No Self-Consciousness Allowed on Stage

The drama classroom is often times a microcosm of life. We spend a lot of time talking about humanity, genuineness, and authenticity. These elusive words, when manifested correctly on the stage, can bring to life a performance which can penetrate deep into the audience’s consciousness. That’s the magic. From where do we reach in order to achieve these? What can stop our attempts at authentic emotion to slide into gaudy melodrama which makes the audience reach for the phone so they can stream another cat video to forget about the disaster on stage?

Self-Consciousness.

Now while it’s true that the actor must personalize their character in very real ways, that personalization cannot push them into self-awareness on stage. This, in my estimation, is one of the most difficult tasks that young actors in the drama classroom face. It doesn’t take long for one of my students to break a smile when doing an exercise. It doesn’t take much for someone to break character and turn away in self-conscious glee, knowing that they looked ridiculous in front of their peers. Well, yes. Everyone doing drama looks ridiculous. It’s a prerequisite. But to truly grow in one’s craft, you must get over yourself. You must get over what other people think, or how other people react when you are acting.

You have to get in the zone!

When I was a baseball pitcher, toeing the rubber and receiving the sign from my catcher, I felt like I was a lonely soul standing on a lonely mound. I didn’t hear the spectators, or the opposing team, or even my own players, I was in the zone, completely tuned in to the moment, to the pitch, to the mechanics, to the task at hand. In the same way, actors need to get into the zone through concentration and an acute awareness of the task they are trying to complete.

Last year I was put to the test in an experimental theatre piece I was part of. I had to sit in the middle of the stage, with the entire audience standing around me, watching me write the same line on a notepad over and over. I would pause, look up, and even though I saw them, I was not affected by them. I focused on the writing and I focused on the objective that my actor was trying to accomplish. After the show, I had many people comment on how I was “in the zone” and they couldn’t get me to break character. It was tremendously fun. How did I do it? I knew my objective and I concentrated on achieving it, at all costs. I was committed to looking foolish or strange because I knew that was the only way the show would work. It takes commitment and concentration. Do you have it?

I’ve attended many productions where the actors are already in character and on-stage as the audience was entering the theatre. It’s a purposeful mechanism of concentration that allows the actors to remain uniquely in tune to the task in front of them. It’s also a terrific way to tease the audience with what is about to come.

What about you? How do you stay in character? How do you concentrate when you are on stage?

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Are you prepared to go unexpected places?

You know how it goes: “If someone told me 10 years ago that I would be such and such, I wouldn’t have believed them in a million years.”

I know the feeling. Very well. This notion of unexpected outcomes came to the forefront of my mind this week because I found myself saying that above line nearly verbatim. Mine goes like this:

“In 2002, if someone told me that in fifteen years that I would be a drama teacher in Saudi Arabia, I wouldn’t have believed them in a million years. I would have thought they were experiencing severe mental delusions.”

You see, in 2002, I was living in Vietnam, teaching English at the college level to Vietnamese students studying to be English teachers. I was a frustrated, wannabee, writer who never wrote. I was immersed in Vietnamese culture and language, and I had even contemplated (for a few seconds) going on for a PHD in Vietnamese history. I had never acted in my life. I had never been involved in any drama productions. The extent of my dramatic experiences involved writing a play which I read to my mother when I was twelve, and writing a couple small skits which were performed in some low-key settings. Oh, I did act as Forrest Gump in a skit, so I take that acting bit back.

But I had nothing in my background that would have indicated that I was destined to be a drama teacher.

And I had nothing in my background that indicated that I would ever end up in Saudi Arabia.

So therefore, the combination of those two–teaching drama in Saudi Arabia–would have seemed too implausible to even ponder.

However, as I sit in Jeddah on the heels of my first week of teaching theatre at the American school, I am quite taken back at the loops and rabbit-chasing trails my life has gone down in the past fifteen years in order to arrive at this point. And to think it all happened because that frustrated writer sitting in Vietnam became inspired by a group of students in Malaysia.

I’ve told this story before, but I still like it. I moved to Malaysia in 2006 to teach history. (Yes, that’s a whole different story of how I suddenly switched from English to history!) As the drama director at the school was leaving, I volunteered to start a drama-writing group where I would collaborate with a group of students and we would write and produce a play for the next school year.

