Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Access Denied - A Promising Beginning

A review of Canvas! first production, Access Denied, cannot begin without expressing my admiration of the ambition of the producer as well as the boldness of the actors on embarking this project for it is a journey into uncharted waters for them. While, it is undeniable that I did have certain reservations with regards to an original production in all sense of the word, I am glad to admit how unfounded such reservations are.

In all honesty, Access Denied will not make it to Broadway or the West End. Its writing will not be earning 'Best Original Script' any time soon. But it is an early sketch of a portrait - a blatant reflection of human relationship. Something that we still need or perhaps smile quietly to ourselves as we passively identify ourselves with the characters. This is best summed up by Kester saying, 'It's like going through life...' This venture may be a sketchy impression of something profound.

Its format has some semblances to Alan Bennett's Talking Heads in which it consists of a series of monologues, with a slight departure as there are a few brief moments of interaction between the characters, that reveal different shades of human life. In particular, it reveals the different kinds of relationship and scenarios that we experience in giving ourselves to another. Inevitably, constructing a play in such a fashion does have its pros and cons.

For starters, having four characters delivering their personal monologues one after another can be daunting on the audience. This is due to the fact that the monologue is delivered in a confined space which limits the possibilities of blocking. This thus forces the audience to draw on the lines to keep up with the progress of the play and try to grasp the message of the playwright(s) - in this case, the actors are collaboratively involved in writing the script. Aside from this flaw, the format does allow the four characters to be developed fully. In addition, it clearly demarcates four motifs that are evident in the distinct personalities and storyline of the characters.

The four characters experience different kinds of love: Unrequited Love (Charmaine Poh), "Forbidden" Love (Mark Cheng), Loveless Union (Ng Yin Ling), Love Gone Wrong (Lesley Sia)

As a caveat, do note that such a categorisation is entirely out of my own devising and not set by anyone involved in the production. I have taken the such liberties to aid my readers in understanding what the respective monologues entail and it is not the actual title given to any of the characters. To those involved in the production, my sincere apologies that I did not manage to catch all the names of the characters, so it would be easier if I just name the actors. Additionally, if my categorisation is found to be inaccurate, once again I apologise. If that is the case, perhaps one can take it as a perception of one of the members in the audience.

Unrequited Love - Charmaine Poh

In terms of content, what characterises this set of monologues is the poetry of the lines which describes the physicality and behaviour of the character's beau at that time. It aptly emphasises how she cherishes every moment she spends with her man. The beauty of the lines were helpful to any actor as Charmaine portrayed her character well. The painful contemplation and the search for answers as to how could her lover just leave her and hurt her so badly was heart-wrenching to watch. The metaphor of letters in which one often sees her reading it or writing it is a beautiful image in trying to connect with her beau and deal with her pain.

Performatively, what sealed the deal for me was the sense of purity and truthfulness in the portrayal of the character. Underneath the beauty of the lines, that raw feeling of anguish and hurt, that came from Charmaine, was certainly impactful. I sank to a new low when she performed her final monologue when you could actually see her eyes becoming slightly moist and teary as she struggles with her feelings. It really makes one hope that no one should be subjected to such pain and hurt - something that does kill the spirit a little.

Unfortunately, I felt that Charmaine was slightly lacking in the energy in her delivery which resulted in the other actors overpowering her and as an overall trajectory of the play, there always seem to be a drop in energy whenever her monologue comes on. To be fair, this may not be exactly her fault due to the fact that her character that she portrays is of a passive nature as compared to the powerful one that Mark portrays. Also, she does not have much of an outburst in her lines as can be found in Lesley's lines. Therefore, it does appear as if Charmaine lacks the performative energy which is not exactly the case here.

In conjunction to that, Charmaine's character seems to be a departure to the overall pattern that the other characters have established. Her character does not have a clear progression of plot as it is concretely evident in the other characters. This is not to say that the character's nostalgic, almost surreal recollection is a weak idea but such a structure seemed to place this character out of sync due to the fact that the plot in the other monologues progresses steadily everytime the character comes on. As such, this inconsistency in conjunction with the passive nature of the character mars Charmaine's overall impact on the audience. This is definitely a pity.

"Forbidden" Love - Mark Cheng

Puuurrrr! Mark and his character were certainly a racket as the monologues got us hopping out of our seats due to the humourous moments or the poignant moments as we are forced out of our comfort zones to contemplate these important questions - Is homosexuality taboo? What is considered "normal" in society? How much do we have to conform to society's ridiculous ideals?

