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.

First Games of the Season

Yes, I do get away from writing and performing arts for one sport. Baseball. And since Malaysia doesn’t play baseball, softball will do.

My team, after only 1 week of practice, had our first two games today – friendlies against two local schools in Taiping.

softball1Won the first and lost the second, but most importantly, we now understand what it is we need to work on!

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The weather was blistering hot, and we shed buckets of water standing there for hours. Where is the rain? Please come back!

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The Burger Man of Tanjung Bungah

It’s been a while since I ate from the “Burger Man,” so I did it last night. I ordered a chicken burger with everything.

Now the burger man in Tanjung Bungah has been around for more than a generation. He’s been setting up shop in our beachfront town for more than 30 years. I don’t know precisely how long, but way longer than my mere 10 years I’ve been eating from him.

burger 1People line up for his burgers, beef and chicken patties, and his chicken or beef hot dogs because they are unique. It’s not your normal American burger, and actually the meat itself is not the driver of the food. It’s his unique take on the burger which makes it special.

What is his take? First off, red cabbage. He piles high the red cabbage on the grill, mixing it with sauteed onions. It’s a delight to see. He presses the burgers hard on the grill, as he also does with the split hot dogs, getting rid of all the excess moisture. Then when ready, he places an egg mixture on the grill, putting the burger on the egg, and folding the egg around the burger. He plops it on a butter toasted roll, adds the grilled vegetables and sauce, and it’s ready to go.

The burger man of Tanjung Bungah. I wonder if that’s a good name for a novel?

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A Few Photos from Chinese New Year 2016

A Few Photos from Chinese New Year 2016

Yesterday, on the eve of Chinese New Year, I took off on my motorbike and encircled historical Georgetown in Penang to see how everyone was decorating for the year. Here are a few of my photos.

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(above) At the esplanade, a Chinese New Year display which will be the backdrop for a Feb 13 celebration. You can see the Strait of Malacca in the background. (Below) A closeup view of the water with the Penang Port on the mainland in the distance.

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(above) Typical Penang street at CNY.

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(above) A busy temple on the eve of the New Year.

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(above) Outside the esplanade.

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(above) This looks like a lucky place to eat on the eve of the year of the monkey.

 

Our Fall

I live in Malaysia. We don’t have autumn. But we have entered our “fall.” There are several characteristics of our fall which occur each year. First, the weather turns dry. The almost daily rain of October, November, & December comes to a screeching halt as the skies turn a permanent beautiful azure blue. The days are gorgeous, the ocean looks amazing. This is the first characteristic of our fall.

But it doesn’t stop there. Without rain, it gets hot. I mean penetrating hot. The kind of hot where you’ll sweat by breathing. You will seek the air conditioning during our fall. That’s another characteristic.

But, just like any fall, it also has leaves, dry and crinkled on the ground. Sometimes, the wind blows hundreds off the trees at the time just like I might experience back in Pennsylvania. On mornings like this, I can trick myself into feeling the cool morning autumnal air which only exists in my dreams (or in the movie theaters here.)

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The final characteristic of our fall is this:

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Dying grass. The beautiful lush green turns an unappealing crunchy brown. I only have to mow every three weeks, if even that. I used to water it, but such a vain task means nothing here. As soon as the March rains return, the grass will turn an envious shade of Irish green. So why bother?

It’s not my favorite time of the year here, but it is a little different from the monotony of tropical living.

By the way. I love the monotony.

I’ll leave you with a another picture of our yard.

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Another Penang Food Post

I can’t help myself. A couple weeks back, I posted about my favorite little Thai stall that I eat at most days, but I felt I should also give a little love to the spring roll man.

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He serves a variety of unhealthy, delectable fried foods including his wonderful spring rolls. They have substance – lots of filling and a wonderful tangy sauce for dipping. All for RM 2.50 – or about 60 cents. His are not like other vendors around who serve spring rolls with practically nothing inside them. We called them “fried wrappers.”

The spring rolls are great, but I must also mention a Penang specialty of his: Roti Babi. I direct translation might be “pork bread.” A better translation would be deep fried pork sandwich, or weak hearts don’t apply sandwich.

Here’s what he does. He takes two slices of ordinary white bread, slaps some pork filling in the middle and makes a sandwich. Then he dips the entire thing into his homemade batter and fries it golden brown. It is cut into bite size pieces for dipping in that wonderful sauce of his.

This stuff is lethal. And incredibly delicious. The filling is a wonderful mixture of pork with some vegetables and even raisins. It has a lightly sweet flavor which blends so well with the crispy fried goodness of the outside.

So there you have it. Another Penang specialty – the deep fried pork sandwich. Find it at your local stall. This excellent one is in Tanjung Bungah opposite Tenby School.