“It was very engaging” – Cristel Chong (15A12) on “The Governess”, one of the short plays
Drama Night 2016 was held on 8 April 2016 in VJC’s very own Performance Theatre. The production this year was The Good Doctor by Neil Simon – Drama performed 8 of the short plays in the collection. There were a broad range of plays shown – from contemplative pieces like “Too Late for Happiness” to extremely physical pieces like “Surgery”. Some pieces even had characters that seemed to border on genuine insanity, like the Banker in “A Defenseless Creature”.
The authors dare contend that each play was splendid – the acting was really “on point” (as the youngsters say) and the comedy element in Neil Simon’s writing was brought out very well. There were notable attempts at translating the comedy from text to performance and ensuring that the audience understood – for example, the cry of “pomegranate!” from someone among the on-stage crowd watching “The Drowned Man” left the audience roaring with laughter. (Fun fact: the actor who shouted the line was Liow De Jun from 15S44, who played the Priest in “Surgery”)
Another funny moment of the night was during “The Sneeze”, as noted by Melissa Choong from 15A11 – “the funniest moment of the night for me was when Yang Siong died on the chair”. When we approached Sim Yang Siong (15S44) hoping to find out more about his acting, he coolly said that he “has done [acting] long enough to not get bothered by people laughing at him”. Yang Siong views the stage as an extension of his personality – he does not mind people laughing at him as people rarely take him seriously in real life.
To gain a fuller appreciation of the whole production and how it was built, we talked to some of the other cast members as well. Sher-Ann Quek Xin Ning (15S44) shared how her role as the expressive Tramp in “The Drowned Man” allowed her to “really be crazy”. Sher-Ann also told us that she felt that her performance in The Good Doctor was “her best work ever”. We wholeheartedly agree – Sher-Ann had the audience laughing at the Tramp’s antics and how she successfully persuaded the Writer (played by Rachel Wong from 15A15) to watch him drown.
For Laura Tan Xuan Yun (15A13), who played the Wife in “A Defenseless Creature”, preparation for her role included research on different versions of the short play. She attributes her success to Neil Simon for his humorous writing style, but we feel that her thought process behind building her character deserves credit as well. Laura was “quite surprised that people found [her performance] funny” as she wanted to “present a role with a darker side” – she even changed some of her lines to “bring out the deranged side that [she] wanted to present”. Nevertheless, Laura is still “thankful” for the audience’s reactions as it was “a form of support” for her.
One thing we found unique to the performance was the “carefree” nature of English Drama which Sher-Ann alluded to in her interview. This is indeed apparent in The Good Doctor – when the entire cast gathered on stage in “The Drowned Man” to witness the Tramp drowning himself (a move that was, interestingly, only decided upon on the day of the performance), the natural affinity the cast members had with each other was remarkable.
Of course, we were not the only ones who enjoyed ourselves thoroughly – Cristel Chong and Adam Naeha Sitara from 15A12 rated the performance 7 out of 10. They prefered the second half (after the intermission) as they felt that the plays were more engaging. The funniest moments moments were the General’s Wife’s sudden outburst of anger in “The Sneeze” and when a member of the audience laughed particularly loudly at the Banker’s briefcase falling in “A Defenseless Creature”. Naeha in particular laughed the most at “The Seduction”. “I liked it because of the metatheatre,” commented Naeha. Indeed, the Seducer’s (played by Sabrina Abdul Gahni from 16S33) direct interaction with the audience made for a performance full of dramatic irony that kept the audience chuckling along.
Besides the glitz and glamour of the actual stage performance, The Good Doctor could never have been as smooth or successful as it was without the indispensable help from the people that are quite literally, behind the scenes. Clad in black, the 5 members of the crew were hard at work during the performance to ensure that the lighting is right, the props are perfectly placed and the actors are ready. We may not see them at work, but they play as key a role in the production as the actors do. Through our interview with crew member Lee Yi-Fan Fiona (15A11) we managed to get an inside look at the production of Drama Night, from the point of view of the crew.
It may seem counter-intuitive to desire to stay out of the spotlight, especially in a CCA designed for acting, but when we asked her why she wanted to be part of the crew, she explained that “being part of a production is very appealing”, to work together to “create something tangible”. As she is “not the kind who likes to show her face to the crowd”, her role as a crew member allows her to involve herself in something bigger than herself without having to make herself feel uncomfortable. Everyone has different talents to bring to the table, and for those interested in theatre productions but not in acting, this is one avenue to get directly involved.
As crew members by nature blend into the background to stay out of sight during the actual play, there are many things people don’t know about their job scope – since all they see are the discrete movements of props during scene changes. Notably, what people often fail to see is how coordination is “especially important!” The crew has to “coordinate with the actors and director”, then “try everything out” to ensure that the timing for everything is perfect. Fiona recalled how during one of the rehearsals, due to miscommunication, there was an “extra black box left in the middle of the stage” when it wasn’t supposed to be there. Part of the crew’s job is to make sure that this kind of situation doesn’t happen in the actual performance – an important role indeed.
In fact, just because the crew does not take centre stage does not mean they do not get recognition for their role – Fiona admitted that she initially felt that her role was not that significant, but she was very “touched by what her friends did”, with her class giving her flowers and being “very supportive”. To appreciate the production as a whole, we ought not to forget the hard work of Drama Night’s secret support system.
The Good Doctor’s success can be attributed to the dedication of all the cast and crew in Drama Club. We asked some of the cast members about the allure of theatre – why they chose to join this CCA – and received varied responses. For Sher Ann, being in drama allows her to “explore herself” – to grow as a person. In contrast, Yang Siong loves being on stage. It feels “powerful”, he said, “because people pay attention to everything you say”, and that is an “addictive feeling”. Despite the myriad of reasons for joining Drama, the most important thing is that they have passion for what they are doing. From what we can see, there is no lack of that.
Moreover, did you know that some people from Drama Club actually take Theatre Studies and Drama (TSD)? That’s a double dosage of drama! Incidentally, the only two TSD students acted together during “The Audition”, with Lim Pei Ying Clara (15S44) acting as the obsessed Auditionee and Cheong Wen Hui, Jolene (15S34) as the Writer. When we asked them why they decided to join Drama Club, Clara mentioned how Drama can be used as “external practice for TSD”. Jolene felt the same, as it “helps to expand [her] understanding of how to act”. Additionally, in drama they are “exposed to different people”, expanding their social circle. Fun fact – Clara and Jolene are duologue partners for their TSD A Level examination later this year as well – all the best to them!
Being Literature kids, we could not help but notice that there was a motif of sickness in some of the plays – be it the Auditionee’s raging fever of 40 degrees in “The Audition”, the Priest’s aching tooth in “Surgery”, the Banker’s gout in “A Defenseless Creature” or Chardyakov’s sneezing issue in “The Sneeze”. But, as the saying goes – “laughter is the best medicine”. We hope that the comedy of the performance was a… good doctor (pun intended), both in curing the tragic ailments of the characters as well as, hopefully, relieving the audience of some school stress even as the intensity of Term 2 starts to kick into full swing. Safe to say that the Good Doctor had us all in stitches.
Do look out for their upcoming production, Sketch Night Live, which will be happening sometime in July. For now, we wish Drama Club all the best for their upcoming SYF performance, in which they will be presenting “The Sneeze”! Blow them all away!
Wong Jean, 15A12
Elizabeth Wan, 15A12