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 is features Jonathan Sim (Year 2 English with Creative Writing), Shamini Vasu (Year 1 Psychology) and Ahmad Danial (Year 1 International Relations with Spanish).
Ignite: Why did you choose to act in both (MND & OAPF) productions?
Jonathan (J): I wanted to keep myself involved in theatre, mainly because I enjoy acting, slipping into a character’s shoes and rehearsing with other actors. It is a good opportunity to gain new experiences.
Shamini (S): I chose to act in both of them simply because I love acting. Drama has been the most exciting and demanding passion I have ever had, and it’s almost as if I didn’t have a choice because I knew that I would regret it the moment I missed my chance.
Danial (D): After performing for SA’s The Awakening play in autumn 14/15, I wanted to be more involved in productions in UNMC. When MND opened up auditions I immediately signed up because I think I have a lot of room for improvement in terms of my acting ability and being hands-on is definitely the best way to learn how to act and perform. For OAPF, I wanted to be a part of a student led production. I felt that OAPF allowed freedom for students to propose, direct and act their own plays. It’s a great move forward to nurture enthusiasm about stage-performing and I am more than happy to help that process.
Ignite: What was the casting process like?
J: They called for casting over email, and I was excited. I was also nervous because unlike MND where we had been given several monologues to prepare, we had to bring in our own for OAPF and we were not sure which role we were going to get cast for. OAPF auditions were not too nerve wracking as they were student-led, compared to MND when Dr Irwin and Dr Izadi were there to supervise.
S: In MND, the casting was extremely nerve-wracking for me, it was the first time I would have tried out for a Shakespearean play and I had never met Derek before. I remember it being quite daunting and my fingers were shaking. Alas, Derek turned out to be a lovely person who casted me for who I truly am: a teh-tarik man! OAPF audition wasn’t as scary as I had no idea which play I was auditioning for and I just wanted to try my best. I auditioned with my monologue and the unexpected happened. Months later, I was performing it on stage!
D: I was the last person to audition that day for MND. I was incredibly nervous, I kept going to the bathroom to wash my face and calm down. Many talented actors and actresses walked through the doors before me, and I was worried. The fact that the audition was recorded on video and a lecturer would be didn’t help, but the audition itself turned out to be very chill. OAPF on the other hand, I was much more prepared with a script of my choosing. It felt like I was doing something I was comfortable with. The nervousness was there but I learned how to tune it all out and focus on what I needed to do.
Ignite: What do you like or dislike about your characters?
J: I like that with Puck I could be very playful, which is my nature, only amplified. I don’t dislike Puck at all because, despite how much playing him wore me out – due to the high energy required – it was too enjoyable. The biggest challenge was bringing that same energy level for all seven shows as Puck. As for the doctor, what I like about him is that he is so sinister. He is a dark role and I had to do a bit of research on psychopathy before performing, which was quite an interesting learning process. What I disliked about playing the doctor was that I did not spend enough time with him to know him better, unlike the two months that I spent with Puck.
S: With Flute, at first I thought it was a minor role, as I didn’t have many lines, and the fact that I had to keep this permanent scowl on my face was annoying, but this quickly changed. I soon realised my character wasn’t how many lines I had but how he chose to speak those lines in the most audaciously stupid way possible. Once I got into my character, I loved him. My character was loud, manly yet cowardly, idiotic and at the same time, beautiful, fabulous and a terrific actress! For ‘Beautiful’, I can’t answer this question as the character was essentially me. I did hate to relive those moments of weakness so vividly, and I hated how I used to be so thick in how I measured my self-worth in the monologue. However, I loved how strong my character was in the end and how I knew that she was who I strived to be in the future.
D: It was fun portraying Theseus, Duke of Athens because I could disregard courtesies and do whatever I wanted. Usually performers try to relate to the audience but I didn’t have to as Theseus wasn’t relatable. It was fun not to care, because in real life I do care. But I do wish I was involved in more scenes and interacted with other characters. Tony was an easily relatable character, I can understand what it feels to have expectations of other people on you and not being able to live up to them. Tony was essentially me. I did feel that there wasn’t much character development and the portrayal did not fully stretch out my acting muscles beyond my comfort zone, so I’d prefer characters that are different from my real self.
Each step I took felt like I was in an empty Great Hall because the whole stage felt like it was mine.
