Amy de Kanter, Chief Editor of ARTERI shares her thoughts on the 3rd Annual Student Directed Festival which took place at Sri Emas International School from 16 – 24 July 2016. The program features ACE EdVenture’s theatre students, who were given the opportunity to direct their own theatre productions while assisted by their juniors as Stage Managers, crew and FOH.
When last year’s performances sweep up three Boh Cameronian Awards, you’re going to make darn sure you catch this year’s work. And I did.
In spite of the awards, I was mindful that — as the name Student Directed Festival (SDF) makes clear — this was still the work of high-school students. Trained, yes, but only able to spend one or two hours a week on their plays. In fact, one of their drama teachers, Reuben Cheow told the audience to consider what the students could have done with more time.
Fair enough. And still, most of the students delivered a solid performance, with a couple of stand-out roles. Unfortunately, the event’s programme did not say which actor played what role, so I can’t single out actors by name.
One of the most natural and believable characters was Mickey in the first play, The Secret Origin of Mojo Man. A sweet and almost tragically gullible teenager, Mickey is completely taken in when his best friend ‘reveals’ that he has a secret superpower; the ability to make girls like him. The friend convinces Mickey that he too can channel this ‘mojo’ to influence his dream girl Brie, to fall for him too.
Poor Mickey is then stuck in a battle with himself. He wants Brie, but is it fair to make her like him against her will?
The second stand-out role was a malevolently conniving actor in The Queue. She awaits her audition with a poised English actor who is presumably perfect for the role. Chatty and seemingly friendly, she innocently messes with her competitor’s British brain and pushes her to the brink of a nervous breakdown.
At the end of the show, there was a Q&A section in which directors admitted that one of their challenges was getting actors understand that there were times to play and times to be serious and work. Some actors obviously got the message – the best actor chemistry was between the three characters in Death Takes the Train. Three human characters, that is: In this play three girls on a train (or waiting for a train) notice Death, black robes and all, sitting a few seats over.
The play starts out funny, the girls reacting as people do when they think they’ve spotted someone famous. “Is it really him? Who else could it be? I dare you to go talk to him.” As it sinks in that there is only one possible reason for Death to be there, and as the three must soon part, they become less brave. A lot less brave.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the Student Directed Festival was the diversity of stories. Directors found and chose their plays, some because they liked the story, some because it challenged the actors. Replenish the Earth, for example, travelled back and forth through time, exploring the close relationship between a girl and her grandfather at different stages of their lives.
Haunted plays on every performer’s fears, each of which takes form (the Ghost of Lines Dropped, the Ghost of Entrances Missed, the Ghost of Reviews Awful) to torment an actor trying to study her lines.
Quirky and hilarious, The Last Man on Earth shows us a young man stumbling through a wasteland that – we learn – is the world after some sort of apocalypse has wiped out humanity. As he digs through rubbish bins he discovers he is not quite alone. A woman has also survived the disaster. Not any woman, but Lena, a girl he was obsessed with in high school.
Back then she couldn’t stand him. She was creeped out by constant stalking and told him she’d never, ever go out with him.
Not never, he reminds her. Her exact words were that she would only ever go out with him if he was … remember the title?
Here again we have some great acting, especially from the young man in the role of geeky loser Trevor. Trevor who has been dealt more than his share of losing hands, but seems to be seeing his luck change at last. Of course, that would not be half as funny as what really happens.
Well deserving of their own round of applause at SDF, were the people behind the scenes. Something completely unexpected in a high school performance is smooth and fast preparation between one play and the next. Waiting … sometimes for several minutes, is to be expected.
But not here. Between plays a small army of stagehands swept over the stage like a well-coordinated wave, retreating within seconds with everything set up and ready for the next performance. This is because students are required to study and understand all aspects of putting on a production. And the impact could not have been clearer.
More insight into the process came during the Q&A after the show. No matter what questions were thrown at the actors, directors and stage managers, their answers demonstrated the amount of thought that had gone into their work.
Why was the role of ‘Death’ played by one of the directors rather than an actor? Because a non-speaking part in which the character barely moves would not have been fair to actors who sought challenging roles.
Why did the directors of Pizza choose to do a play about a topic as controversial as religion vs. atheism? That was not what the play was about; it was about the parent and child universal struggle — and failure — to understand one another.
Why did this play end in such a way? It didn’t. We changed it because we felt it would be more interesting to leave the ending to the audience’s imagination.
It’s possible that among the first-time actors, directors and stage managers we saw that night are some of tomorrow’s professionals. I hope so.