Category Archives: Theatre

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.

RTL Diaries

By Jackie Ashkin

We’re at that stage. Not a literal stage with lights and such. But a stage in preparation. The stage where nobody feels ready and lines are dropped and fits of giggle appear at random.

We’re about a week away from the show. So it’s normal. A worn out director, Mr. Mark Sasse, sits in front of us, looking stressed as can be. He’s rubbing his hands across his face, his notebook strewn across the floor. It’s that stage for him, too. The one where he’s probably very tempted to yell at anyone who asks for a water break.

Our choreographer, Mrs. Rachel Chand, just sits and watches us, an unreadable expression on her face. She’s probably hoping we’ll start straightening our arms some time soon.

We’ve been a group for a while now; we know each other’s tendencies. Two of my friends stand toward the back, practicing the “awkward flamingo” – a one-legged stance declaring a lack of confidence in what exactly they are supposed to be doing.

I stand by the side and try to practice my solo. I keep forgetting to breathe, which can prove itself a problem three-fourths of the way through a note. As I look around me, I can only think of how much I am going to miss these people who I have learnt to love. It’s my last “season” with RLT – I’m bittersweet.

I have seen the group I envisioned so long ago, discussing silly things with Ciera Nash and Mr. Sasse, grow into something truly beautiful. Evolving from a one-night show into a fully fledged, long-term ensemble; it’s about to see its third time through. For a high school group, RLT is pretty amazing.

This time, we will bring the audience an eclectic choice of dramatic sketches, ranging in subject from giant squids to annoying children. Granted, the giant squid does not eat the annoying child. But it’s still worth watching.

Come see Season Three of the RLT players at penangpac’s Stage 2 on November 22 at 5pm and 8pm or November 23 at 3pm and 8pm. Or come to all four shows! You never know what could happen.

Jackie Ashkin has been on the stage since she was a wee lass. Most recently, she has been really involved with Dalat Original Drama and the Short+Sweet Festival in Penang as an actor, director, and playwright. As well as winning Best Supporting Actress at this year’s Festival, she directed the winner of Best Script, No In Spite of Itself, which will be included in the upcoming RLT show.

2013-11-08

Tickets for Captured In Time & Space can be purchased at TicketPro or the penangpac Box Office. For reservations or more information, call penangpac at 04-8991722 / 2722. 

 

Captured In Time & Space

From Dalat International School’s RTL Players is a new theatre production –  Captured In Time & Space. Directed by Mark Sasse, who won the best script award in Short & Sweet Theatre Penang 2013, Captured In Time & Space also features other Short+Sweet alums such as Jacqueline Ashikin, Tesa Sasse, Ciera Nash and Joseph Stoltzfus.

Here’s a snippet of what to expect with Captured In Time & Space:

Unforgettable moments of life – captured in time and space. The RLT Players are back for their third season with a brand new set of dramatic sketches and short musicals, which are funny, poignant, and all original. The show includes the wacky comedy “The Giant Squid that Ate Georgetown”, the poignant drama “I Once was Blind”, and the award-winning dramatic sketch, “‘No’ in Spite of Itself” – winner of best script award in Short & Sweet Theatre Penang 2013. The show also features the unique rhythmic dancing of “Black & White” and the mini-musical “Captured in Time & Space” as featured in Short & Sweet Musical KL 2013. This is a fun and uplifting show for all ages that is not be missed. 

 penangpac

Captured In Time & Space

Dates

22 November 2013 @ 5pm & 8pm

23 November 2013  @ 3pm & 8pm

Venue

stage 2, penangpac @ Straits Quay (3H-3A-1, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjung Tokong, 10470 Penang)

Ticketing Information

RM 20 (Adults)

RM 15 (Students & TAS Card Holder)

Tickets can be purchased at TicketPro or the penangpac Box Office. For reservations or more information, call penangpac at 04-8991722 / 2722.

The Gruffalo by London’s Tall Stories

The tale of Gruffalo is beloved by children all over the world and for the first time, all the way from London, Tall Stories’ musical adaptation of the multi-award winning children’s book, THE GRUFFALO, comes to Penang to the delight of children and parents alike.

Join Mouse as he trails off deep into the dark woods in search of some delicious nuts for lunch and encounters three residents of the woods who look to him as a fitting meal. There is “the smirking, wheeler-dealer Fox; an eccentric, retired Woodland Air Force General Owl; and the maraca-shaking, party animal Snake” but none of them are a match to Mouse’s wit or cunning. As Mouse turns them off with horrifying tales of The Gruffalo, his monster friend (an imaginary one, of course), he is in for a big surprise when he comes face-to-face with the big, burly Gruffalo. How Mouse escapes from this is brilliantly acted out in Tall Stories’ wonderful and magical production that has drawn in rave reviews.

