When I was in elementary student in Jose Abad Santos Memorial School (popularly known as JASMS) I remember being a flower in a school production. I was, if I remember correctly, an evening breeze dressed in a pink dress, black tights and a silvery shimmering poncho-like top sprinkled with sequins. I kept the costume in my closet until it frayed with time. There were two other plays in elementary that I was in – one was a play about one of our national heroes, Andres Bonifacio, and another was about being in a plane that crashed on an island. In high school, the play was a musical revue.
Decades later I’m back in theatre again through a group called CAS that my friends and I handle. CAS is the acronym for Communication and Arts Society that gives the International Program (IP) students of Global Prestasi School a platform to express themselves via singing, dancing, acting and design. Also, it gives them a chance to learn to work with others and to think critically and independently.
This year’s production – the third one – is based on the TV series Once Upon a Time but with a little twist. We gathered most of the popular fairy tale characters that formed one big community against the reign of the evil Queen Regina who, in her narcissism, destroys everything in her path so she can be the fairest in the land.
SORTING OUT THE NITTY-GRITTY
Brainstorming for a play is always fun over a cuppa – at least, that’s how it is for me. There’s something about a nice cup of tea or coffee or an ice blended to get the creative juices going. Starbucks would have been a good choice but I was intrigued by a new coffee place at Galaxy City – from Kalimalang turn right at Galaxy City, go straight until the end of the street, turn left and then make a right. Go slowly and Eight Coffee, its huge sign is not hard to miss, is on the left. It’s a coffee place that opened several months ago and is owned by the parents of my grade 9 student, Nadia Kris Sigit.
Eight Coffee resembles a posh studio apartment that’s been cleverly divided so there are cosy corners to hide in, a room for more privacy, living room-type areas and a garden for an al fresco gathering. Overhead is my kind of piped-in music – jazz pianist – singer Diana Krall and ilk. The two-month-ish old café is slowly developing a following of students whose schools are within the area and residents from nearby who pop in to work on papers or simply to shoot the breeze over a cup and a fag. For the next three or four hours over tea, caramel ice blended, chicken wings, fries and milk candy with the team, we brainstormed and tweaked the game plan for our school’s next production.
Labour was properly divvied up after the draft of the script was finalised. I, like always, would head the publicity team; Shine and Joy would handle the costumes and props; and Rico had stage management. Naturally, our duties would coalesce as premiere night drew near.
WIELDING THE GLUE GUN
I was never adroit with my hands so working with a glue gun, plastic flowers, crepe paper was a very tall order for me. I’d rather, in all honesty, be writing or directing actors on stage. But there’s something soothing about making props for a play even though it’s just sticking, for example, shiny dots on a bamboo fence, which was what I did for the previous play we mounted, The Wizard of Oz. I saw it as another form of reading albeit no text. The text took on a more colourful structure and reading a matter of finding a visible pattern in the colours and arrangements.
My next assignment from Shine was finishing the “fences” that would delineate Enchanted Forest from Queen Regina’s castle. A combination of aqua green and brown Japanese paper – crumpled to give it dimension and glued to the fences – formed the background of the bamboo fences that were layered with plastic vines and flowers. The plastic vines were tacked on the top of the fences so they’d cascade like real vines. For the bunches of plastic flowers, which I re-bundled into three to four stalks per bunch, I had the student members of the committee cut wires long enough to wrap them around the fences. The flowers were scattered across the fences but we had to make sure one area didn’t have more flowers than the other. To finish off the fences, “silver stalks” were glued on to give it that glittery look.
Costumes are off limits to me. That would have been a waste of time, energy, cloth and thread!
CLOSER TO OPENING NIGHT
Another part of my job was to get the play flowing into one seamless narrative, and getting a huge group of students together is never an easy thing. You’re dealing with a multitude of personalities, egos and mood swings, which, when they band together, spells chaos. But, being IP students, they were aware that it wasn’t play time and that there was work to be done although I had to remind them of it every now and then.
Reading through the lines was the modus operandi for the next several meetings to get the actors used to their lines and having a holistic view of the play as it moved from one scene to another. The next few weeks had everyone going through voice acting to get the lines and facial expressions in synch – it was also a test if they’ve memorised their lines and their cues. Then came the acting itself combined with blocking, the exits and entrances and, later on, with the dance routines (waltz and a dance medley). Several weeks later, everyone knew everyone’s lines much to my satisfaction. The play was coming together!
While I handled the junior and senior high school student – actors, Shine took charge of the elementary kids plus their song-and-dance routines. On top of that, she and Joy choreographed the waltz to the tune of Can I Have this Dance, as requested by the students. I helped with the entrance and two short dances to Presley’s Jailhouse Rock and Hound Dog (I found Elvis hip shakes were much easier to put together than twirls and leaps).
It was nerve-wracking before show time. I was quaking in my open toe wedges; I had the extra job of compère for the night. Facing an audience bigger than a class room of students was, I felt, completely a nail-biting situation. I couldn’t afford any slip-ups, being tongue-tied or tripping all over my tongue. And it was curtains up.
Opening night went well despite the glitches in the wireless microphones (a perennial problem even in the past productions!). No one forgot their lines and cues. The dances went according to sequence and done with precision. It was a huge relief to take the final bow in front of a smiling and applauding audience and bask, together with the cast and crew, in the limelight pride and elation in a job well done.
Additional photography by Raihan Kurnawan, Shine Merioles-Falcunitin and Rico Falcunitin