At this point in time, the Law IV Production On the Upper Quad has seen massive pre-event success, with tickets selling out faster than most SISTIC events, and an absolutely gorgeous event website (found at http://www.ontheupperquad.com).
With roughly 2 weeks to go till its debut, Justified interviews the heads of the Production to provide a teaser-trailer of the treat that is to come. We speak to Directors, Producers, Dance and Music Heads, asking them about their job scopes and experiences shaping On the Upper Quad.
Directors and Producers
Justified: Tell us more about your roles!
Kenny (Producer): When you watch your favourite TV drama (like Suits – which is returning from its break on 28 Jan!), you often see the Director’s name (for all you Grey’s Anatomy fans, remember Shona Rhimes?). More often than not though, there is certainly a producer involved as well, and in the case of most American dramas, you either have CBS Productions or ABC Studios.
But I think regardless we’re talking about TV dramas or school musicals, producers perform the key role of making sure everything non-creative comes together. This includes your finances, resources, set up, ticket sales, sponsorships, front of house, and more. We leave the more creative-esque portions to the Directors – who in all honesty are more suited for that than us.
This year, we have four members in the Production team, and I think each of us bring different sets of skills to the table, and we highly complement each other. Producing is pretty much a first for all of us, and so it had been a great journey of learning and exploring thus far.
Kai Bin (Producer): I agree with everything Kenny has said. It is important to note that the production committee has various sub-committees under it – (a) Sponsorship, (b) Publicity, (c) Beneficiary, (d) Set, (e) Front of House and (f) Fundraising. When we formed the production committee, it was quite clear who would help guide or be in-charge of which committee. In particular, I facilitate Sponsorship, Front of House and Fundraising. I’m also the Treasurer. Hwee is in-charge of Publicity and facilitates Beneficiary. Nigel is in-charge of Set. Kenny is our go-to technical person and also liaises with the school. However, we make all decisions collectively.
In between I coordinate meetings, speak to external parties where necessary, tie things together and facilitate the general process. In short I ensure that things get done, people get what they want and complications are handled. You could say I’m a slave-driver that moonlights as a fireman and has a split personality as a genie.
Desmond (Director): The directors put together everything you see, hear and feel during the show. This was quite a challenge because, in keeping with tradition, everything from the script to the music are original work!
Jocelyn (Stage Manager): I do my best to schedule rehearsal timings, maintain stage discipline, oversee cues during each full run/performance and manage the backstage crew! And most importantly, to ensure that the audience gets to enjoy a performance that is smoothly executed on show day itself.
Trent (Director – Music): “I write the songs that make the whole world sing. I write the songs of love and special things.” (Barry Manilow, I write the Songs, 1975). Writing music for a musical is no easy feat because so many of us in Law School have had the privilege of watching at least 1 musical in our lives, and expectations are high! Thankfully this task is made easier by some very talented and musically inclined people on the cast who helped me greatly by writing some of the songs – people like Javier, Delise, Darrell and Jia En who wrote entire songs themselves! Full credits are acknowledged in the programme booklet, so do find out who wrote which song and go tell them that you liked it (if you truly did!); it’ll really make their day! (Composers are insecure like that…) [Kevin add: Especially with people like me, who keep telling them that their compositions sound exactly like another pop songs]
Kevin (Director – Dance): Like what Desmond said, we put together everything you see, hear and feel during the show; and I am responsible for the dances that you watch in the play. So that includes setting the direction and the theme of the dances, and also down to creating the steps and blockings and everything. We have six major choreographies in this musical – ranging from the happy-and-light-hearted-yet-energetic-and-loud dances to heart-wrenching and tear-inducing pas de deux! So hopefully “there [really] is something for everyone”!
It hasn’t been exactly easy coming up with pieces that will pass muster – but am really thankful for the two clowns, Rachel and Geena, my co-choreographers and dance heads, for helping me with the task! Also a shout out to Clarence for contributing to the dances!
Did any of you have any experience in Producing/Directing?
Hwee (Assistant Producer): This may come as a surprise – none of the producers have any experience in theatrical productions! What possessed us to to sign up for this role, and what made us believe that we could fund and manage this big project (which involves more than 80 members of the class at last count), despite our inexperience? Suffice it to say that it has been a great learning experience for all of us – with a willingness to throw ourselves into unknown waters, and with the support of many mentors and capable classmates, we’re thankfully still afloat and doing pretty well. It has been a tremendously rewarding few months so far.
