By: Choo Shuen Ming (16A01E)
This is Part Two of a photo essay documenting the backstage happenings of Raffles Players’ most recent production, The Bicycle Plays. Part One casts an inward-looking eye on pre-production happenings. Part Two picks off right where Part One leaves off, at the opening of doors and beginning of the audience members’ experience.
The Black Box begins to fill up, and an audience member looks through the programme booklet in the meantime.
The programme booklet was created with the help of Beatrice’s friend who’s currently studying design. “I Skyped her 4, 5 times because there were many changes to the design,” Beatrice says, and she explains that while she came up with the general look and themes, and selected the font and images, her friend handled the actual design software and layout. “She’s always willing to help, and she was helping on top of her schoolwork,” Beatrice shares, “and yeah, she came for the show!”
“The funny thing”, Beatrice says, “is that after so many times back and forth, in the end we still forgot to include the directors’ names, so in the end, we had a black marker, and I just asked the directors to sign with it.” And that’s the story behind why all the 200 or so programme booklets are uniquely hand-signed as pictured.
Caitlin, Ko Lyn and Rishi (left to right) take their places onstage, amid the hubbub of the audience, and the light pop music playing.
Rishi shares that the house music wasn’t really distracting at all, contrary to what one might think. “It kind of got me in the mood,” he says, a sentiment Ko Lyn echoes: “During that time I personally tune out a little, and get into the rhythm of the audience’s sounds (coughs and fidgets) and clear my mind, to let the character in.” As for Caitlin (16S03A), she was “very nervous for [her] one-line singing part in the play”, and so was in fact singing to herself. “When that part actually came I’d got it wrong on the first night, and was hoping to nail it the second night,” she shares.
“I do the crazy monologue about eating myself which I actually…liked that part, because it’s weirdly intimate, then it just tails off, and suddenly you just break out of it.” – Rishi
Heart’s Desire by Caryl Churchill gets underway, and grips the audience with its cryptic yet engaging repeats of scenes: the characters repeat almost the same lines, but with different moods, with a little more being revealed with each repeat, as the play gradually uncovers the hidden tensions in the family. Here in one of the more bizarre scenes, Rishi’s character Brian confesses his burning desire to eat himself.
“Oh for the wings, for the wings of a dove…” Caitlin sings. “Speaking of the lyrics, after my messup on Friday, my batchmates alternated between comforting me on Saturday and telling me to relax – and seeing me from a distance, flapping their hands like wings and singing that line badly to me. It was quite amusing.”
Caitlin shares that as it was, she didn’t manage to nail it this second night, but she adds, “from that, I learned that the show must really go on and that once you’re onstage you can’t afford to let these little things get to you.” Also, this was actually her first time singing onstage – “I was very nervous and was shivering a lot!” Caitlin recounts. As she reflects though, “the play got me to try a lot of new things and it was all nerve-wracking, but ultimately I’m glad I gave it a shot despite the slight embarrassment on both nights.”
Sarthak in one of his scenes as Lewis, Susy’s drunk brother.
For his scenes, Sarthak waits behind the curtains off to side before he enters. “On the first night,” Sarthak shares, “I tripped on the curtains so I missed my cue, the velcros at the bottom were still attached and I entered the stage too early.”
“There was a repeat scene where the soft and dappled lights come on, and the sense is that the characters are being introduced to a life they should be familiar with for the first time. It was very tentative and lost, and I felt that echoed how things are in reality. Always groping for the right answer, never finding it. I liked that scene.” – Ko Lyn (pictured)
In one of the most absurdly comical and unforgettable moments, Celine’s character Susy dresses up as a chicken and slowly stalks into center stage, before turning toward the audience, letting out a huge squawk, and dashing off.
“With a piece as short as 45 minutes and something new to do all the time, I couldn’t help but feel that every moment was very different and very special,” Celine shares, regarding her experience in the play. “But if I have to pick anything in particular, I guess it’d be the chicken scene. I like making people laugh so I was glad that many audience members seemed to find it funny. Also I am quite self-conscious so I was quite glad to have made it through that scene!”
