Following the successful performances by members of staff and students of The Mikado (2014), Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2015) and the most recent One Act Play Festival, as well as the inception of the Literature and Drama Society, the performing arts scene in UNMC is in the middle of a theatrical renaissance. IGNITE sat down with six talented students who have been involved in both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the One Act Play Festival, and talked about their motivations and experiences as part of the growing performing arts and theatre scene.
This article features Marsya Hazanan (Year 2 Pharmacy), Edmund Khoo (Year 1 Mechanical Engineering), and Amashi De Mel (Year 2 International Communication Studies).
Ignite: Why did you choose to act in both (MND & OAPF) productions?
Marsya (M): I chose to because I love acting! I would say it’s a passion, but that indicates I actively attempt to improve my acting outside of productions, which isn’t true. It’s a pleasure. It’s a lot of fun and there’s just something about stepping into another character that’s absolutely exhilarating! It’s why I’m all up for auditioning for literally anything.
Edmund (Ed): I enjoyed watching films and I always thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if I can be acting in something?” An opportunity came in the form of the MND production, which I took immediately.
I wanted to break out of my comfort zone and try something new.
Amashi (Am): I acted in both productions by chance, I signed up for the MND audition on the day of the final exam to get rid of my nerves, and because there was a part of me that really wanted to be part of a Shakespearean production. With OAPF, Chloe Lim, my friend and the writer of “The Room I See” needed an actress, and I agreed after reading her amazingly written plot twisting script.
Ignite: What was the casting process like?
M: For MND, we were given extracts of the script and chose which character we wanted to audition for. Then we were directed on different characters or styles, then had to wait until callbacks, after which we received confirmation of our roles. For OAPF, we had to use our own script. According to Derek (Irwin) in an acting workshop that I attended, that’s usually how it is. You bring in a piece that may or may not be relevant, act it out, and then they judge you. I thought this was much more fun because I can choose the piece I will perform. After which the directors could ask you to read out excerpts, and then decide if you are suitable.
Ed: The casting process for MND was nerve wracking! It was my first time auditioning for a production of that scale, and I remembered thinking I wouldn’t get a part, but surprisingly I did! The casting process for OAPF was much more casual, just a room with a few of the scriptwriters and directors.
Am: With MND I initially auditioned for Helena and was called back along with three others for the role of Hippolyta. That was when I realized “this is real, things have got serious”. As my first audition happened for fun to take my nerves away from an exam, I made sure I gave more effort than before. For OAPF, it was the opposite, I was nervous to get the role!
Ignite: What do you like or dislike about your characters?
M: I’d have to shamelessly say that I wished Snout had more lines at first. He was fun to play. Comedic characters are so much fun because you can play around with them a lot. You also have lots of interaction with the audience and the Mechanicals were just so dynamic that you could move around a lot too. Despite, or perhaps because of the lack of lines, there was a lot of communication through body language which is always great fun. Playing Donna was so much more different. Exact opposite in fact. She obviously has a lot of lines and she’s static throughout. There’s still body language to mess with but it’s subtle and well, a lot less tiring. It was fun in a different way. She was emotional in such a subtle clean and composed way. She was very complex and it was a wonderful challenge to get deep into her character.
Ed: For MND, I like how Demetrius was very confident, and mostly cocky and full of himself. For OAPF, I find that Steve is relatable but I don’t like him at all because he lacks self-confidence and always end up being pushed around by others, especially his mother. They are almost exact opposites.
Am: I like both my characters because they are nothing like me and therefore were fascinating to take on.
Ignite: What have you learnt after acting in your second play production?
M: I learnt how to be less theatrical. I think playing Snout too many times got to me. I was a lot more exaggerated when I first played Donna. It took a lot of sit downs and read-throughs to get me to understand the cool and composed ‘crazy’ that is Donna. Dramatic but not over-expressive. I also learnt how to be sexy, which was challenging. One of the notes on my script literally says ORGASMIC in caps and I think I may have underlined it several times. I took a lot of inspiration from Chicago’s ‘Cell Block Tango’. I was genuinely surprised when a friend told me I sounded like a seductress the whole way through! I’m not sexy in real life at all!