Mark's set of monologues truly captured the different aspects there is to be a homosexual in a society that is still judgmental and condescending. This is bolstered by lines that were well written as it seeks to explore the never-ending and sometimes humourous attempts to hide one's sexual orientation as well as the poignancy of it all that in the face of societal pressures, one sometimes unwittingly betrays oneself and assume a certain mould and therefore rejecting true love. I certainly applaud how it does not seek to lash out at society's judgments and prejudices. Instead, it just seek to present a man not being able to love fully and truly due to happenstance.

Mark is certainly a ball of energy with a sense of good showmanship as he easily manipulates the comic timing as well as presenting a myriad of reactions to life's challenging but hilarious circumstances much at the expense of our aching sides as a result of laughing too hard. Yet, as his monologues wind down to the poignant moments, there is a sense of maturity that comes across clearly as we see the layers of the character's personality in his struggle between assuring his lover that he truly loves him and that his wife is only for show. The scene in which he recounts the encounter with the beggar which resulted in him giving the beggar some cash is certainly impactful. This signifies that his character has occupied the mould that society has set for him as he offers money out of a sense of detached sympathy. By extension, he has come to accept what society has defined as being normal. The impact of the lines and the acting is profound so much so that at the time of writing, in revisiting his performance, I have to restrain myself from jotting down my opinions on this issue as it is only suitable for another post on another occasion. Perhaps such an impact is a testament to the fact that the actor is informed in his portrayal of the character.

Perhaps, the only bone I have to pick is the fact that Mark's character is always seen holding business documents and taking phone calls. This physical motif could actually be developed further than just to signify his occupation as a business man. It could be used to strengthen the theme of being bound by societal norms as with how one is being bound by a contract once a business deal is signed. The idea of the contract of love could be embedded into his monologue as his character claims that him marrying a woman is only for show and therefore a transaction with society. While his love for Edward is real and perhaps his love for his wife is transactional, one simply cannot ignore the fact that he is bonded by a contract and have to fulfill its conditions which actually drives a wedge between him and Edward. This would eventually amount to rejecting true love in the face and thus results in Edward leaving him and question his inherent acceptance of societal norms. Such a metaphor would throw his struggle into sharper relief as the corporate savvy audience of today would be able to grasp the comparison.

Loveless Union - Ng Yin Ling

How often have we heard that marriage is the tombstone of love? Well, that is exactly what Yin Ling's character encapsulates. Her frazzled hair and scrunched up corporate blouse was a convincing sight of a modern woman facing up to the jaded realities of life as she does her bit for the household and takes each day as it comes.

The extinguished flame of passion can never be more evident in her lines which is only focusd on her children and the growing up in the beginning. Towards the end, she begins to unravel the coldness between her husband and herself as she resorted to seeking sexual advice online but never cling upon them. The idea of seeking advice from an inanimate medium on something so sacred is certainly poignant - a sheer testament to how we have lost control of our lives as we get caught up with so many things.

Yin Ling did a credible job of portraying this jaded woman and had a wonderful arch in her performance as she unravels progressively. There is almost nothing to pick on in this case except that there could be more layers to this character than her just being jaded with life. This is especially so in view of the fact that a dead marriage is such a common theme that it borders on being cliche.

Love Gone Wrong - Lesley Sia

What started out as a movie loving girl suffering from a common case of puppy love turned out to be a struggle to find one's identity in the face of others and the need to reassert it in the face of a failed relationship. Her initial musings about finding the perfect match that mirrors the likes of the various Disney princesses turns out to be an illusion as she falls for a less than perfect prince charming who is actually the typical bad boy. Despite not being able to fulfill her Disney dream, she was in utter bliss. As the relationship goes on, it begins to dawn on her how uncontrollably wrong it is heading as it departs further and further away from the expected plot of a great love story - the sheer unpredictability of life. Towards the end, as she begins to feel inferior when her boyfriend leaves her for another girl which received a form of approval from his friends which she did not, she begins to reassert herself as a beautiful person and that she will not falter for this guy whom have taken every advantage of her.