“Well, she’s taking her time.” – says Rishi, for the last time right before the play ends.
The final repeat finally restarts from the beginning, and Susy, whom the family’s been waiting for the whole time, finally arrives and sits at the table. “I always love the part,” Rishi says, “because until then it was all fake – from the start there’s different forms of happiness, confusion, suspicion, and everything, all these – so it is the character, but with certain exaggerated elements…. (the last scene is) the the first time you see everything together, the whole scene, in one piece.”
Meanwhile, Kathy’s out here the whole time at the front of house.
“I tend to latecomers, and to pass time I count money and tally them with the ticket records (laughs)”, she shares. “But I do think it is oddly interesting and fun to be out there … I can hear everything inside, and it feels like I’m watching the plays, only without the visuals … it’s like watching from a new perspective.”
“So on the day itself, we just started doing random things” – Sarthak
Soon everyone streams out for the intermission, and the Heart’s Desire cast puts on their intermission mime! They couldn’t really remember how the idea came about, but essentially it was quite spontaneous – they’d come up with it the day before the first night – and it wasn’t rehearsed or pre-choreographed at all. “We just said ‘hmm, you know what’d be cool? Using the windows somehow. We could do some kind of mime stuff.’” Sarthak says. “Very typical of my CCA and our love for thinking up new schemes, I think!” Celine quipped.
Friends and audience members crowd up against the windows, laughing and taking photographs of the actors
“It was also interesting to see an audience interact with a player,” Ko Lyn shares, “as they conventionally exist in two disparate realities – the stage, and the audience space.” Celine echoes this too, saying that she’s grateful they were unafraid, and willing to engage with them.
“…okay Sarthak is being weird, Caitlin is being mystical, so maybe I’ll just be angry and crazy, and it was great until I like bent the window bar….but (laughter) yeah, it was overall quite fun.” – Rishi
They clearly had a good time at the windows that night, engaging the audience in those pleasantly unconventional, spontaneous 15 minutes.
The next play, A Painless Way to Die written and directed by Hai Yun, in contrast to the highly experimental and philosophical Heart’s Desire, deals more with emotional depths, with its share of light and heavy moments as it explores the themes of memory and forgetting painful pasts. This humorous scene has the whole room laughing along with Wen Wen’s (right) character’s awkward forced laughter. Beatrice recounts that she was a little nervous in this scene actually, since during rehearsals, it was just ‘so awkward’ she says, but it turned out alright.
One of A Painless Way to Die’s many powerful moments – Beatrice (on the left as Alicia) and Valerie (in white as Dr.Rachel) speak in unison as they wrenchingly recall their miscarriages. “It’s just a split second thing, but I always get chills then because it’s so in sync,” Wen Wen says of such moments
Sreshya, Wen Wen and Vasu (left to right) tell Dr. Rachel’s story in an emotionally searching scene.
This scene is a personal favourite of Hai Yun’s as she recalls, “I remember just letting the words flow and how natural it was to write that part”. For the cast as well, Sreshya (16S06P) feels this scene stood out as it let them convey and “[mirror] the feelings of someone who might have truly experienced a miscarriage”, and so carries unique emotional weight. As Vasu adds, “you just feel something inside you when you learn about why a person develops a passion or drive to achieve something, especially when it’s something as emotional as a miscarriage.” With the skilful acting and direction, this scene managed to stay sincere without veering off into the cheesy, making it easily one of the most memorable.
The subtle, yet clear pain in the nurses’ faces above speaks to the depth of emotional conflicts A Painless Way to Die attempts to tackle.
Despite how the procedure of Renewal which Dr. Rachel created promises an escape from painful memories, the play puts forth the idea that perhaps, it’s being left with reminders of a memory now out of reach that’s more painful. As Sreshya puts it, “tangible symbols are but a temptingly explicit, yet wan compensation for the far greater weight our minds are made to bear: the serenely implicit memory.” Also, this proved not only interesting to watch, but also to perform: “dramatizing the inner struggles and exploring the theme of memories was something I found very enjoyable as part of my journey” says Sreshya.