That was the genesis of it all. The interesting point in my mind is this: what was the impetus for me wanting to write and produce a drama with students? I don’t actually know the answer to this. It’s something that just popped in my mind, and instead of dismissing it, which I can’t believe I didn’t, I embraced and proposed it to the school. That was the crucial moment. For some reason, I stepped in to try something that I had never tried before. If I had not jumped in at that moment, I am fairly certain I wouldn’t be teaching drama in Saudi Arabia. If I had not jumped in, someone else would have eventually filled the drama void at our school and I would have sat in the audience enjoying the shows, never fully understanding how much I loved theatre.

I know now that I wasn’t meant to observe theatre. I was meant to create it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

The only advice I have as I look back on my journey is that if you get an itch or an urge that you should jump in and try something, don’t delay. You never know where it might lead you. It could make you change careers in mid-stream and send you to far off lands to do things you never would have imagined but now couldn’t ever live without.

Where might you be in 15 years? I hope the answer surprises you.

Break a Leg: “It’s the End of the World & I Love You”

My short musical, “It’s the End of the World & I Love You” is being performed this week at the Kuala Lumpur Short & Sweet Musical Festival 2017. It’s being directed by fellow writer and director Terence Toh — though he admits this is his first hand at directing a musical. I think he’ll do great.

short and sweet musical 2017

 

I’m so sad that I won’t be able to see it live. But hey, there’s always video. And to commemorate the week, I’d like to leave the lyrics of the entire 10-minute musical below for your perusal. It’s a piece that is a lot of fun. I hope to get to produce it myself again in the future. Here you go. Enjoy!

It’s the End of the World and I Love You

A Short Musical

 

Lyrics by Mark W. Sasse

Music by Mark W. Sasse

 

Synopsis: In the split second before an atomic bomb destroys the world, two lovers sing a 10-minute musical.

Cast of Characters:         Husband & Wife

(optional) Ensemble

 

HUSBAND

Are you ready, dear? Wow, you look fantastic

WIFE

Thank you, dear, I’m nearly ready to go.

BOTH

And you made the reservations, right? I thought …

Now what do you suggest we do? Calm down. Calm down.

I thought I gave that job to you. Calm down. Calm down.

WIFE

I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go.

HUSBAND

Take a deep breath we’ll go with the flow?

Maybe the night will surprise us.

WIFE

I don’t like to be surprised.

(Suddenly an atomic explosion rings out and they witness a mushroom cloud forming in front of them. He is standing in awe, and she in disbelief.)

 

HUSBAND

It’s the end of the world, and I love you!

it’s the end of our life; full payment is due;

It’s the end of the world and I love you

so hold my hand, love

walk to our new life above

 

To the forest’s edge; it’s just a short trip

we’ll have a front row seat at the apocalypse

I’ll wear my best tie; you wear your red dress

cause there’s obviously no way out of this mess

we’ll kiss once more at the fireworks display

a gas mask is the accessory of the day

cause how can we compete with nuclear fission

someone dropped a bomb and completed their mission

I’m just a wishin’

they would have missed

but since they didn’t

why not kiss?

(one last time)

It’s the end of the world, and I love you!

It’s the end of our life; nothing more we can do;

It’s the end of the world and I love you

I’m happy to know, I’m here with you when life is through

 

WIFE

Pause.

There’s so many things that I enjoy about him,

He’s sweet, he’s kind

His kisses are sublime

But I hope you can tell by his latest thought

That at times he can be a complete idiot!

 

I can’t accept this fate

I have 50 years left I will not be moved

Just what is a mushroom cloud?

When I have resolve and rage in my heart.

Rage, rage, rage against the night,

And you could do more than just want to kiss (so typical)

Don’t go without a fight,

We fight for more than a moment left in time

Defiance, Defiance, Defiance, Defiance

Don’t resign to fate

Our more than 50 years still ahead (you listening?)

I want grandchildren

I want to hold them tight, safe secure, first we must endure,

Rage, rage against the night

And wipe that silly expression off your face (so comical)

This song we must re-write

This dress is meant for so much more than just an Ash Wednesday party,

Defiance, defiance, defiance, defiance!

 

HUSBAND

Calm Down Calm down

What is it dear?

WIFE

A thought I cannot bear.

 

You see fireworks I see flames

You see a final kiss, I see pain,

You say chill and I say run

You say stay, but I’m Attila the Hun

 

HUSBAND

You see ending I see your lips

You see crying I see a last kiss

You see heartache but I’ll admit

One moment with you is not so easy to quit

 

This might indeed be what we call the end

So let’s do what we couldn’t if we were just friends?

