Last Monday, I walked into what could be described as organized chaos. The Law IV cast and crew were preparing for a full run that was to start in 45 minutes, and the anticipation in the air was palpable. Some of the crew members were putting props in their proper places; Arias, the resourceful vice-director, was fashioning sleeves out of stockings; everyone was busy doing their part to ensure the show went smoothly. After all, this would be an important run. Professor El Wong was coming to watch the show.
I had come to interview some of the people involved to find out more about Novus Actus. Namely, the three leads: Yap Yi Kai, who plays Catherine, the actress; Jonathan Low, who plays Alphonsus, the accountant; and Melvyn Foo, who plays Benjamin, the lawyer; three members of the chorus: Sonia Chan, Selwyn Tan, and Vinna Yip; as well as the three directors: Kristy Teo, Seah Wang Ting (who is also the script-writer), and Arias Lim.
In an effort to find a quieter area to chat amidst all the activity going on, we found ourselves in a little corner of the auditorium, where they began telling me about the show and their experiences so far.
Law IV is an annual production put up by the graduating batch of that year. What makes Novus Actus different from productions of previous years?
Arias: From the very very beginning, Kristy, Wang Ting, and I wanted our production to feature a strong chorus. We have so many great dancers and singers in our batch! We wanted to put them all on stage.
Kristy: Yes, this time, we’ve actually got a chorus that acts, sings and dances alongside the cast. In other years, we’ve had only dance breaks.
Arias: We also wanted the chorus numbers to flow organically from the drama preceding them, so a lot of thought was put into deciding how they would appear and disappear like normal passersby would.
Selwyn: And we also have a lot more people.
Yi Kai: It’s usually quite a small scale thing.
Sonia: It seems more united, like a lot of people coming together.
Arias: And after a lot of discussion with out batch mates, we decided that we didn’t want to have a production focusing on our law school experience. But we maintained some link to the legal profession nonetheless.
How would you describe the show?
Kristy: Exciting, bold and energetic.
Jonathan: It’s basically a story of self-empowerment and shows how three characters, who are constrained by their feelings, break out of their box. These three stories aren’t separate; they’re intertwined in many ways. So how one person reacts to a situation influences how another storyline turns out.
So you say Novus Actus is about breaking free and breaking out of the box. Did each of you feel like you needed to break free as well?
Arias: For many of us, doing Law IV is in itself an act of breaking free. I have been very reluctant to drop my books and leave my favorite roost in the library to commit my time to productions, so daring to take up the heavy commitment of Law IV is scary and liberating.
Jonathan: For me, because I had just come back from exchange, it was quite YOLO (Editor’s note: You Only Live Once). So i thought, why not? Just try it. I didn’t expect to get cast but now that I’m here, I’m very grateful. I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for it. Working with all these people has been fantastic.
Selwyn: This play really speaks to all of us because law is a profession where you’re sort of pigeonholed, but it reminds us that you don’t have to be and you can do whatever you want, especially those of us who feel that maybe law isn’t for us. It helps us make sense of what we’re going to do.
Vinna: Beyond the questions about our career, the play exposes a lot of relationships – relationships with your siblings, relationships with someone you like, etc, and you end up thinking about all these relationships that you can have in your life and how you want to approach them. The questions that the characters ask themselves are the questions that a lot of us will ask ourselves at one point or another. So it does get you to think, which at the end of the day, is something of value.
Melvyn: The musical was a very big step outside our comfort zones, especially in terms of social circles. It’s really amazing the number of connections that we’ve made throughout this experience.
Did you have any expectations going into this? Were they met or were you completely thrown?
Yi Kai: I didn’t expect it to be such a large scale thing. I was super heartened when I realized how many people joined. So many people are involved. Firstly, I was already so surprised by the people onstage. But besides the chorus and cast, all the backstage people, everybody is doing something to put the pieces of the show together.
Jonathan: I think the level of participation has been quite overwhelming. Initially, we expected Law IV to be a small group of people like in previous years. But there’s so many people here this year and it’s very heartening to see everyone pitching in for this last project that we have as a batch. It’s a very nice way to end off our 4 years here.