Desmond (Director): Personally, I don’t have any experience. That is why I’m so thankful for my other directors who happen to have a ridiculous amount of talent when it comes to dance and music! We’ve also been very fortunate to have batch mates helping out as voice and acting coaches and they’ve been integral to the entire directorial process.
Jocelyn (Stage Manager): I directed a play in JC before, but that was a reaaaally long time ago.
Trent (Director – Music): I’ve written and directed a play in Church previously; but that was small in scale compared to Law IV! As for writing music for a musical, it’s my first time!
Kevin (Director – Law IV): Helped out with my JC dance productions before, but that’s about it!
Where did you get your ideas for the production?
Desmond (Director): We were walking past the Upper Quad from Block B to the library and the idea came to us to do a musical that was inspired by our storied Bukit Timah Campus. We poked our noses around a bit and read about the student protests that were held on the upper quad in 1966. Even though this information can be found on a lone information panel at the upper quad, we thought that it was a part of our school’s history that very few people knew about. We were also swept up by the whole wave of SG50 reminiscence and thought that now is an apt moment in time to take a look back at our roots and learn about our own history – just as we are about to graduate from this school. .
How has working on the set been?
Nigel (Assistant Producer): It has been challenging. For my team and I, none of us have any experience in conceptualizing and building structures, and having two large buildings as the centerpieces of the production was daunting to me at first. There were also factors which I did not take into account due to my lack of experience, such as the possibility of the set blocking the stage lights, props obstructing the audience’s view of the cast members etc.
But little by little my team made the impossible possible, and it is by the grace of God that their optimism helped us to reach breakthrough after breakthrough. It has also been extremely heartening that various people have either volunteered or agreed to help when approached, at all stages of set construction – whether props/set building, or painting. I would like to say a quick thank you to every person who has helped in any way, or offered assistance.
Is there anything in particular you’d like the audience to look out for?
Kevin (Director – Dance): Amazing acting from the casts that will make you laugh during one scene, and cry at the next! Beautiful and inspiring songs and voices that will definitely give you goosebumps! And (to say the least) entertaining choreographies 😀
Nigel (Assistant Producer): Few of our cast members have ever had drama and acting experience. Even though many of them sing beautifully, they are similarly not trained in ‘musical-style’ singing. They have worked together with the four directors tremendously hard to improve in these areas and I hope the audience will see that manifested tangibly. The same goes for our dancers, who should rightfully Think They Can Dance after all the grueling rehearsals.
Additionally, in our focus on the more prominent characters or events during a scene, we tend to forget other things that are happening on stage such as background characters interacting with the set, the efficiency of the crew or a brilliant musical number by the musicians. Yet these are also essential to the musical, and I hope that the audience will notice these little details while enjoying the rest of the production.
Kai Bin (Producer): Last but not least, look out for Prof Tommy Koh on our opening night – he’s our Guest of Honour for Law IV 2015! Also, come early on opening night to take lots of pictures at our photobooth, courtesy of Aww Snap Photobooth!
How were the ideas for the choreography developed?
Kevin(Director – Dance): This may be oversimplifying things – coming up with a choreography is a two-step process for us: First, we conceptualize the dance, i.e. determine the theme and the story for the dance; and next, we come up with the actual steps and routines. Of course refining and/or simplifying the steps, and coming up with blockings and formations come after all these steps.
To conceptualize the dance, we gain inspirations from the script and the music soundtrack (e.g. the instrumentality). Eventually, the dance is part of the musical and hence has to carry the plot forward, and has to reflect the mood and emotion of the characters. So most of the work during this phase involves understanding the big picture and understanding what the choreography is supposed to tell and portray. In essence, we have to know the script well (e.g. how the story develops, the significance of a scene/dance piece, the emotion and state of mind of the characters) – and this really helps conceptualizing the choreography. Another important element is the musicality of the soundtrack! Getting the ‘feel’ of the song sometimes helps in knowing how should the dance looks like. Not to mention that each instrument has its own timbre (to use the term loosely), and sometimes by listening to it, you just know that certain scenes or actions must happen at the section (like flashes of images in your mind haha!). This also means that, sometimes when we need the music to have certain ‘feel’, we have to communicate to the band viz-a-viz the way the music is played. But, of course, the eureka moments don’t happen all the time.
