September 2, 2016
#kltrip – the Prologue.
Hello from Kuala Lumpur! As of this entry, I’ve been in Malaysia approximately two weeks now. I finally feel as though I’ve settled in – yet there’s still much for me to process.
So, you might ask:
Hey Andrew Peters!
Why the hell are you in Malaysia?!?
Great question! Let’s dive into some backstory first.
During my last quarter at The Theatre School, I was challenged by Resident Rigor Expert (slash mentor slash professor) Damon Kiely to draft up an exit plan. I was to walk through my future plans starting with three steps:
-Declare three dreams – big ones – ones that really matter to you.
-Now take one dream that’s most connected to directing and your past work and ask yourself … If I was on the path to that goal what will I be doing (1) in five years? (2) in four years? (3) in three years? (4) in two years? (5) in one year? (6) this summer?
-…think about what you’ll be doing this summer. What do you need to do to get ready to do those things?
Crafting such a pivotal plan on my way out of grad school was daunting. The future terrified me. But rather than stress out, I decided to have fun with this plan. Dubbing my document “AP’s Post-MFA Survival Guide,” I ended up writing a fun outline of my ideal future.
The dream I latched onto was one of a traveling freelancer. Traveling in general excites me, but it’s not something I readily know how to do. I didn’t grow up traveling as a kid, and – at that time – I hadn’t ever left the United States. Many of my past trips (such as my early excursions to Chicago while I was still an undergraduate at Towson University) were a result of me forcing myself to go somewhere new.
I elaborated on a dream to have multiple artistic homes, to chart a map of all the places I would like to work and visit, to see more of the United States. Eventually, that might open up to the world.
While this ‘escape hatch’ plan was optimistic and lofty, I was given one key criticism from my graduating colleague, Brian Balcom. I’m paraphrasing here, but he remarked:
“Don’t be tentative. You can achieve these plans in way less time than you think.”
That stuck with me.
So thinking to my summer, I wondered – what could I be doing right now? How could I push myself to find a project, or begin this plan in a big way? I scrolled through my mental rolodex of artists I respected, artists I wanted to work with, artists who might offer an opportunity to explore a new part of the world.
And then I started talking to one of my best friends from my time at DePaul: Kelvin Wong.
In our MFA Directing program, Kelvin was my ‘Godparent.’ Upon our entry into the program, we would be paired with an upperclassman who would act as a mentor or guide to our time at DePaul. I met Kelvin the first evening I moved to Chicago. We got along instantly. What fascinated me most about Kelvin was that he had pursued graduate school in the U.S. while hailing from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I was excited to hear his perspective on theatre based on his experiences in his home country.
While talking to Kelvin one evening (which, for him, was morning – there’s about a 13 hour difference between Chicago and Kuala Lumpur), I asked him – how would one go about directing in Malaysia? What is the theatre like up there? This eventually transformed into the pivotal question – what if we worked together one day?
That one day turned into “this summer.”
Kelvin approached me with an opportunity to co-direct with him in Kuala Lumpur. He was slated to direct Shakespeare’s Coriolanus; the theatre he typically worked at, the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Center (or KLPAC) was in the midst of a big Shakespeare festival. He saw an opportunity to make this production a collaboration between us.
Now, that was a tall order at first. The production is slated for October 2016, meaning…I would have to head out in August.
(By the way, this conversation we had was in June.)
What the hell would I need to do to head out to a different country in two months?
I did my research and came up with a plan. I was more determined than ever before. Within a span of three weeks, I had applied for my first-ever passport, I had booked my first round-trip international flights, and I had set up AirBnB accommodations in Kuala Lumpur. A week after that, I found someone to sublet my room in Chicago for the entire time I was gone. Granted, I hit some roadblocks – my initial AirBnB host cancelled due to an outside factor, and I had to re-book accomodations less than two weeks prior to my departure – but things were moving at a breakneck pace.
Yes, this was absolutely possible.
And it fostered a mix of emotion. Terror. Exhilaration. Amazement at the three-month unknown.
I was set to spend eighty days in Kuala Lumpur.
Prior to departing, Kelvin and I met in Chicago to work on plans for Coriolanus. We had discussed our first reactions over a few Skype sessions, where we made the initial discovery – this play really connected to the political landscapes of both the U.S. and Malaysia. We recognized a world in which the citizens were being manipulated, where there was a large discrepancy between what one class thinks and another speaks. As we pulled our notes together, we realized that our collaboration could make Coriolanus incredibly relevant to the modern Kuala Lumpur audience.
Kelvin and I worked to cut the script down to a lean – and I mean LEAN – eighty-to-ninety minutes. I trusted Kelvin’s reasons for doing so – he knows the audiences there. We debated what scenes and pieces of the text were crucial for telling our story, and what might be repetitive to both the actors and the audience. Thanks to some awesome actors we knew from our time at DePaul, we held a reading where we heard our cut out loud. Then, another round of text work followed as we made preparations to fly out to Kuala Lumpur.
We also formulated the world of the play. This is a play about the manipulation of democracy, where the rise and fall of an unpopular ruler is told through a rigged game. We wanted this rigged system to manifest as a fast-paced, animated, Brechtian RPG (role playing game). Try saying that three times fast.
This world became a video-game world to us. Both Kelvin and I grew up on 16-bit Super Nintendo / Sega Genesis games – ones where we were thrust into fantasy worlds, but where we could also track incredibly political stories. This play worked similarly to a game like Final Fantasy, where we’re thrust into quick battles, where we travel from world to world (from Rome to Corioli to Antium). It would be a fresh, lightning-quick, pop-culture-infused version of Shakespeare that we hoped would connect to a young KL audience.
It became important for us to give the audience distance in this world – for them to critique Coriolanus’s decisions, to track his lack of empathy for the citizens, and to want to see him change his ways to restore peace and glory to Rome.
The excitement set in almost immediately. With our basic plans set, we would have more time to make our preparations once we were both in Kuala Lumpur.
And that would mean I would spend the first two weeks before rehearsals not only planning for the production, but getting used to an entirely new country.
I packed for the trip, made my final preparations, and set out for O’Hare on August 15th. I’d travel from Chicago to Dallas, then Dallas to Hong Kong, and finally Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur.
“This is really happening,” I told myself.
In the next entry, I’ll detail weeks one and two of my time in Kuala Lumpur, leading up to our first week of CORIOLANUS rehearsal.