Reigniting the passion for plays

25 Feb 2019

By Anna Mohan

From left in mirror: Cast members from Hall of Residence 1’s theatre production, Kimberly Tan, 21; Ian Tan, 26; Ng Kai Xiang, 24; Cleonice Lee, 21; Michelle Chin, 21, practising character expressions in front of a mirror for their 2018 musical, Silver Scar. PHOTO COURTESY OF IVAN YANG

This year will mark Tsoi Wai Yee’s second year of involvement in the Hall of Residence 4 theatre production, MUSE.

The final-year student from the School of Social Sciences is the vice president of the production.

Her favourite part of a production is witnessing the coming together of the team’s hard work and dedication on show day.

“It is very rewarding to see all your efforts for the past year culminate in this one event that brings together everyone’s friends, families and the hall,” said the 22-year-old.

But Tsoi found herself having to work with a smaller production team this year.

In 2016, when Tsoi was a director of the play, there were 37 people in the team. This year, they pulled through with just 33.

Notably, there are only two freshmen from last year's team joining again this year.

Tsoi attributes this lack of motivation to one of NTU’s housing policies.

She said: “I think hall culture has been changing recently. “Now that NTU has guaranteed two years of accommodation, there’s less of an incentive for freshmen to get involved.”

Tsoi’s hall is just one of the many that are facing the problem of filling the positions in their hall production teams.

Trouble with recruitment

Hall 1’s production producer Soh Zi Yuan, 26, ran into a similar issue while recruiting for his hall production.

“People have been focused on studying and they’re generally more focused on their GPA (grade point average),” said the final-year student from the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

Despite repeatedly assuring freshmen of the flexible rehearsal schedule, many were still hesitant to join, he added.

As a result of the low recruitment, 12 out of 40 members had to take on multiple roles within the committee.

Most of the team’s production crew, including the director, are cast members as well.

“Of course, it’s all with their consent. We do inform them about the various expected commitment levels should they take on multiple roles,” said Soh.

From left: Hall 6’s cast members, Yasmeen Azahari, 20; Melvin Poh, 25; Anna Mohan, 20; Lee Xuan Cheng, 26, rehearse for their play, Lanterns Never Go Out, last year.PHOTO COURTESY OF ZI LEI HUNG

For Tsoi, the drop in participation rates meant that compromises had to be made.

“This year, we had to merge our sales and marketing team with the business managers team. One of our directors is also taking on a double role as music director,” she said.

“As for the subcommittees, we had to put in more effort to encourage people to join, such as reaching out directly to the freshmen to explain the roles and increasing publicity.

The difference is that instead of waiting for them to come to us (during the recruitment drives), we seek them out to talk about it and get them to sign up,” she added.

Keeping the tradition alive

While there is no formal requirement for halls to put up an annual play, many halls want to keep the tradition going, said Tsoi.

She believes that the tradition of coming together for a yearly production is important to her because it gives students the chance to gain new experiences.

“If tomorrow we decide we don’t want to put up a play, we could just not do it. “But we feel like it’s an important part of hall culture. While none of us are professionals, we still try our best to put up a professional production,” said Tsoi.

Renee Wong, 22, the artistic director of the Hall 6 production, HEXIS, said that what sets their hall production apart from a professional production is that students get to write their own scripts.

From left: Tong Xuhan, 21; Yu Nandar Htwe Thant, 24, rehearsing a scene fom Hall 4’s play, In Transit, last year. PHOTO COURTESY OF NTU HALL 4 MUSE PRODUCTIONS

“The script is just a guideline. When the cast rehearses together, that’s when the script really evolves.

“One beautiful thing about our production is that the script is co-written by everyone who is involved,” added the final-year student from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The production team also has to cater to the majority of the audience who might not necessarily be theatre enthusiasts, she said.

“HEXIS actually stands for Hall Entertainment SIX, but the six is backwards,” said Wong.

“We try to keep it funny and light-hearted. HEXIS might be the one play they watch every year and we really want to entertain them for the duration that they are there,” she said, adding on that by making the play entertaining, it would entice more hall residents to join the production team.

Inspiring a sense of camaraderie

Soh believes that through forging a strong sense of camaraderie in his team, it can encourage members to return in the following years.

He said: “I made a good group of friends and we stuck around over the years. Now I’m doing it again because I want it to continue.

“A lot of the times people feel a sense of camaraderie, and so they come back because it’s a community that they’ve created themselves.”

The Hall 1 seniors also put up comedic skits to encourage freshmen to join the production team.

“We explained the different roles within the committee during the skit, while being actively ‘directed’ by the director. It is a form of self-referential humour,” said Soh.

Differentiating itself from other productions, Hall 1 has a yearly tradition of presenting a musical rather than a play, with original songs written and produced by students.

This year, they came up with nine original songs.

“We have a tradition of writing our own songs, and it makes for an interesting dynamic,” said Soh.

Tsoi believes that being a part of the production allows people of diverse backgrounds to come together.

“There are people majoring in business, sciences and engineering. We wouldn’t get the opportunity to do something like this together if it wasn’t for the hall production.

“Theatre and drama isn’t some niche activity just for certain people with a certain affinity for it,” she said.

“There are so many roles and components that go into making a production work. If you’re willing to learn and explore new things, then it becomes a very fun and enriching experience.”

Upcoming Hall Productions

STAR Productions by Hall 1
2 Mar and 3 Mar
Lee Foundation Theatre, 151 Bencoolen St Rochor, S189655

Fami; Liar is a musical about two girls and their dysfunctional families. It explores how different individuals react to love and loss, leaving viewers filled with questions about liars, lies, and denial.

Hexis by Hall 6
9 Mar
The Substation, 45 Armenian St, S179936

Titled the Game of Life, the play is an original script about a man trying to get things back on track after some major setbacks.

MUSE Productions by Hall 4
7 Sep
Alliance Francaise, 1 Sarkies Rd, S258130

A play whose title and plot have been kept top secret. Playgoers can expect a surprise plot twist as well as themes of mental health, self-reflection and dealing with personal issues.