Tag Archives: Malaysian

Review: Shakespeare Demystified’s Hamlet A Performance Lecture

Yasmin Bathamanathan reviews Hamlet A Performance Lecture by Shakespeare Demystified that was on at penangpac from 10-13 April 2014.

“To be or not to be …”

How many a times have we used this famous line from Hamlet without fully understanding its meaning? I remember using this very line in a debate I participated more than a decade ago in school. Sure, it is dramatic, pregnant with existential conundrum in whatever context we deem it be:

Successful – to be or not to be

Happy – to be or not to be

Wedded – to be or not to be

You get the gist.

Yet, only today, at the ripe old age of *ahem* did I find out what Shakespeare meant by that famous line in Hamlet’s soliloquy at Shakespeare Demystified‘s Hamlet A Performance Lecture. You see, in his many philosophical ramblings post-Hamlet the Older’s death, Hamlet the Prince either devices plans to bring his Uncle/Stepfather/Daddy-Murderer to justice or to seek vengeance upon murder of his Daddy (Hamlet, the Dead King @ Hamlet the Older).

However, in this particular soliloquy in the Nunnery Scene, sad puppy Hamlet contemplates suicide. “To be or not to be”, with the emphasis on the verb “be”, which indicates a state of being. In other words to EXIST or NOT TO EXIST @ ALIVE or DEAD. Nothing to do with success, happiness, matrimony or whatever else. “To be or not to be” was a question of “Should I live or should I kill myself”.

Wow! I know, right? If only the 16-year old me knew this. She probably would have known had she had the chance to attend something like Shakespeare Demystified‘s Hamlet A Performance Lecture.

Hamlet, while being one of the greatest plays of Shakespeare, the greatest writer of the entire history of mankind, is also mind-numbingly long. Four-hours long, give or take. Being the guardians of the demystification of Shakespearean sagas, this vagabond (not really; they are based in KL) troupe of Shakespearean fanboys and fangirls from Malaysia have come up with a surprisingly approachable introduction to Hamlet.

Selecting key scenes and events from the play, the cast of Hamlet A Performance Lecture first introduce the scene, give the audience a little background on the context, discuss the motivations behind some of the actions, provide literary criticism on the characters and events, and explain certain terms (who would have thought an innocuous phrase such as “country matters” can have double entendre?).

Five actors – Kien Lee, Anne James, Lim Soon Heng, Marina Tan and David H. Lim – each get to play Hamlet in different scenes besides playing out other characters. Each of them brings something different to the characterisations of Hamlet, giving the audience a somewhat rich and diverse experience. Needless to say, each of them is a delight in their individual portrayal, like Kien Lee’s maniacal Hamlet is cockier and crazier than Anne James’s strong and contemplative Hamlet. 

While it was an enlightening and entertaining for me as an audience to experience a deconstructed performance of Hamlet, the literature student in me was in full awe. The Shakespeare Demystified troupe has a lot more to offer than mere entertainment, and that is education. The two hours spent watching them and listening the discussions during the Q&A session made me come to one conclusion:

WE NEED TO INCORPORATE SHAKESPEARE DEMYSTIFIED (OR ITS CONCEPT) INTO OUR LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE SYLLABUS!

In case anyone from the Ministry of Education Malaysia is reading this, please send this message to your higher-ups:

CALL SHAKESPEARE DEMYSTIFIED TODAY AND START BRAINSTORMING! ASAP!

As for me, I am going to wait and hope that Shakespeare Demystified does not make me wait a whole year for their next production.

 

 

Review: Marrying Me

Tying the Knot? … Not!

By Khoo Wei Cyn

Images courtesy of PenTAS

Everyone has their own notions on what a complete and well-lived life comprises. For most of the older generation, their notion is centred on marriage, which, in part, is the product of our survival instincts for ensuring the continuity of our genetic line. Produced by The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac) and Performing Arts Centre of Penang (penangpac), Marrying Me: A New Musical, directed by Christopher Ling, addresses this concept through script, dance and song for four days; from 5-8 December at stage 2, penangpac and 12-22 December at pentas 2, klpac.

Be sure to get your ticket today!
Be sure to get your ticket today!

In the musical, Stephanie (the main character) rebels against tradition and stigma to live a life she wants; freedom from all the problems that come when the “going gets tough” in a marriage. Her idea of normalcy clashes with that of her mother’s (Sandra). For Sandra, the desire to live as a woman in a matriarchal role and having a happy marriage is the normal path where as Stephanie, the NGO fighter for women’s rights, has seen the reality of marriages gone sour. To Stephanie, that reality is normalcy, and she wants to protect herself from that situation by being independent and self-sufficient.

More and more details about Stephanie’s upbringing are revealed as the musical progresses into the second act. We learn that her mother was a victim of an abusive marriage, and Tony, the man whom Stephanie had loved dearly, reminded her of her own father. Determined to never repeat the mistake her mother made, she insists on a life of singlehood but this is thwarted by Sandra’s faked chronic illness, where she makes Stephanie promise to get married in her “dying wish”. Whether she goes on with her promise or not, that you would have to discover for yourself.

Marrying Me is certainly the musical to watch. Its upbeat, snazzy music peppered with doses of comedy and hilarity is brought to life by a spectacular lead actress and a solid cast. I loved the music and the way the lyrics were written, plus the scenes where comic relief was prevalent to break up the sombre mood reflective of Stephanie’s dilemma.

You don’t have to love singlehood to appreciate this musical; I’m sure you can draw some parallels with your experiences about marriage from it. And if you’re single, you may walk away feeling better about staying that way. But no matter who you are, I think that you will enjoy watching Marrying Me as much as I did. What’s not to love about good music, great fun and endearing characters?

*A neophyte to theatre, Khoo Wei Cyn has just survived a thespian’s adventure at Short+Sweet Theatre Malaysia 2013 in Penang. She enjoys writing, reading and appreciating art in all forms.

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.

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