An Award-Winning Night: The Story of How We Got There

We won five major awards last night at the Short & Sweet Festival 2015 Penang for “Words to Say at the End of the World”

  • Best Overall Production
  • Best Script (Mark Sasse)
  • Best Director (Mark Sasse)
  • Best Actor Female (Lexi Zimbulis)
  • Best Supporting Actor Female (Ysabel Loh)

Wow! Quite a night, but it brings me back to how we all got there.

Last November, Lexi and Ysabel (two of my long-time drama students) pop into my classroom and ask me if I could write a duet script for them that they could perform at their SEAS Forensics Competition in Feb 2015. I said I’d be happy to write a script for them. They said to make it light and funny because that’s what the judges tend to like. I stopped them right there. (I wonder if they remember all this?) I advised them to take the judges out of the equation  and do two things: first, find the best script possible. Second, make sure that script challenges you to grow as an actor. In essence, don’t think about results, think about the process. They came back to me and said they agreed. They changed their mind and wanted to do something that had meaning and purpose and would force them to grow in their craft. I told them I’d do my best in writing a script for them.

I was, at the time, putting some finishing touches on a short musical that I was working on. The musical was about two young lovers reflecting on life after a nuclear explosion goes off. I suddenly got the idea to use the scenario of the atomic bomb but make a dramatic piece about a mother preparing to send her daughter off to college the day the bomb goes off. “Words to Say at the End of the World” was born. I whipped off the script in a day and edited it over the next few. Then I sent it to Yzzy and Lexi, telling them that they were under no obligation to use it, but that’s what I came up with.

They came bounding back to me super-excited. They loved the script. I had literally written it for them, knowing their strengths and building their characters around it. They took the script and worked with their forensics coach over the next two months. Come Feb 2015, they performed it in their SEAS Competition and brought home the coveted gold medal, competing against much larger schools from Hong Kong, Singapore, and KL.

I got a chance to see their rendition when they did the sketch for our student body last spring. Immediately I thought, this is the play I want to enter into Short & Sweet this year, and Yzzy and Lexi must reprise their roles.

I told them about it and they were both interested.

In the summer, I actually missed the Short & Sweet deadline because they had, unbeknownst to me, moved up the submission deadline earlier this year. After they said it was too late, I asked them if they could re-consider since I had a script, I had actors, and I wanted to direct it. The powers that be looked at the script and said it had been accepted. We were in.

All of us had gone our own ways this summer, so I finally met with the actors about two weeks before the festival. They still had their lines memorized, so I worked with them on cleaning up their characterizations, and I made a lighting and sound scheme which I thought would bring out the context and meaning of the script. We especially worked on the ending and the emotional aspect of the play. It has a lot of funny lines and parts, but the play’s impact is felt in the emotional scenes – the tender moments of a daughter and mother as their very lives hang in the balance. Once I started getting choked up when watching them in rehearsals, I knew we had something special here.

We ran our tech rehearsal last week, cleaning up the edges. We had a rough dress rehearsal with missed cues and a lack of energy. But when the festival began, these girls gave four amazing performances. Countless people, including judges, came up to us after the shows and said how touched they were. We were able to communicate authentic human emotion to the audience, and we reached them in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

Over the course of the four nights of shows, 15 judges from the creative and supporting arts industry judged the participants. And once Ysabel won Best Supporting Actor and Lexi won Best Actor, I knew we had hit the mark and the awards kept coming.

It was truly an amazing night. I feel so blessed to have been able to work with these two talented actors, and we also found out that the show is not yet over! We have been asked, by the Short & Sweet Folks, to bring the show to KL as a non-competing showcase piece to be included in the Gala Finals in KL on November 1. We are honored, and we will be there.

Here’s a link to all the award winners: Award Winners

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