Five Years End – Short & Sweet Theatre Penang

Last night was the awards ceremony at Short & Sweet Theatre Penang. I have been involved in all five years, and I was delighted to win the Festival Director’s Award last night for directing and writing the play “The Runaway Slave: A Christmas Story.”

festival-director

This will be my last S&S festival, at least in Penang. It’s been a lot of fun, especially working with my talented students over the year and to see them excel on the community stage. We’ve won a lot of awards of the year, and it’s been fun to reflect upon them during this last festival. I’m most proud of the remarkable string of Newcomer Awards my students have won over the years.

Kimberly Horton, most deservedly, won the award last night for her wonderful performance as Beatrice, a widow who stands up to defend a runaway slave girl. But look at these wins, all my students:

2016 Kimberly Horton

2014 Aaron Chand

2013 Ysabel Loh

2012 Jackie Ashkin

You’ll notice that 2015 is missing in the list. Well, that’s because the newcomer I had in my play last year, Lexi Zimbulis, actually went on to win the Best Actor Female award.

Yes, I’ve been fortunate to work with some talented young stars. Other awards my students have won over the years:

2014 Tesa Sasse – Best supporting Actor Female

2015 Ysabel Loh – Best Supporting Actor Female

2014 Ysabel Loh – Festival Director’s Award – Script – Best Performance

2015 Best Overall Performance – Lexi and Ysabel “Words to Say at the End of the World.”

2012 Audience Choice Award

On top of all of that, I pitch in 3 best script awards (2013, 2014, 2015) and 1 best director award (2015).

It’s a great festival for building and showcasing talent as well as for networking with other crazy theatre folks.

I’ll always look fondly upon Short & Sweet Theatre Penang and wish it the best as it moves forward and as I move on.

 

Advertisements

Visiting Malacca or Melaka

I recently took what might be my last trip to Malacca. I’ve visited there eight times (I think), and I’ve enjoyed it each time. It’s a great place to take in some history, learn about the Portuguese, Dutch, British and how they elbowed their way into the spice trade. They’ve done a fantastic job developing the river area in the old section, plus you get to visit the vibrant and fun Jonker Street. Here’s a few shots from my trip. Yes, I bought some gula Melaka.

img_20161031_1102542_rewind

Malacca River. Great for night time walks or a river cruise.

img_20161031_1045189_rewind

Dutch built church in Dutch square. You can attend a service on Sunday morning.

img_20161031_1307184_rewind

Here’s my crazy students touring the replica Portuguese ship.

img_20161031_1308323_rewind

Up close.

img_20161031_1619081_rewind

The tomb of famous Malay folk legend Hang Jebat.

img_20161031_1623099_rewind

A typical Malacca building.

img_20161030_2136203_rewind

From the rooftop of Hangout Hotel. Jonker Street in full mode.

img_20161031_0843014_rewind

St. Paul’s church, built by the Portuguese in 1511. This is a statue of St. Francis Xavier, who was interred her for a time.

img_20161031_0849243_rewind

Inside St. Paul’s.

img_20161031_0856098_rewind

Malacca city from St. Paul’s hill. The lone standing gate of the old fort, Afamosa, is in the foreground.

Happy Merdeka, Malaysia!

Fifty-nine years ago today, Malaysia declared its independence from Great Britain. I remember the 50th anniversary like it was yesterday. Where did those nine years go?

But I thank Malaysia for all the wonderful memories during these past eleven years. It’s a truly unique and amazing place. Its diversity sets it apart, which makes all the fusion food second to none!

It’s been my home, so I’m happy to celebrate the day with the thirty million citizens of this unique country. Here are a few photos of my home away from home.

SAMSUNG CSC

SAMSUNG CSC

classroom beach 2

 

 

SAMSUNG CSC

Dutch Square - Stadthuys Ethnographic Museum on the right. Christ Church in the background.

Dutch Square – Stadthuys Ethnographic Museum on the right. Christ Church in the background.

SAMSUNG CSC

On Video: Our Opening Night

May 13, 2016 – World Premiere of “The Secrets of the Magic Pool” at Penang Performing Arts Centre.

I finally got it up on Youtube. We had some technical sound issues that night, a little too much treble in some of the screaming parts. Unfortunately, we don’t have video of closing night, excellent sound, sold-out crowd. But, this one will do. It was a blast to put on, and I’m really proud of my young actors who pulled this off.  Here’s Act I.

The Purpose of Dress Rehearsals (REDUX)

Yesterday, I wrote this about our final rehearsal BEFORE dress rehearsal for my new show that opens at Penangpac on May13. Here were my last minute thoughts:

You come to the point when constraints within and constraints without shape the product of your show whether or not you are satisfied with it. Am I? Satisfied? I am delighted by my wonderful actors and the myriad of helpers who have done everything from costumes to sets to sound to lighting. I am completely satisfied with that. It’s time that truly tests my patience. It keeps clicking away whether ready or not. And so it’s time that I’m not satisfied with. It’s gotten the better of us. For now. But when dress rehearsal comes, even time can’t stop the exuberance and passion from within us. We shall offer our best to our paying customers and be happy that we left it all on the stage. 6 days until opening. “The Secrets of the Magic Pool.”

