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Make a date with Ksatriya

Ksatriya – the multifaceted Penang-based artist – has a heartfelt proposition for you.

Let’s meet up.

I think art and music have become too divorced, too removed from the connection between artist and audience, performer and fan.

There are too many celebrity superstars, walled off from their listeners by bodyguards and photoshop and barrier walls.

How can you put a beat to the lives of people on the street, if you do not walk among them?

Let’s meet up. Let’s enjoy the music together. And let’s sit and talk after.

I want to perform for you on the 16th at The Canteen At ChinaHouse. Come enjoy the show, and let’s chat over beers (or a non-alcoholic beverage if you prefer).

#RED will be available on sale with a special discount, and signed copies for free, specially for some lucky fans.

See you there.

If you have been away Penang or so happened to have spent the past year or so without access to the internet, allow PenTAS to school you a little on this phenomenon known as Ksatriya.

Introducing Ksatriya
Introducing Ksatriya

For one, besides being a poet, a songwriter and a performer, he is pretty much an all around stand up kind of a person. He flirts with controversy, very much in the vein of a budding activist, and like any decent activist, he has a manifesto.

Calling his debut EP his manifesto, Ksatriya’s Red is quite a breath of fresh air. It blends genres as varied as World Fusion, Rap, Spoken Word, Blues, Hip-Hop and Rock, and each of its eight tracks feature Ksatriya’s vocals, be it in the style of spoken word, blues poetry or rap.

What sets Ksatriya apart from his contemporaries are his songwriting and versing that reflect the life average Malaysian young and young-at-heart adults regardless of race, gender, religion, sexuality and football allegiance.

With such a lovely invitation, how could one resist spending some time with the charming Mr Ksatriya.

Ksatriya Live 

Date

16 February 2014 @ 9pm

Venue

The Canteen @ ChinaHouse, 153 Beach Street, 10300 Georgetown

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.

Ksatriya paints Malaysia in RED

RED by Ksatriya
RED by Ksatriya

If you have been to the monthly sessions of Say It Like You Mean It at China House’s The Canteen, you would be familiar with Ksatriya – the multifaceted Penang-based artist. Ksatriya is poet, songwriter and performer who has been a regular feature in the local (re: Malaysian) music and literary circuits. This VIMA-nominated artist has performed in notable Malaysian festivals, including The Georgetown Literary Festival 2012 and The Cooler Lumpur Festival 2013.

After teasing his fans and followers with singles released over the course of 2012 and 2013, Ksatriya today releases his debut EP titled RED. The EP includes eight tracks that are a blend of various genres, namely World Fusion, Rap, Spoken Word, Blues, Hip-Hop and Rock.

The tracks on RED feature Ksatriya’s vocals, be it in the style of spoken word, blues poetry or rap. His songwriting and versing shine through as the music is on each track is arranged to serve as a melodic canvas on which Ksatriya’s husky and clear voice and evocative lyrics paint pictures that very much reflect issues and lives of the average Malaysian.

Ksatriya, who is very much an activist and a vocal champion of freedom of speech, human rights and clean politics, professes to be dedicated to not sugarcoat or varnish truths in his musical storytelling. “Art is in my blood, if they take away my paint, I will paint in red,” he said, adding that his debut EP derives its title from stance of his. In other words, RED signifies “the beginning of a musical journey that promises to take fans on one hell of a ride.”

RED is now available for purchase at http://rebelrhyming.bandcamp.com/. The EP can be downloaded in mp3, mp3 320 format, AAC or other ‘audiophile’ formats, and is only available as a digital download.

DSC_23781_
Ksatriya

*Images courtesy of Ksatriya