script? Sounds quite like a “book” to me. Okay, since I was aware by then that I knew next to nothing when it comes to musical theatre, I turned to my best friend – the almighty Wikipedia.

“Musical theatre is a form of theatre that combines songs, spoken dialogue, acting, and dance … yada yada yada … book musicals …”

Wait a minute. Book musicals? What in fresh hell is that? This is how darling Wikipedia explains it:

“Since the 20th century, the “book musical” has been defined as a musical play where songs and dances are fully integrated into a well-made story with serious dramatic goals that is able to evoke genuine emotions other than laughter.”

Hey, that’s my definition of musicals (re: not Bollywood) also! Looks like I am heading in the right direction after all. Upon further reading, Wikipedia starts filling up my musical gaps. There are three components to a book musical – the music, the lyrics and the book. Once again, the book here denotes

“… script of a musical refers to the story, character development, and dramatic structure, including the spoken dialogue and stage directions, but it can also refer to the dialogue and lyrics together, which are sometimes referred to as the libretto …”

Got it, children? Right. Now let’s move on to the musical in discussion here; Marrying Me.

The two musicals of yours that I have watched are The Last Five Years and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Why did you choose Marrying Me this time?

I wanted to direct something Malaysian in nature, something that Malaysians would connect with. It is a script that was written specifically for this show.

Did Mark already write it or did you approach him with the idea?

I invited him to write the book for my musical, which I had commissioned Onn San to write for me in April. We had just finished working on Ruby Moon in March (if you remember, Onn worked on the soundscape for that production). The idea was conceived by Onn and Mark. EllaRose Chary was brought in after a few initial meetings. The three of them worked on everything before handing over to me in late September.

Why was Ella approached? Have any of you worked with her before this?

Onn and Ella were classmates at NYU.

Ah, that makes sense. In terms of visual aesthetics, the heroine of Marrying Me does not look like the conventional one – she sports cropped hair and in the poster, she looks quite androgynous. From this I gather that Marrying Me is a musical that, in many ways, defies social conventions. This is after all a tale of a woman who refuses to lose her autonomy and independence.

You hit the nail on its head. In fact, allow me to go one step further to say that with everyone around Stephanie trying desperately to change her, she remains steadfast in what she believes is right. In doing so, she becomes the catalyst for change in everyone around her. Quite an interesting reversal of circumstances, don’t you think?

In terms of casting, what is it that you saw in Stephanie Van Driesen that told you she was the STEPHANIE? Did she crop her hair for the part? Did you “make” her do it?

No, the cropped hair was on her part. She cut her hair much earlier in late September. Stephanie has charisma and presence as an actor. The musical is technically her journey, and thus it was important for the actor to be able to ground the show. Stephanie (the character) knows what she wants. And she tenaciously sets out to get it.

And that includes escaping getting married? Or do we have to watch it to find out?

The question should be more: getting married to whom?

Oh.

The getting married happens, but the “to whom” part is the interesting thing.

Nice. If you were asked to describe Marrying Me in 3 sentences, how would you describe it?

Marrying Me is pure unadulterated musical comedy at its best. But what makes it more appealing is its distinct Malaysian flavour contained in Mark’s characters and scenarios. It is very much like the quintessential Mark Beau De  Silva play musicalised – NOT a play with music BUT a MUSICAL in its own right.

I obviously know nothing about directing a musical. Is there anything particularly tricky about it?

The balancing act between all the many departments and people I need to engage with creatively. There’s music. There’s set. There’re props. There’re costumes. There’re actors. There’re musicians. There’s follows spots … AND the buck stops with ME!

Yikes. So, as a director, which do you find trickier to direct: plays or musicals?

Musicals are definitely more challenging. So many things could go wrong at any one time. I am always kept on the edge of my seat with worry. Plays are considerably easier. All the elements are more controllable. A musical must speak to you – not only through the dialogue but through the music – sung and played by the band. The choreography must lift the production and the story we are all trying to tell. If not, it is just clutter.

I bet. Someone once explained to me how complicated the process of coming up with a 10-minute musical for Short+Sweet is. No wonder you’re all stressed and whatnot.

YUP! But Marrying is 2 hours long (with a 15 minutes interval). 1 hour for Act 1, 45 minutes for Act 2.

What was it like working with this set of cast for Marrying Me?

Marrying Me features a cast of ten actors that come from two distinct camps – experienced musical theatre performers and young actors. For Muhaimin, this is his 2nd show with me; he did Spiderwoman last year. Yi Qing, Ho Lee Ching and Aaron Lo are all from T4YP.