Ed: I learnt that proper directing is very important, especially for me as an amateur actor. I feel that I really need guidance and a clear sense of direction from the director to be able to pull off a part well.
Am: The second unlike the first, was written, directed and acted by students. I honestly found that a bit nerve wracking at the beginning.
I learnt that if you manage to find a cast and crew who are dedicated to acting and giving their best, age and experience really doesn’t matter.
Ignite: Do you have a ‘method’ when it comes to getting into character?
M: I don’t think I can explain it, but I always get into character. It’s why I sometimes read books really slowly because I’m acting them out and you’ll see me twitch because I feel the need to move with the dialogue. But getting down to it, I sometimes study the character’s lines down to the very choice of words. I love analysing literature and going down to the nitty gritty of a character’s dialogues, but it’s usually instinctive.
Ed: I like to be alone in an empty room for hours and just go through the script repeatedly, jotting down anything that comes to my mind about the character and then focusing on that.
Am: I prefer to forget who ‘Amashi de Mel’ is before I get on stage. I try to think, walk, talk and act like how my character would until I am done with performing.
Ignite: Which actors/performers do you draw inspiration from?
M: This really depends on the character. For my performance of Blinds, I watched a lot of ‘Cell Block Tango’ (even the male version) and picked up their cool anger and the sensual movements. I also watched a monologue performance by Colin Morgan called ‘I Have Nothing to Confess’. It had the same themes, absolute denial of an inner violence. Their normality and steadfast belief in their own innocence, the dramatic anger was similar to Donna’s.
Ed: I draw inspiration from a lot of actors, and I try to learn something from each of them. I would say that Daniel Day-Lewis is the actor that left me awestruck watching how he becomes his character in all of his performances.
Am: This is a tough question because I come from a family of performers. However, I feel I draw most of my inspiration from my parents. My father performs in the form of playing almost any instrument by ear and my mother does miming- and as I can’t do either of that, I feel the closest I could get to them is by acting on stage, but with the same love and energy they put into their craft.
Ignite: What makes you interested in acting in a play?
M: I like plays that are thought-provoking. Twisted in its own way but not too dramatic. Absurdism is great. Zoo Story (by Edward Albee) is a play I’ve been obsessed with for a while. It’s crazy, a mix of subtle and dramatic. I get wary of people wanting to write mental illnesses as many don’t get it quite right.
I’m blessed to be granted a chance to play such a real portrayal of bipolar disorder and psychosis for the One Act Play Festival.
Ed: Mainly, the script and the director’s vision on how the play will be going.
Am: Living someone else’s life for a while. Forgetting your own problems, responsibilities, thoughts and taking on someone else’s. To me it’s the perfect get away from reality.
Ignite: What is the most overlooked or underrated aspect of being in a play?
M: Voice projection and facing the audience. It affects a lot of the performance. I’ve seen many newbies acting and never speaking to the audience. You’re always speaking to the audience even when you’re ‘not’, so always aim for the audience. Especially the ones in the back row. They’re usually the judge-y ones.
Ed: I would say the chemistry and relationship between the actors.
Am: That acting is more than just fun and games. It is fun to an extent but it is time and a LOT of energy. You are becoming someone else, you have been selected to act that particular character so there is a lot of pressure to do justice to the script and the director.
Ignite: Do have any advice for students who are interesting to take part in future productions?
M: Take anything you can get. Especially while you’re in university. I had no experience outside of university, but I’ve learnt that productions are fun. Even if you’re playing a tree in the background, just do it. You’ll have a great experience and you’ll learn a lot about what goes on backstage and on stage. You’ll develop a deep love for performing and that’s the best thing to get out of a production.
Ed: Just go for it! Draw inspiration from anything and once you are on the stage, forget everything, all the nervousness and awkwardness; and be your character.
Am: If you ever feel like auditioning for a play, don’t think twice, GO FOR IT. You won’t regret it, take my word. In theatre you meet some of the best personalities whether they be in the cast or crew. The memories you make are unforgettable and are truly once in a life time as each play you participate in would offer a different experience, and something new to take back. Even if you think you can’t balance your studies and acting, remember everyone else in the production are in your shoes too, so speak out and discuss, rehearsal times can be, and usually are, flexible.
By Neda Al-Asedi