By far, Lesley's character has the greatest veracity and it is an utter treat to watch Lesley moving from blissful happiness to despair with relative ease and craftsmanship. In the initial stages, her youthful and girly vigour in her musings certainly brings a smile to anyone as we remember our own romantic fantasies when we were younger. As her monologues progesses, there is an overwhelming sense of poignancy and maturity that animates from her. The vast difference between her earlier monologues as compared to her latter ones, which is filled with intensity and energy, is certainly astounding and a testament to her vesitility as an actress.
This is especially evident in a couple of her monologues in which she relates being sexually harrassed and her despair and bitterness in the aftermath as she hates herself for not doing anything about it. The intensity, energy and earnesty in dealing with her boyfriend molesting her, leaving her and the seeming disapproval of his friends certainly broke my heart and a sense of sympathy and sadness came over me as if the character is truly confiding in me.

While I do appreciate the energy and intensity, there are times when Lesley seems to upkeep the intensity by accelerating her monologue and delivering it in an extremely heated way. This slight falter in the performance condenses the character and her experience. Instead, a thoughtful choice of pauses and really let what the character says sink into the audience rather than presenting her anger and bitterness would be more impactful. However, to be fair, it is indeed exciting to watch Lesley as with the other actors.
On a more personal note, it is amazing to see how much the actors have improved and mature performatively. The whole production is a considerable success with certain compelling themes that leaves the audience to identify with and know that love is an inevitable part of the human experience.
One can only wish them the very best for their future endeavours and hope that a future collaboration is in order....

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sweet Little Things

In trying to find meaningful ways to spend time in camp, my camp mates and I decided to start a conversation in the hopes of finding out more about each other. Soon enough, we found ourselves inevitably comparing the cultures of our schools as I had to debunk certain myths that surrounds AC.

In the course of relating certain events that my school has organised, something deep struck me. As I think back on all the little and silly things my school does on events such as Valentine's or April Fools, there is this overwhelming mix of nostalgia and regret that came over me. I once viewed it as superfluous and a tad bit extravagant for an unofficial cause for celebration. However, as I face the jaded realities of life, I began to appreciate what the school, and whoever that was involved in the planning, had done for us. The thought behind those sweets, flowers, balloons (pink, white, red) and the pranks certainly made our day and disrupting the monotony of school life was always welcomed.

Missing AC this way also led to another realisation- the gem of sincerity. I mean what really touches me about how AC celebrates events, seasons and life is not because of the expense that went into it but how sincerely the Students Council wants to make the day slightly special for everyone. It is not a matter of how you do it or how expensive it is but that you are sincere in doing it. Sincerity is the key for many a times, we often go to the expense of doing something other out of pure obligation which leaves a bitter aftertaste for ourselves. To me, we should rid ourselves of such superficial obligation and go the distance only if we really mean it or else everything is meaningless. On the other side of the coin, we should also stop expecting from people. It is with such mindless expectation that we lead ourselves onto the paths of disappointment. As long as we stay true to ourselves and our friends, people will naturally reciprocate back with gratitude and sincerity and that is all that matters.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

4.48 Psychosis

Kane, through her incoherent composition of rantings and morbid poetry has given us a clearer view of the effects of depression.

It is frightening to think that I actually understand it at some level....

"What do you offer your friends to make them so supportive of you?"

"What do you offer?"

Friday, July 10, 2009

Being Loved and Needed

'It isn't memories that keep us going. Being loved and needed is what keeps us from dying inside.'
~Anne LeClaire, Entering Normal (2001)

Isn't that a profound thought? We do cherish our memories but, at times, clinging onto them makes us stuck in neutral. Yet, this phenomenon in the polemics of our behaviour that occurs when we hang onto a certain memory is a testament to our want to be loved and needed. It is certainly the case for LeClaire's character of Rose Nelson in her book, Entering Normal.

As an exceedingly brief summary, Rose lost her son and fell into a state of depression but it changed when Opal Gates moved into the neighbourhood with her son Zack. Initially, she tries her best to keep a distance from Opal for Zack painfully reminds her of her son, Todd. But in a set of unexpected events, Rose does get involved in helping Opal settle down in this unfamiliar surroundings and even fight to retain custody of her child. Such events eventually led her to realise the moral in the above quote. This led her to come out of her depression and followed Opal back to her own hometown as a support in bringing up Zack for she realised that giving love and receiving it back is what keeps us alive and what keeps us from dying inside.