Ignite: What have you learnt after acting in your second play production?
J: It’s crucial to memorise your lines as early on in the rehearsals as possible, otherwise it will be very hard for the character to come through. Always bear in mind the feedback that you receive and the directions given and bring that into the next rehearsal. In other words, be conscious of these things when you rehearse and they will come naturally when you perform.
S: I have learnt so many incredible things in my experiences with these two performances. I learnt helpful drama techniques, how amazingly beautiful a theatre could be, how to use my own experiences to help others, how to fill a stage with one seat.
Most of all, never underestimate the people around you as they are the true heroes in every production.
D: I learned that the success of any performance hinges on the amount of teamwork, communication and respect between all members of production. It taught me to be independent, organised and decisive. Working without an experienced director or cast, things may not work out as you expected. People may be late, other priorities may take over and some do adopt a casual ‘later lah’ attitude. Yet, these lessons were definitely worth the effort as it hints on the actual discipline, dedication and commitment needed to run a student-organised event in UNMC.
Ignite: Do you have a ‘method’ when it comes to getting into character?
J: I clear my mind as best as I can right before going on stage. I find a characteristic of that character and cling on to that in order to slip into character. For example, for Puck I had a distinct way of walking that Dr Irwin called the ‘Puck-has-to-pee’ dance. So you would see me backstage hopping around and getting excited over things, just like how Puck would appear on stage
S: It depends on which character I’m playing, for the OAPF I was me so I didn’t have to really do anything but for MND it was a total 180! What I tried to do was first breathe in the way my character would and then play with my body in different ways he would sit, stand, walk and at the last moment I changed my face in his scowl. After that, I would shake my body up, recite my lines and try to maintain in character when the rehearsals start. Other than that; the typical physical warm ups are key to help the technical side as a reminder to project, use the space and etc.
D: Depends on whether it is a character I could relate to easily or not. If I find difficulty relating I would watch lots of movies, tv series, anything with characters that are similar to what I needed to portray and make an amalgamation of all their best traits. Then, it’s a process of trial and error, asking friends and family on how good this character seems and ways I could better it. I am good with impressions and voices so this method works for me (why not know a good movie lines in between).
Ignite: Which actors/performers do you draw inspiration from?
J: I wouldn’t be able to name just one performer. It’s more of a collective pool of everyone that I have watched and admired such as Helena Bonham Carter and Hugh Jackman.
S: I draw inspiration from actors like Ethan Hawke, Eddie Redmayne, Lea Salonga, Neil Patrick-Harris, Tom Hanks and Al Pacino. But Stanley Tucci is my main inspiration as he is truly a chameleon when it comes to playing a character.
D: Definitely Kevin Spacey and Bryan Cranston. I watch lots of movies and TV series for inspiration but usually the individuals portraying characters on screen never really remain in my mind except for these two great actors.
Ignite: What makes you interested in acting in a play?
J: The opportunity to embody someone else and to tell their story. The theatricality of it all. The staging, the lights, just the whole experience.
S: What draws me in is the potential to be in someone else’s shoes and learn all I can from the people that surround me.
D: For the confidence and the way it trains me to remain cool under pressure.
Ignite: What is the most overlooked or underrated aspect of being in a play?
J: The amount of work that the production team puts in for every detail in a show, from props to costumes, lighting and stage managing – all the things that the audience don’t see.
S: The most underrated part of being in a play is not the amount of work you put into a character but the amount of effort you put into the whole play. Every single aspect is important, from when the curtain goes up to how place your hand on another’s character. The science that comes with drama is extremely overlooked in every aspect and it should be given more credit.
D: Set-making, definitely, and the work required to perfect set pieces, like with MND. The production needed to bring those items on stage and then make it look natural, which is amazing. Like most things in life, plays are never a one-person show.
Ignite: Do have any advice for students who are interesting to take part in future productions?
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to take the first step, go for auditions! – Jonathan
S: Just have as much fun as you can. Learn what they offer, absorb the atmosphere and relish each blood, sweat and tear because this experience won’t repeat itself.
D: Put your nerves and fears aside because anyone can act. You are portraying a character every day of your life, so once you throw away your doubts, stock up on a good measure of teamwork, honesty, positive attitude and optimism, you’ll do great.
By Neda Al Asedi