Told through witty songs, brilliant acting and whimsical story-telling, The Gruffalo is directed by Tall Stories’ co-founder Olivia Jacobs. Besides rave reviews and being the toast of London’s West End, this is a production not-to-be-missed as it taps into the creative and whimsical world of childhood imagination to bring a wholesome and entertaining work of theatre for the whole family.

Copyright Tall Stories
A children’s theatre for the family [Copyright Tall Stories]
THE GRUFFALO

Dates

29 October – 1 November 2013 @ 10 am / 12:30 pm

2 – 3 November 2013 @ 2 pm / 5 pm

Venue

stage 1, penangpac @ Straits Quay (3H-3A-1, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjung Tokong, 10470 Penang)

Ticketing information

RM 50 for Regular

RM 63 for Superior

RM 76 for Premium

RM 89 for VIP

PROMOTION (Call +6017-2289 849)

OKU Promotion @ 50% off on a normal ticket price, up to 2 tickets per OKU card

Family Package at RM234 for 4 Superior (in person / phone ONLY)

Special Offer of 10 packages of RM234 for 4 Premium (First Come First Served)

School Rate of RM48

Tickets can be purchased at TicketPro or the penangpac Box Office. For reservations or more information, call penangpac at 04-8991722 / 2722.

The Restaurant of Many Orders

The acclaimed Japanese director and choreographer Hiroshi Koike brings us his latest work, The Restaurant of Many Orders which is part of the Koike Hiroshi Bridge Project. Said to be a physical theatre piece, this performance takes from Kenji Miyazawa’s famous children’s story of the same title and revolves around the theme of human and nature and the relationship between the two.

The Restaurant of Many Orders promises to be an enthralling piece of performance art in the vein of Koike’s earlier project, Pappa Tarahumara, lacing  traditional and contemporary dance with whimsical and surreal story-telling.

The Restaurant of Many Orders

Date

23 October 2013 @ 8:30pm

Venue

stage 1, penangpac @ Straits Quay (3H-3A-1, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjung Tokong, 10470 Penang)

Ticketing information

RM 30 (Adults)

RM 15 (Students, Physically Challenged, TAS & Senior Privilege Card Holder)

Tickets can be purchased at TicketPro or the penangpac Box Office. For reservations or more information, call penangpac at 04-8991722 / 2722.

A PenTAS exclusive: Marrying Me – The Musical

“Still no boyfriend ah?”

Every single woman who has had this question hurled at her would understand how annoying it can be to have nosy aunties and ‘well-meaning’ relatives trying to set her up with any Abu, Ah Beng or Appu.

And “Still no boyfriend ah?” is how the publicity team behind Christopher Ling’s upcoming production, Marrying Me, starts of its pre-pre press release, which came along with a personal note stating that PenTAS was the first media to receive the preliminary information on what seems to be like a syiok-tastic musical comedy. Brownie points for Marrying Me (which I hope would eventually translate into ticket sales).

Based on a book written by Mark Beau De Silva, this production by the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac) in collaboration with the Penang Performing Arts Centre (penangpac) tells the story of one Stephanie – a proud single woman. But as her will to resist marriagehood starts to fray and a looming tragedy corners her, will Stephanie change her “I don’t” to the dreaded “I do”?

We will just have to wait for Dec 5 to find out what Stephanie does when Marrying Me opens at penangpac.

MARRYING ME 

Content Advisory: PG-13: Parental guidance advised (13 years old and above)

Music Onn San

Book Mark Beau De Silva

Lyrics EllaRose Chary

Director & Production Designer Christopher Ling

Musical Director & Arranger Stephen Tok

Choreographer Lex Lakshman Balakrishnan

Featuring Stephanie Van Driesen, Sandra Sodhy, Tony Leo Selvaraj, Fang Chyi with Joel Wong, Aaron Teoh, Aaron Ho, Abdul Muhaimin, Ho Lee Ching, Tan Yi Qing

Date

5 – 7 December @ 8.30pm

8 December @ 3pm

Venue

stage 2, penangpac @ Straits Quay (3H-3A-1, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjung Tokong, 10470 Penang)

Ticketing Information

RM53 (Adults)

RM33 (Students, TAS Cardholders)

Ticket Promotions: Group Bookings: Buy 10 tickets, get 1 ticket FREE

Tickets can be purchased at TicketPro or the penangpac Box Office. For reservations or more information, call penangpac at 04-8991722 / 2722

Follow Marrying Me online on Twitter and Instagram with #marryingmemusical