 

WIFE
You see a requiem, I see escape,

HUSBAND

You see a glimmer, but I see a drape,

WIFE

You see a final kiss, but I’ll admit

BOTH

One moment with you is not so easy to quit

HUSBAND

You should ask her about Y2K.

WIFE
Don’t bring that up.

HUSBAND

She built a bunker where we could stay,

WIFE
Would you shut up?

HUSBAND

And ever since she’s been putting canned beans away,

A case and a half every other day.

WIFE

Nothing wrong with a little foresight,

HUSBAND

You call that little?

WIFE

If we can get there you’d be contrite,

HUSBAND

I’d rather kiss.

WIFE
Would you rather be blown to smithereens,

Or live comfortably underground on 20 years of beans?

HUSBAND

She has 3000 pinto and 2000 black soy

Enough in itself to power fat man and little boy,

she thinks she can stop that from what it will destroy

by merely phoning Olympus like she’s Helen of Troy

WIFE

What do you want from me?

HUSBAND

Look danger in the mouth,

and smile when it’s near,

you’ll always be surprised of how few things that you fear,

if you eat a frog first thing in the morning,

a mushroom cloud will surely seem quite boring,

So purge your thoughts,

forget your past,

release your hopes,

and concentrate on the blast,

its magnificent power,

like the beating of my heart,

grip my hand and we’ll be split apart

WIFE

Just, just a moment ago

I was standing here my future all planned out when this

Cloud shielded my view

Of my futuristic fantasy of

1.7 kids and 2.7 dogs and

Years of PTO and teenager BO

But this big bang nightmare

ruined my eveningwear

HUSBAND

What’s wrong?

WIFE
It’s not the bomb.

HUSBAND

Then what’s wrong.

WIFE

I’m not that strong.

HUSBAND

What’s wrong

WIFE

This little song

HUSBAND

What’s wrong

WIFE

It’s not so long

HUSBAND

What’s wrong

WIFE

We don’t belong,

HUSBAND

What’s wrong

WIFE
Caught in this song

HUSBAND

What’s wrong

WIFE
This great big bomb

HUSBAND

What’s wrong?

WIFE

Does not belong

In our love song

HUSBAND

(speaking) What’s wrong?

WIFE

Tonight of all nights was the night of all nights

When I would tell you you’re having a son.

HUSBAND

A son?

WIFE
It’s okay. We can all go together now

 

To the forest’s edge; it’s just a short trip

To our front row seats at the apocalypse

HUSBAND

I’ll wear my best tie;

WIFE

I’ll wear my red dress

BOTH

cause there’s obviously no way out of this mess

we’ll kiss once more at the fireworks display

a pacifier will be the accessory of the day

cause how can we compete with nuclear fission

someone dropped a bomb and completed their mission

I’m just a wishin’

they would have missed

but since they didn’t

why not kiss?

(one last time)

It’s the end of the world, and I love you!

It’s the end of our life; nothing more we can do; (I finally understand what you’ve been going through.)

It’s the end of the world and I love you

I’m happy to know, we’re a family when our life is through.

Ten Months in the Making: A New Beginning

It was in December 2016 that I accepted an offer to teach drama in Saudi Arabia.

Ten months later, in September of 2017, I am finally set to have my first class. Tomorrow.

This is a huge shift in many ways. I had a terrific position in Malaysia, a position which had few limits on creativity, and that time period fueled my love for writing, my love for drama, my love for all things theatrical.

However, it was time to move on, so when I signed on to this new adventure, I knew there would be a lot of waiting and work in the between time.

Now all of that is over, and like any good thespian, the butterflies are flitting their wings against my insides. Nervousness is a good thing. I teach my students to expect nervousness, to want it, to need it, to embrace it. It signifies change and risk-taking. Before the curtain goes up, you pace around in a death stare, pale-faced, jittery, mumbling lines and vocal exercises in a desperate attempt to keep you focused.

As the moment arises, you step out in character, playing a role, connecting a concept with people. Delving in below the surface and expressing a glimpse of the desires and struggles you went through to get to this point. And the lights crowd the stage, and the magic comes alive.

Acting or teaching acting. There’s not a lot of differences when it comes to preparation and implementation. It’s all smiles from there.

Tomorrow is the day when the curtain rises on my time in Saudi Arabia. I’m ready. Not perfectly prepared. But ready.