It is a joy to work with people like Stephanie, Sandra Sodhy, Chang Fang Chyi and Tony Leo. They bring a wealth of experience to their characters. So do Benjamin Lin and Joel Wong in the supporting roles that they are playing.

Lastly, why should people come watch Marrying Me?

A musical has the ability to move an audience like no other live performance can with its three-way combo of Drama, Song and Dance.

Thank you, Chris for sharing your time with me. All the best with Marrying Me and I’ll see you when you get here.

You’re welcome.

Marrying Me takes place at stage 2, penangpac @ Straits Quay (3H-3A-1, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjung Tokong, 10470 Penang) from 5 - 7 December 2013 @ 8.30pm and 8 December 2013 @ 3pm. For information on ticketing, check out penangpac.

Marrying Me takes place at stage 2, penangpac @ Straits Quay (3H-3A-1, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjung Tokong, 10470 Penang) from 5 – 7 December 2013 @ 8.30pm and 8 December 2013 @ 3pm. For information on ticketing, check out penangpac.

PenTAS Exclusive: A Chat with Kelvyn Yeang of IndiePG

Get your rock on, boys and girls, for IndiePG, Penang’s very own (and biggest, might I add) independent music festival begins this 25 October for a two-day run at the Performing Arts Centre of Penang, or penangpac! Featuring a line up of indie bands from all over Malaysia, IndiePG is also holding FOUR workshops on the ins-and-outs of music and technologysongwritingrecording, and the all important question – how to forge a career in indie music.

To mark the second installment of IndiePG (the first was just in March 2013, which only shows that Penangites love their indie music and bands, and they want MORE!), PenTAS thought it would be fun to get to know this music festival better. Kelvyn Yeang  is one of the founders of IndiePG and is by no stretch a stranger to the local independent music scene (hint: he part of the acclaimed instrumental progressive band Ocean of Fire). This is what Kelvyn has to say to us.

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Like a boss – Kelvyn Yeang on stage

What is IndiePG exactly and why was it created?

We formed IndiePG to create an organised platform for musicians to network and showcase their original music as well as educate the public and generate interest through talks, workshops and performances up here in the north. There is so much potential for growth in this area up north. Through all that we have done, over time we believe we can generate enough interest from the public, especially the younger individuals from both college and high schools. We have so many talented people here writing great music but without a clue on what to do with them. We want to give them options, and a chance to network with like-minded people, to share and grow together. That’s the environment we hope to create.

How was IndiePG conceptualised? Besides you, who else was part of the team that started IndiePG?

When penangpac first opened, I got a chance to be involved with some programmes. One of which I presented music along klpac’s Ian Chow. Ian is also a champion of indie music and we share a passion for Malaysian original music and its scene as well. We both agreed that it would be a great idea to create a platform for Penang and work along penangpac to make it all happen.

Of course I couldn’t possibly undertake this colossal task myself so I gathered people with a common interest yet with different strengths to form a committee to oversee everything. Currently the team is RaggyEng BokSamwiseLawrence , Wanida, and I.

What is your role in IndiePG?

Call me what you want. Basically I set the direction and create a general plan and set the goals. Then everyone contributes to make it happen.

How was the response to the first IndiePG?

It was great! It went really well. We were especially happy since so many younger students turned up. That to me means a lot. There are just too many events where musicians only play to the other musicians present. We need to generate enough interest if we want people to take local music seriously.

With the second installment of IndiePG taking place within a few months since the first one, do you think in the coming year we will see more than 2 installments of IndiePG?

Who knows? It all depends on funds, manpower and time. I can’t promise or say anything yet but we do have some idea on what we gonna do next year. Also, very importantly, if we could attract sponsors and more contributors we most certainly would be able to make this grow.

What do you look for in bands / musicians for IndiePG? Is there a set criteria to which bands need to fit in order to get picked for the event?

Original music is a must. It’s the Indie musicians that need the platforms most. Other than that, the committee collectively decides. We are not strict with music styles at all. The submissions we get are a smorgasbord of genres. We also make it a point to offer as much variety as we can. You will be able to find everything from ethereal post rock to funk, blues, folk and the other extremes of progressive rock and metal.

Genres are never a problem. Everyone with great music should be given an opportunity to be heard. But that said, we are very strict in making sure the material is safe for the family. There are kids and teachers out there that come to our events, even parents. If we want to create a conducive environment for growth and acceptance, we have to take all these factors into consideration as well. Quality is also a must. If we want to convince people then we got to put the best out there up there on stage.

Are the bands in the line up solely from Penang or is it open to bands based anywhere in Malaysia?

It doesn’t matter. We obviously take a generous number of Penang bands, but largely setting up a platform up here in the north is more important. We take bands from all over.