So now, as dress rehearsal is here, on May 12, 2016, it made me think back to a post I wrote from two years ago. It still very much applies. My emotional roller coaster as director has finished. I’m going to sit back and enjoy.

 

THE PURPOSE OF DRESS REHEARSALS

I’ve been directing stage plays for seven years now. I’m no professional, and I’ve learned a lot throughout the years. Dress rehearsals are the emotional peak that every director has to scale before a new show. Once it arrives and the actors poke through the clouds and stand on that emotional peak, a director’s job is, in essence, over. Not officially, of course. There will still be production meetings before each subsequent show, but the main work is done. Everything now rests in the laps of the actors.

Dress rehearsals accomplish a few important items. First, there’s the technical aspects of the dress rehearsal that must be perfected. In our productions, oftentimes, dress rehearsal is the first and only time the actors performing at the actual venue. This is, of course, stressful because the stage is different. We are working with lighting we haven’t seen yet and it takes hours for the actors to get familiar and comfortable in their new surroundings. As a director, I have to make this happen, step by step walking through the set, the new blocking, and the lighting scheme with everyone. I’ll be at the venue for many hours with the tech crew prior to the casts arrival.

Once the technical aspects of the performance is clear, I have to encourage the cast that they can, indeed, do this. And this, for me, is the ultimate meaning of dress rehearsal. Its instilling in the cast the idea that the show is now theirs -they are in control – they can be successful – they are prepared for anything to happen. This last point is key. In live theatre, the unexpected can happen at anytime. Dress rehearsal is instilling in the cast that they can overcome any obstacle, be it a missed line, a broken prop, or smudged make-up. No matter what is thrown at them, the show must go on.

I’ve had shows where the electricity went off in the final act. Yes, it was awkward. But the show must go on.

I’ve had shows where actors completely blanked out on stage.

I’ve had shows where actors forgot to bring a crucial prop on to stage.

I’ve had shows where a singer started off-key, or a backdrop started to fall. In this particular case, a quick thinking person backstage stood on a chair and held up the backdrop in excruciating pain until the end of the show.

This is what dress rehearsals teach – no matter what, the actors and crew can handle it.

So I love it when dress rehearsals are finished because my job is done. I can sit in the audience and enjoy the show and the actors can relax and have fun on stage.

Here’s to dress rehearsal day! Our show opens tomorrow.

Another Example of Symbolism Over Substance

I’ve lived in Asian for most of the last twenty years in both Vietnam and Malaysia. And while their cultures and histories are varied to say the least, there are some common themes which are obvious to me in many ways. One of these cultural themes which I have experienced on countless occasions in both countries is something I call symbolism over substance.

I ran into it again today as I was taking my son to register for his motorbike license.

Now before I give away the clear example, let me clarify what I mean by symbolism over substance. There are times (many in fact) when an outward gesture or a symbolic overture or a acknowledgement of a procedure is much more important than the actual substance of what we we are talking about. One has to show deference to authority. You don’t have to believe it in your heart. One has to put on an outward show regardless of what you might really think. One has to make symbolic attempts to make it look like something is actually getting done, when it actually isn’t. (Such as the 100 meter bike line symbolically put outside our school which will never be extended, is not used, and regularly used for parking spots for cars. There was a great ceremony when it was put in, however.)

Symbolic gestures is simply more important than having a substantive, and quantitative measurement behind it. And please, don’t get me wrong. This is not a judgment against Asian culture. Not at all. It’s an acknowledgment that east-west have very different cultural orientations. I’ve had to learn how to live with these differences as I’m sure an Asian living in America will have to learn the flip side of the coin.

In today’s episode, we learned that my son will need to attend a lecture on driving theory. It’s six hours long, and it covers all the basics he’ll need to know. Sounds fine and logical. Kind of like a driver’s ed course. Makes sense. Except for one thing: it’s in Bahasa Malaya and not English. My son doesn’t speak Bahasa. They don’t translate. They don’t provide English material. He just has to sit there. The lady at the driver’s school said, “Yes, these six hours mean nothing. You just have to do it to get the certificate.” Others have told me to “make sure your son bring’s his phone or ipad. He’ll get very bored.” It doesn’t matter what he does during that time. He doesn’t have to pay attention, nor is he expected to. He just has to be there to get the certificate.

It reminds me of my friend in Vietnam and one day I asked what she was doing this weekend. She said that she had to take an English test. I said, “What test?”

“Oh,” she replied. “It’s not my test. I need to take it for my cousin. Her English is terrible, but she needs the certificate so she can get a better job. So I’m taking the test for her.”

All right then. Symbolism over substance strikes again.