Written by Fajar binti Benjamin and Samantha Chang
A disclaimer: Art is a completely subjective matter and the writers of this article are fully aware of all the difficulties faced when coming up with a production, especially in just 7 weeks with such limited resources. Our opinions on the final product presented to us are merely that – opinions. We greatly appreciate the opportunity we were given to watch this batch of talented students perform.
The rooftop is alive with the sound of students
Last weekend, we were treated to a night with the students of Diploma in Performing Arts from batch 2018, who showcased a series of 8 playlets, titled Once Upon a Time (Into the Future). The theme, “a collection of memories growing up”, was a whimsical and at times sombre contemplation of the past, present and future. The show featured acting, dancing, singing, shrieking (so much shrieking), and even a short silent video clip.
Here is our synopsis for the night in sequential order.
Lonestar (Starring Nabihah Fahmi)
The night starts out strong with a striking performance about the woes of an aspiring artist in a cold world. The spotlight opens on our main character as a ten year old girl musing over her many aspirations. “I want to be.. An actress!” she exclaims in a convincingly high-pitched voice as the other actors strike debonair poses.
However, the play takes a darker turn once she settles on becoming a singer. (“A singa? HAHAHA RAWWWR” is the encouraging response from her friends). The woes don’t stop there. Faced with repeated failures and a condescending “you’d do better in another field” talk, our main character finally makes it to fame. Except ‘making it’ just means a new group of people is mean to her (“It’s called a salad!”). (The message of this first skit is actually quite disheartening!). To drive the message home, she manages to dig deep and give a powerful performance of “Never Enough” to signify how unfulfilling chasing her dream has been.
Zapin Yaladan (Choreographed by Adam Masashi and Lydaty Stephenie)
The transition from the previous play is so sudden, you wonder if this is some sort of intermission for the actress to change her outfit or set the scene or something. Nope, this is just the next skit. The dance is certainly well-choreographed but with only 7 weeks to practice and no prior experience, the amatuer dancers do not bring the grace and poise you’d hope to see from this traditional Malay performance.
Toxic Paradise (Starring Nur Hanany)
It starts off with a young girl who is full of love and optimism about life. Inexplicably, her friends, siblings and parents turn on her, relentlessly demean her, and essentially disparage her entire worth as a human being – a spectacle that prolongs itself into psychological torture porn.
While we’re sure that at some point, all of us have experienced painful rejections akin to this, the delivery of the message lacked the nuance it needed to be actually relatable. Still, it does hold a measure of truth – many people do grow up feeling fundamentally flawed, due to the abusive relationships in their lives. We wish that they had expanded on this theme and resolved the story, rather than cutting away to an interpretative dance scene. (Elastic heart is a BOP but our girl deserved some closure!)
Hidden Shadows (Deborah Long, Dennis Lim, Hammy Chee, Wong Hansern, Koo Sha Hang)
This is certainly an interesting concept to see play out, even if not all parts of it manage to hit their mark. This skit starts with a group of friends meeting up ten years into the future on New Year’s Eve. 4 of them are already there but there’s one missing. (WHERE’S ANSON??!). Anson does turn up- toting a 6 month old baby. The friends are thrilled, doting on Anson’s young son; except one friend who decides, “You know what? This beautiful moment needs to be about ME”. He then launches into a flashback sequence wherein – You know what? We’re not actually sure. There are stuffed doll fights and throwing, no dialogue and some agonized faces pulled. He comes back from the flashback and says “so that’s my story”; his friends nod in understanding. The audience is left to wonder what exactly the sob story was.
This repeats three more times with each friend, one friend recounting his experience of being caught on camera proposing to a girl only to be rudely rejected and scorned on Twitter (SISSY BOI!!!!). In fact, he’s rejected hard enough that he’s shaken into coming out as gay (which he symbolizes by putting on a cross earring in his right ear of course). The one girl of the group recounts her friends killing themselves. The last friend tries to convey why exactly he’s such a crazy workaholic- through a series of blood curdling shrieks.
So yeah, this performance was perplexing and could’ve been thought out better. But it got the right message across. The future is ahead of us, and living in the past will only cause pain to all parties (especially the audiences’ eardrums).
Who’s Da Best Now? (Starring Puteri Nur Alyia and Rozanne Ting)
Our personal favourite, Who’s Da Best Now features some of the strongest acting and choreography to be seen throughout the night. The story follows Puteri, the Type-A bossy friend, trying to get through a rehearsal with her friends, without bursting into angry rants. Her friends, the poor victims of her verbal abuse finally storm out after one too many times being screamed at, with one friend comedically doubling back to collect his forgotten water bottle.