In terms of platforms, IndiePG provides a much-needed one for new and emerging indie acts and for bands in general in Penang. Is there any plans to take IndiePG to the next level, say in terms of how George Town Festival and George Town Literary Festivals have made Penang a centre for the arts and literature, or even Penang International Jazz Festival for jazz?

Who knows? We are still in our fledgling stage. Hopefully we will one day make enough impact and allow something big to happen.

In terms of support, what could the public do to lend a hand to IndiePG?

Tell your friends. Come to actually check us out. We have even made the workshops free for everyone.Donations and sponsorship and manpower are always welcome as well.

Finally, why should Penangites not miss IndiePG this 25 & 26 October?

Because its relevant and its cool. Its also localised enough to be comfortable for all. Workshops are totally free and we have a totally rocking line up for the showcase with bands like Tempered Mental and Froya.

So, you’ve heard it. Make sure you make your presence felt at IndiePG!

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IndiePG takes place at stage 2, penangpac @ Straits Quay (3H-3A-1, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjung Tokong, 10470 Penang) on 25 & 26 October 2013. For information on the workshops, check out IndiePG and for ticketing, check out penangpac.

PenTAS Exclusive: A Chat with Tim Richey of The Gruffalo

This 29 October to 3 November, fans of the beloved monster Gruffalo will be in for a treat as Tall Stories’ West End production of The Gruffalo comes Penang. Brought to Malaysia by Gardner & Wife Theatre and staged at the Performing Arts Centre of Penang, or penangpac, this production of The Gruffalo has delighted young children and adults all over the world as it has toured the UK, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. 

In this PenTAS exclusive, we talk to one of the three casts of The Gruffalo – Tim Richey, who does a whole lot of acting and a fair amount of narrating. Born in Cheltenham in the UK, Richey is an actor who likes to paint and cites ‘pottering around’ as a hobby, which explains how he manages to juggle handling three roles (we will let you discover which ones for yourself) in The Gruffalo.   

What do you enjoy most about you roles in The Gruffalo?
I love the fact that I get to play so many different characters (I have a lot of costume changes!) Plus seeing the audience’s reaction when the Gruffalo first comes on stage is always a treat!

Tim Richey in Tall Stories' The Gruffalo
Tim Richey in Tall Stories’ The Gruffalo

What is the most exciting aspect for you in this production?
Snake sings a great song which always goes down a treat.

Is this the first time you as part of a production that is performing in Malaysia? 
Yes.

How has your experience in Malaysia been so far?
It’s been fantastic – lots to see and do and everyone has been so welcoming. When we left the UK it was cold and grey, so it’s been lovely to have a bit of sun.  The food has been great too.

Is there a difference between adult and young (children) audience? 
The children love all the slapstick humour but there are loads of jokes that the adults get too. The children are great during the audience participation parts – they are definitely louder than the adults! The show works on lots of different levels and so should be fun for everyone – whatever their age!

Oh, no! Where is the Gruffalo?

Why is theatre for children important? How does exposure to theatre and performing arts affect children?  
There are huge benefits for audiences of all ages in going to see theatre. In a world full of screens and computer generated 3D backdrops, young audiences really benefit from being told a fabulous story in a communal and interactive way. In the theatre, the performers can talk directly to their audience and the audience can talk right back. In The Gruffalo, the audience are at points encouraged (but never forced!) to shout out and join in so they get to experience something live and interactive. This immediacy is something theatre can do that cinema never can.

Theatre also provides young audiences with a chance to let their imaginations run wild. A stick can be turned into the bars of a cage, a cricket bat or a tightrope and a man can play a boy, a woman or a parrot – watching that kind of transformation happen in front of your eyes can be magical – for both young and grown up audiences.

Personally, which was your favourite theatre production that you enjoyed when you were young?
I remember seeing Cats in London when I was about 8 and spent most of the following weeks pretending to be a cat.

What’s next for you? Do you have another project lined up?
After Malaysia we head to Paris for a few days with the show and then we open in the West End in London.

Finally, why should parents bring their children to watch Tall Stories’ The Gruffalo
It’s a really imaginative telling of a great story. There’s something for all the family in The Gruffalo – songs, comedy and also a scary Gruffalo!  Children who have read the book will love seeing their bedtime reading live on stage and, as the show is aimed at families, we hope the grown-ups will be surprised at how much they enjoy it too.

THE GRUFFALO shows at stage 1, penangpac @ Straits Quay (3H-3A-1, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjung Tokong, 10470 Penang) from 29 October – 1 November 2013 @ 10 am and 12:30 pm and 2 – 3 November 2013 @ 2 pm and 5 pm.