While for the actual steps, we gain inspirations from watching dance videos (thank God for Youtube). Some of the all time favourite videos are from SYTYCD (for the uninformed ones, it stands for So You Think You Can Dance), and Kevin’s personal favourites are Kyle Hanagami and Travis Wall. Though sometimes when stars aligned, the steps just pop out in your head! Like it just surface in your mind (haha!). And during the ‘blocked’ period, Kevin has to resort to retreating to his sanctuary and having his ‘personal time’ (Law IV peeps would understand what this means).
Is there a particular style you draw from when choreographing the dance?
Kevin and Geena mainly do contemporary and Jazz (perhaps a bit of Ballet); while Rachel does hip-hop. But I doubt that there is any ONE “particular style” across the dance items. The musical stages myriad aspects of human emotions and displays variety of scenes that it is impossible to stick to one style (read: be prepared to be engulfed by the intrinsic melange of emotions in the play)! For a happier scene, you can expect a jumpy and lively mass-style choreography; for the more emotional and heart wrenching scene, you can expect contemporary pas de deux and jazz style choreography; while for something aggressive and angry, there will be strong beat hip hop steps – you get it!
What are your influences? Are there any artists you emulate?
In terms of artistic/aesthetic, we are definitely influenced by the ‘mainstream’ dance scene. Youtube, SYTYCD and other dance artists definitely influenced the choreo! Not forgetting that since the musical is set in the 60s, we are influenced by the ‘agogo’ 60s sort of genre.
But concept-wise, sometimes we are influenced by life experiences too 🙂.
What styles have you drawn upon for the music? Why did you choose them?
Trent: The musical is set in the 1960s. Naturally the music would have to reflect the styles of the 60s-80s (i.e. Oldies, Rock n’ Roll and power ballads). Fortunately for me, the longstanding presets on my car radio have been 1) Classical 92.4; and 2) Gold 90.5, so I haven’t really found myself a fish out of water. Writing songs for a musical is terribly demanding; a repetitious 4-chords pop song with shallow lyrics just wouldn’t work! Theatre music needs to express the heights and depths of the characters’ emotions; the joy, the dismay, the anger, the sadness and the love – all of which you will see in this Law IV performance. Theatre music is also characterised by a lot of virtuosic melodies, lush harmonies, unexpected chord progressions and rapid modulation of keys, thus allowing the composer much creative freedom while giving him much pressure to actually write something that sounds out of Les Miserable, without sounding like he plagiarised anything from famous musicals! (Indeed the fear of all composers when their listeners go: “OMG this sounds like xxx”… and proceeds to sing a line from xxx!)
What are your personal influences? Are there any artists you emulate?
Trent: Classical, Jazz, Oldies, and Classic Rock (in rotating order of preference depending on my mood, activity and the time of the day). I started playing the piano at 4 (like Mozart). However unlike Mozart, I never achieved much prominence or technical prowess playing classical music. I was horrible at sight-reading music scores, but discovered that I had a rather keen ear. Often, failing to practice my piano pieces, I would improvise from familiar memory what they sound like so as to avoid a scolding from my music teacher! Over time, my music diet progressed to classical jazz, then contemporary jazz, as I found much freedom in musical improvisation and “jazzing up” popular jazz standards. I am very much inspired by the classical music of Mozart, Chopin and Tchaikovsky, and the jazz of Ella Fitzgerald, Jamie Cullum and Michael Bublé. My preferences for oldies and classic rock developed as I found them to be more musically-intriguing than the pop and boy bands of the 90s and early 2000s growing up. (I mean, who can match the eclectic output of the Beatles, the disco of the Bee Gees, the ballads of Barry Manilow or the soul of Aretha Franklin?) For me, a good song must be musically-intriguing – something musically valuable like a inspirational motif or a set of interesting chord progressions..
Synopsis As Singapore celebrates 50 years of independence, Law IV 2015 is a throwback to the 1960s. On The Upper Quad is a fictional story inspired by the 1966 student protests that took place on the Upper Quad at the Bukit Timah Campus. Student leaders had objected to the Suitability Certificate requirement for university admission, which was intended to keep out subversive elements in the tertiary institutions, calling it a breach of academic freedom and university autonomy. A boy eager to enter into university life is prevented from realising his dreams due to his family history. His elder sister, the sole breadwinner, is traumatised by her family’s past into a pragmatic resignation to fate. She meets a bright university student who is brimming with youthful idealism, but who eventually learns what it really means to stand up for his beliefs.