At a first glance, it seems that someone who would say that suffers from inferiority complex mixed with a touch of depression. But after further consideration, I realised how resonant that line is in our lives. Memories are a precious commodity of our existence - having a recollection of an experience, be it good or bad, makes us who we are and by extension, proves that we exist and matter in this world. While it is important to have a throve of experience, holding onto the past makes us forget the present and an obsessive reluctance to let go of it makes us go into a state of depression. The important question is, what do people often hold on to obsessively and what does this say of ourselves as humans?

We often cling onto memories that makes us feel wanted, loved and happy. How often do we find ourselves remembering a previous love affair, a relative who has passed on or good times we have with a particular friend who is not in contact with us? It is a testament to our inherent want to reach out and love someone as well as to be loved and cared for in return. This want thus 'keeps us from dying inside'. In other words, to be fully human, we seek and give love from and to others. This pure and great gift therefore keeps us going and gives meaning to our lives.

On a personal note, this quote cannot be further from the truth. It is also interesting to note how my longing is more pronounced as I grow older than when I am younger. It seemed as if the more I could rationalise and articulate the depths of my feelings, the stronger my desire to be love and needed is felt. As I think back upon the years that I have lived (it is surprisingly not many but it felt as if I have gone through a lot), I begin to cherish the many roles that people play in my life. How different my life would be without certain people and I begin to see more of their pleasant traits and overlook more of their shortcomings.

In appreciation of these people, I do feel a growing disappointment at myself as I regret not being more sociable and mix with them in my younger years. Perhaps that is why I seem to overcompensate and try my very best to keep abreast of what everyone is doing now. It is amazing how much power such a need has over one. The lonliness of not being able to reach out to others kills me a little and the daunting years of serving NS has made this activity a preoccupation as my friends slip off to university. I have sub-consciously put it as a priority in making my time out of camp as meaningful as possible. However, my attempts has been in vain as my friends are indeed busy and our schedules are incompatible with each other. As such, I do sometimes experience short bouts of mild depression as I feel myself rotting away and my existence is hollow without these friends. In this light, I am able to empathise with some celebrities such as Michael Jackson and Diana when they talk of lonliness and how it often eats them up inside...

If only everyone can soften their hearts and contemplate on the quote... and listen to themselves deep, deep inside themselves... it will be one step towards world peace...

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Need to Create

Recently, I have been inspired to create something but I do not know what it is. The blame of such a compulsion can certainly be primarily shifted onto the documentary of Philip Glass as its main source of inspiration. Hearing him describe his process of writing music, his upbringing and how he remains undaunted by the multitudes of unfavourable reviews has left me stirring inside.

How does one create something out of nothing? In considering this process, it appears that we are in the likeness of God as we set on a process that He did billions of years ago. To able to create something, anything... is nothing short of a miracle. The need to create for me lies in the heart of expression. To creep out of the loneliness of our minds and to tell the world something is indeed a scary thing but a risk we must all take or risk dying inside. It is a scary thing because of what people think and this cannot be better described than what madam said - 'I hate to subject Art to people's bigotry'.

So what am I to create? What am I to scream to the whole world? Is my "Canvas" the digital pixels of this little blog that I do suspect almost no one reads? For now, Prelude shall indeed be my canvas. I plan to write two pieces to furnish Prelude. One is actually a literary project that aims to explore how we converse or at least how I converse. It is a series of writing in the most direct way possible. I have absolutely no idea how it would turn out because it would range from possibly ramblings that comes out of a stream of consciousness to a snapshots of words.

The second piece would be slightly more tame and sane than the first. In fact, it may even appear boring, cliche and totally unlike me. I just read the commemorative edition of Time magazine in which it is a cover of Michael Jackson. Surprisingly, the articles in there were indeed a balanced assessment of Michael. A sense of poignancy and melancholy filled me after reading these articles and looking at some of Michael's songs on Youtube as I intend to perhaps pen down (type actually) my own thoughts about his passing with heavy reference from the magazine.

On the side, an idea for a play has been lingering in my mind for quite a bit. It was actually sparked off by a request by my friend to write a play for a church Christmas production (the collaboration did not come to pass.. if you were wondering). Well, one of the most stale plots used for such productions would be an unbeliever being struck by calamity and repenting afterward. While such plots are the easiest to get the message through, is it really that realistic? Why can't the character come into knowing in the most mundane of circumstances? That was one of the possibilities I have been doodling around.

I do hope I will start on it very soon and not procrastinate.