Melvyn: I expected to just be here and want to do the musical for it’s own sake. What I was thrown off by was how I grew to enjoy the company of everyone, how we’re all just enjoying each other’s presence and dreading the day that it all ends.
Vinna: I’m really blown away by the amount of talent that’s in the batch. I have not seen any Law IV musicals before so I came into it with almost no expectations apart from what I know our batch is capable of because of Rag. Now that this is a batch project – it’s conceptualized, it’s choreographed, it’s scripted, completely by the batch (Rag was always a Year 2 pass down to Year 1 thing), you see people take ownership of it. You see people really give everything they have.
Yi Kai: And not only that, you see people really building each other up. And all looking out for each other and making sure whoever is on their right and left gives more than what they’re currently giving in rehearsal.
Vinna: It’s really quite incredible. A year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that our batch would be capable of putting up something like this.
Melvyn: It’s not just people at the front line, not just the actors and the dancers. The people behind-the-scenes are geniuses – the composers, the directors…
Vinna: The musicians.
Melvyn: We even have our own photographer and make-up artist.
And what has spending the past month or so rehearsing almost every day been like?
Arias: Extremely tiring, but I’m pleased to say that many of us have lost weight!
Sonia: I think it’s been nice getting to know more people in Year 4. Even after 4 years, we still don’t know a lot of people actually, so we’ve gotten to talk to more people before we graduate.
Jonathan: This is the last chance we have already.
Yi Kai: Actually in this show, even though it’s the final year, final semester, and you’d think we’d all be pretty chummy, it’s very new. The relationships are all very new. Now, everyone’s grown up. In Year 1, everyone’s just trying to fit in so the cliques are pretty established. But now, everyone’s from everywhere.
Vinna: Because a lot of things change.
Yi Kai: Relationships break up and cliques break up.
Vinna: So this is like a reunion of sorts. It’s your final project as a batch, so it means something. It’s kind of like a coming home.
Jonathan: Basically, the story closes in a very nice way, just like the show.
Can you tell us more about yourself and why you joined Law IV?
Kristy: I watched Law IV 10 years ago, when my brother performed. So I came into law school knowing I wanted to do Law IV already.
Wang Ting: I’ve had directing experience and I’ve always been interested in script writing. Kristy approached me to help out.
Arias: I fell in love with musicals when I was 14 and have remained in love with them until now. I don’t have any directing experience but I have a background in modern dance and gymnastics, so I worked mostly on the scenes which require more physical comedy, as well as alongside our brilliant choreographer, Tim, on the chorus numbers.
Vinna: For me, it’s because I’m not really doing any law modules. Apart from being around physically, this is the only way that I can spend time with the batch.
Selwyn: If I’m being really honest, I joined because there was once Kristy blasted the message that they didn’t have enough people so I decided to just give it a try and help out. I’ve always been in a shell, just in my own clique, and I didn’t really mix around, so I thought this would be a good time to meet people.
Sonia: I did dance when I was young but I didn’t pursue it so it was always a regret. So I feel like this is my last chance before school ends. In the working world, we’ll never do this kind of thing again.
Jonathan: For me, as I said, it was a YOLO thing because I’d just come back from England. In England, I’d watched a lot of musicals and I thought, “Whoa, this is really cool. I wanna try.” Also, I was a closet singer. I sing KBOX, I sing in the shower, and my parents always said I have a pretty good voice so I was like, “Okay, let’s try.” So I tried out, and now, I’m here.
Melvyn: Performing in a musical has been on my bucket list for a long time and I saw this as my last chance, so I thought, “What the heck, let’s just go for it.” I expected to get a minor role, i never expected to be a lead.
Yi Kai: I’ve barely been around for the past couple of years. I was super involved in Year 1 and 2, then I kind of disappeared because I was doing a lot of outside stuff. And I’m really glad I came back because they were acquaintances but I got to actually work with them and find out who they are, especially since they’re so different from in Year 1 when everyone was still scared and fresh out of JC or whatever. Now, everyone’s grown up. I think everyone’s very open now, and very very cool. It’s pretty awesome.