Puteri then takes the opportunity to burst into song about how great she is and somewhere along the way, an alter ego is born, taking physical form. This manifestation of her nastiest thoughts at first picks on the easy targets (aka other people) before turning on Puteri herself with a nuance that’s commendable. It’s only then that Puteri starts to sedar diri (wake up) and fight the negativity within her, ending the skit by apologizing to her friends and finally making it through the rehearsal with a noticeable improvement in performance. A full story arc complete.
What If? (Starring Jessie Cheah and Kai)
What If takes a pretty unrealistic scenario (a girl proposing to a boy at 18) and turns it into a series of realistic questions. As the boy thinks it through, he tackles age-old concerns about romance, such as whether they’re merely settling for each other, whether they’ll eventually fall for other people, and whether they’ll adjust to each others’ cultures. But it also delves into how the digital age changes the dating game. In an interesting live reenactment of Tinder, we see how The Search™ has become increasingly harsh, impersonal, and rife with rejection.
The playlet is pretty fun, and it highlights a topic that’s definitely on our generation’s minds as we move towards adulthood. That said, even though they address questions about the relationship itself – they left out some very important logistical ones: where are they going to find the money to have a wedding and buy a place to live together? The rest of us budak kolej live off mamak, elo?
Hey, you know what would be a totally fun, parallel universe-version of justice? If your victims were punished for your wrongdoings and crimes towards them!
Oh wait, nope – already happens in this universe. (But that’s a rant for another publication-)
Anyway, this concept was explored in Hell Raisers. We were introduced to some exposition in the form of a short clip, wherein a series of murders seem to have taken place.
The murderer and his victims wake up in what seems like hell – except, the victims are the ones who appear to be caged, not the murderer. It was quite hard to piece together the plot from all the panicky, scream-y dialogue (half of which was in Mandarin, to our confusion). But what became clear was a) when the victims sincerely forgave the murderer, they were let free, b) the murderer was trying to make them forgive him, to save themselves, and c) there was a time limit to escape, or else Consequences (i.e. mauled by hellbeast).
There are good questions to be explored and analogies to be made here, namely about forgiveness and psychological well-being, but they’re overshadowed by more plotty questions, such as: why did the murderer try so hard to save them, if he killed them in the first place? Why reverse justice? What were they saying in Mandarin? – we feel so left out!
The Past is The Past (Dicky Kam, Zainal Bostaman, Coco Lee, Nurfarzana Adelin)
The show comes full circle here, as they attempt to address the question posed by the first playlet: what do their futures hold, in view of their past experiences? This playlet paints the internal and external conflicts they put themselves through for the sake of their passions.
Three talents and a stage manager meet in a green room before an audition (a scenario that will probably be the actors’ realities). They trade teases, witty quips and life stories – the last of which, details a boy overcoming his fear of public speaking, a girl reliving her father’s disdain of her, and another boy struggling to improve in dancing. The monologues were delivered with such poignancy that one would not be surprised if they were rooted in some personal truth.
As for the final, cutaway dance scene –
The playlet, with its playful, comedic tone, was a refreshing dessert to all the heavy entrees which preceded it. Despite its lightheartedness, the message was not delivered with any less weight.
After the show, we hung around a bit to get a feel for the general response to the show. Family members could be seen proudly taking photos with their children who shined bright that night. An audience member let us know that his favourite of the playlets had been “What If?” citing that it was thought-provoking and funny.
Rozanne Ting, who played the doppleganger to Puteri in Who’s Da Best Now agreed to a mini interview with us, letting us know that they had indeed, only had 7 weeks to put together the entire show and that this was both the first, and last time they would be performing as part of their diploma program. The seven playlets and dance were entirely written and choreographed by the students, including sound and lighting cues which of course provided a huge challenge for the first timers.
When asked if she has a favourite, Rozanne loyally responded, “not really, everyone was great”.
We’ll have to agree on that. Despite any flaws in the script and stories themselves, there’s no denying that all the actors put themselves out there 100%. The dancers may not have had the training to execute each routine to perfection, but what they lacked in control they made up with enthusiasm. Each line of script could be heard clearly and each story held its appeal. All in all, it was an enjoyable two hour show and we look forward to seeing more from these future stars.