And when the students arrive and we start the process of developing our passion for drama, I will finally reach a 10-month goal which, at times, felt like would never come.

I’m excited. On with the show.

Opening Tonight in Brooklyn: Safe Spaces

I’m thrilled to have my play “Safe Spaces” open tonight in Brooklyn at the Gallery Players Theatre as part of their Black Box New Play Festival. Unfortunately, I’m sitting 12,000 miles away and will miss the show which opens tonight and runs through Sunday afternoon – 4 shows!

So if you are in the NYC area, please do stop by and enjoy this and other plays this weekend. “Safe Spaces” is a satirical look at cultural appropriation with this premise: Madison, editor of the university campus newspaper, has been put into a safe space, isolated from the rest of campus, for an op-ed he published. He’s joined by Garner who was brought their after serving a pulled pork sandwich with the wrong cultural overtones. Madison and Garner deal with Dawes who shows up to give them insight into how they can be re-aligned and released from their safe space if they do as she says. Mayhem and ridiculous banter follows as Madison tries to understand the logic behind the safe space. Good luck!

I had a blast writing this play and I hope the audience will enjoy this world-premiere rendition of it.

galleryplayersblack-box-2017-poster-673x1024

My First Play in New York City – June 8-11

I’m very excited to have my first play produced in New York. It’s a brand new short play entitled “Safe Spaces” and it will be performed at the Gallery Players Theater as part of their annual Black Box New Play Festival. I’ll write up more about the play later, but wanted get their poster out. Yes, my name’s on it!

galleryplayersblack-box-2017-poster-673x1024

Farewell, Penang Performing Arts Centre (penangpac)! I will miss you!

At the conclusion of my last show at penangpac yesterday, I was highly honored by my friends there with this amazing parting gift. This was completely unexpected. I was bowled over by their thoughtfulness. I have grown my theatre arts background and experience at their famous stage 1 and stage 2 venues. So I thought, as a way of reminiscing, I’d list all the shows I had a part in since penangpac opened in 2011. It’s quite a list, and I completely enjoyed everyone of them.  But first a look at this amazing gift – a commemorative pewter Malaysian kris (asymmetrical dagger). It’s so awesome!

penangpac gift

So here’s my chronological, penangpac drama/musical list. I’m so grateful for everything.

  • November 2011 – Stage 2 – “Romans on the Couch-INTERACTIVE” (writer, director, producer)
  • November 2011 – Stage 1 – “Romans on the Couch” (writer, director, producer)
  • December 2011  – Stage 2 – “RLT Players’ present The Road Less Traveled” (first RLT show ever! – writer, director, producer)
  • May 2012 – Stage 1 – “Life with Stewart” (writer, director, producer)
  • September 2012 – Stage 2 – Short & Sweet Theatre (writer)
  • November 2012 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “Drive All Night) (writer, director, producer)
  • May 2013 – Stage 1 – “Grandparents’ War” (writer, director, producer)
  • September 2013 – Stage 2 – Short & Sweet Theatre (writer, director)
  • November 2013 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “Captured in Time & Space”
  • May 2014 – Stage 1 – “Boardwalk Melody: A Musical” (writer, director, producer)
  • September 2014 – Stage 2 – Short & Sweet Theatre (writer, director)
  • November 2014 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “For All Generations” (writer, director, producer)
  • May 2015 – Stage 1 – “A Tad of Trouble: A Musical” (writer, director, producer)
  • September 2015 – Stage 2 – Short & Sweet Theatre (writer, director)
  • December 2015 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “Tales of Wonder”
  • May 2016 – Stage 1 – “The Secrets of the Magic Pool” (writer, director, producer)
  • September 2016 – Stage 2 – penangpac Black Box Experiments “How to Build a Dictator” (writer, actor, producer)
  • November 2016 – Stage 2 – Short & Sweet Theatre (writer, director)
  • December 2016 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “Tales of Wonder II” (writer, director, producer”
  • January 2017 – Stage 2 – “The Last Bastion: A Staged Reading” (writer, actor)
  • May 2017 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “A Collection of Our Best” (writer, director, producer)
  • May 2017 – Stage 1 – “RLT Musical Revue” (writer, director, producer)

Wow! That’s 22 theatrical productions I had the privilege of being part of at penangpac. I shall miss it all very much.

Thank you, penangpac! Hopefully we shall see each again one day.