Have you had any acting/singing/dancing experience before?
*Jonathan and Melvyn immediately start shaking their heads*
Yi Kai: Rag. You guys did Rag right?
Vinna: Does Rag count?
Yi Kai: Actually, it does. I’ve done a lot of productions outside as well.
Selwyn: Just kindergarten.
Jonathan: The last time I went onstage was Primary 2, where in Jack and Jill, I was Jill.
Yi Kai: Wow, you did not tell us that.
Jonathan: I was in an all-boys school and I was Primary 2.
Vinna: You’re redeeming yourself now, Jon.
Are there any similarities between yourself and your character?
Melvyn: For me, there’s definitely a lot of similarities. I think even in normal law school life, people will say, “Eh, you’re channelling Ben.”
Yi Kai: And the part about liking a girl and being scared of rejection? That’s so not you. He’s actually in super high demand.
Jonathan: Remember that, readers!
Melvyn: Moving along.
Vinna: Now you’re shy and awkward.
Jonathan: Ironically, even though we both have younger sisters and I do relate in that sense, I actually relate more to Ben as well because of his struggles in his love life. But yes, Alphonsus has a very strong sense of duty with regard to his sister. As an older brother myself, I feel that as well, especially now that my sister is overseas and my protective instincts get a bit stronger.
Yi Kai: No, completely different. Catherine Lai is completely different from me in real life.
If you could encapsulate your character in one word, what would it be?
Sonia: Whoaaaa. I wasn’t expecting that.
Yi Kai: Dumb, I think, because she’s been saying yes for this long before she starts finding any issue with it? Smart enough to be conflicted and have issues with it but more dumb because until now, she’s still not very sure. If she has issues with it, do something about it. Now she realizes there’s a problem but she isn’t actually doing anything about it and is letting the people around her influence what she says and does.
Melvyn: Trying. He’s really trying.
Any advice for juniors who are looking to be a part of Law IV as well?
Jonathan: Just do it. Don’t regret. You never know what’ll happen.
Yi Kai: Go for it, but with the correct attitude. I was saying this is super heartening cause of all the heart put into it then Vinna said there’s so much talent. I think those combined has made this a very humbling experience, for me, at least.
Vinna: Don’t do it for yourself. Do it for the sake of your batch. I think that’s what really pulls people through.
Sonia: Go in with an open mind, don’t let your previous impressions of people stop you.
Wang Ting: Oh my God, don’t be a scriptwriter. Make sure you have a good team.
In 10 words or less, can you tell the readers why they should watch Novus Actus?
*Jonathan begins counting on his fingers*
Yi Kai: Can you hear all our brains moving?
Vinna: It has a lot of heart. I think it flows from whatever they’ve said about what makes it so different this year.
Yi Kai: *laughs* I just realized she broke the 10 word rule already.
Vinna: Oh was it 10 words? I’m sorry. It has a lot of heart. That’s really all I can say.
Arias: It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before!
Jonathan: Enjoy it as well as do some charity.
Wang Ting: Support charity, support friends…
Kristy: See law students at their best.
At this point, Tim begins calling the cast and crew to stage. They all hastily say their goodbyes before rushing off for the pre-show briefing.
As I watch everyone involved hype each other up for the run, it becomes clear that the sense of camaraderie shared by the nine I interviewed is shared by the entire Law IV ensemble as well. They have worked tirelessly for the past few months and they all looked determined to not only make their effort pay off, but to ensure the next run would be better than the last.
And surely, that’s a sign of good things to come.
Law IV: Novus Actus will run from 7 – 9 February 2014 in the NUS Law Auditorium and all proceeds will go to Willing Hearts and Child at Street 11. You can still buy tickets here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1XvW2ed2ITk30Czlshn12_qf7Rj1zNVhH_OadCvu0uTk/viewform and you can see more of the cast and crew here: http://lawiv2014.tumblr.com/
Article by: Allison Tan (Year 2)