Initially for this scene, Hai Yun shares that she had wanted to explore physical theatre, and through the process of blocking this scene, they eventually “settled with something simpler, and things we can actually do”, which highlights the evolving and interactive process of putting up their play. As Wen Wen shares, “A lot of the things hinged on what we were comfortable with saying or doing and then us going from there,” with much of what the audience sees having emerged from improv during their rehearsals. “There was never really a finalised script until the very end.”
A Painless Way to Die saw intense, emotionally full performances by the cast, especially in this final scene, and it definitely made an impact on the audience. As Players senior Katrina (15A13A), says, they sincerely tried to make what could’ve been an abstract piece relatable to the audience. Director Hai Yun sums up: “it was a raw, genuine and transparent experience because it was largely edited by the actresses themselves,” as they found their own words to express the characters’ feelings. “I think that is part of theatre; finding yourself in the characters.”
The final play of the night ends, and the cast takes their final bows.
“In that moment,” Sreshya shares, “the only feeling I felt was happiness that we’d put up a good show … those countless hours of prep and rehearsing and being not focused enough and having to try harder and everything basically – it all had culminated into one finished product, the one that the audience would see and clap for. The one that my friends and parents would see and clap for. The audience had no idea what has gone behind this production, and this journey’s a little secret within ourselves. To the audience, we put up one performance that was our best performance (hopefully!) and honestly, that’s all that mattered to me in that moment.”
The lights dim, and the audience streams out, leaving the black box to the players and teachers.
Vasu reflects that in that immediate moment, “it was quite a relief really” that the play was over, that he no longer “had to deal with having wet costumes until a few hours before the performance, once because of a leaky water bottle and the second time because of rain … at least that was the initial feeling, because of course like everyone else I also felt the pang of having to break out of this routine of having rehearsals everyday, and prioritising it over other stuff.”
Post play, everyone comes and mills around together, it’s all smiles, a kind of elation in the air.
“I never would have imagined for everything to come together so nicely, and initially it seemed almost impossible considering all our other commitments,” Kathy says. “There were murky moments,” Hai Yun said looking back, “where ironically I had no directions in my head telling me how to unfold the next bit … I don’t quite know how things just managed to fall in place and how quickly time has passed. It is almost like all those didn’t happen; really like a dream I guess? But like most dreams, the experience was something I would desire to go through again (after taking a good break) and it has just been wonderfully enriching.”
Carrying on the celebratory mood, everyone gathers round and applauds as Celine presents the posters to their pleasantly surprised teachers.
After taking their celebratory groupshots in the black box, the Players all head out to talk and take photos with their supportive friends who came to watch.
“It’s just like ‘awwwwwwww’ ” as Valerie puts it, to see friends and people who’ve come to support them. “It’s kind of a thing,” Rishi says, “like it’s in any play and friends afterwards come support and interact, and it’s just nice to have that surrounding.” After a while of hubbub, Isaiah’s voice calls out, “Players debrief!”, and the players stream back in slowly, still giddy, and laughing happily. Celine gently hurries the batch to get the debrief started – “Alright people, let’s settle down so we can all go home and finish our I&Rs.” (oh!– the nostalgia, when PW was still on)
The debrief gets underway, and rounds of congratulations are had, and everyone, from the actors to the directors and crew, gets a well-deserved round of applause as one. “It brought the CCA together,” Kathy says of the Bicycle Plays, “I saw really cool and new sides of my batchmates through this experience as well, and I’m glad to have been part of it!”
“The post-play atmosphere is sort of…triumphant in a way I guess” – Rishi
The debrief concludes, and at 9pm, production day and the Bicycle Plays comes to an end for Players. ”It was fun, everyone brought good vibes and great ideas…I am thankful for the journey (laughs)” Celine says, looking back on it all.
There’s another round of hurrahs and the room erupts again into loose conversation and celebration. Some final group photos are taken, some who already have to go start packing, goodbyes are exchanged – and so their long Saturday comes to a close.