Interviewed by Zachary Low
As this year’s Hallplay, entitled “Come Blow Your Horn” comes to a successful end, join us as we sit down and have a chat with the members of the steering committee, whose every efforts have gone into making it a hit with the residents of KE7 and more.
Q: I think we can all agree that Hallplay 2011/2012 was a resounding success. At the risk of blowing your own trumpets, what are your thoughts on this year’s performance? Don’t be shy.
Pin Lang: This year’s performance was quite good. While there remain some minor areas for improvement, I think all Hallplay members really put a lot of effort to create a memorable show for our audience
Linus: Well, I think that the whole performance was just great! The well-dressed cast was great, the sets were apt, and coupled with the right ambience; the result was a wonderful performance. I myself was quietly pleased when I got to sneak some time as an audience member on the second night. And all these couldn’t have been accomplished without my dear department heads and every single one of Hallplay’s members!
Annie: Nah, I’m not afraid to blow this horn. :) I’m very proud of the entire Hallplay cast and crew. Again we’ve lived up to the KEVII reputation for putting up a great show, a show that impresses even other halls and gets critical acclaim. It’s quite an incredible feat to pull more than 80 people together, to create one of KE’s crown jewels: the magnificent beast that is Hallplay.
Greg: Awesome! For me, I would give it a 9/10 rating as there’s always room for improvement. The team put in great effort both in front and behind the stage. Hopefully next year we’ll achieve greater heights!
Ruth: It’s blow our own horn la. And I shy leh.
Jamil: Performance wise, I think the production team did a brilliant job. The cast put up an awesome show on both days. When I read the script for the first time, I thought the story was supposed to be a more serious drama rather than a comedy. Kudos to Annie and her team for turning it into a fun-filled play full of laughter.
Azrin: I really liked the performance this year. There was a brilliant mix of comedy, emotional parts and heartwarming scenes. Plus, being in the steering committee let me see all the things the audience isn’t privy to: I can safely say that everyone performed their jobs to the best of their abilities and this contributed to an awesome performance.
Q: Looking back, what was the most difficult part of pulling the whole thing off?
Pin Lang: Coordination among committees. As everyone knows, Hallplay is a crazily big CCA and it’s difficult to keep everyone updated. But, I think the Steering Committee was cooperative this year, which makes coordination much easier. I could count on my SC to be responsible for their work and to keep me in the loop with what they are doing.
Linus: Personally, it would have been to envision the ‘big picture’ and keeping everything on track towards this ‘big picture’. Many a time, I was too caught up with individual aspects of the production such that I neglected the others. Due to the later CCA recruitment fair, we started work late and also experienced delays in the work schedule. Fortunately, everything worked out in the end. Phew!
Annie: Always trying to improve it. This pressure to keep making it better was immense. It meant effort in trying to inspire everyone into doing a good job, or thinking of fresh ideas every rehearsal, or analysing and dealing with recurring problems, because we always wanted to make the show better. We worried a lot. Sometimes I would cry just thinking about how much more I wanted to do. But there is no room for weakness in Sparta. We just kept going.
Ruth: Hallplay this year coincided with Chingay 2012 and Infusion, which affected quite a bit of our sales, especially for friends and people from other halls who wanted to come, but involved in their respective events.
As for the ticketing department, communicating with everyone involved in Hallplay (which works out to 80 people) through email and SMS was quite challenging and phone battery consuming.
Jamil: I think for my department, the most difficult part was getting the booklet out. Getting people to come for the photoshoot is the hardest of all. And printing them was another pain. But I had a brilliant cooperative team and worked efficiently. So we owe a lot to them.
Azrin: The hardest part is always the beginning. Apart from my experience as a humble minion in Michael Warren Lim’s epic set builder team in last year’s edition of Hallplay, I was a noob. Once the designs for the set were up, all that was left for me was to rally my team and take the plunge and start building. But at the time I felt at a loss of what to do since the task i had ahead of me seemed too vast for me to tackle. Oh and did I mention that this was the first time I was taking charge of something like this? Admittedly, once I finally got around to drawing up my workplan, buying the needed wood and teaching my members how to use the various power tools, things started to flow through despite the many difficulties we faced along the way.
Q: What is the thing that gives you the greatest satisfaction in this year’s Hallplay experience?
Pin Lang: The fact that it has concluded.
Linus: Between the wonderful performance staged, or the valuable friendships which I made in the process working and toiling together for one full semester, I can’t decide!
Annie: Seeing everything come to life, piece by set piece, every sound effect and perfect line. I was watching some early videos of the cast auditions – things that should probably never see the light of day – and I’m amazed that the cast, the production as a whole, have come such a long way. It’s hard to describe the surge of pride that comes from seeing people reach new heights and from knowing that you were a part of that process.
Ruth: Getting good feedback from friends outside of Hall.
Jamil: Probably seeing Hallplay being featured (as a major article) in The Ridge!
Azrin: Watching the curtains go up during performance day and hearing the audience’s first reaction upon seeing the set – pure bliss I tell you. That and meeting and making friends with so many new people throughout my journey as the set builder head. I don’t think my hall life would be as fun and memorable had I not taken up the role as set builder head.
PRODUCER and PRODUCTION MANAGER – Pin Lang and Linus
Q: Everyone loves comedy – but why pick an American comedy? Do you think audiences would be willing to watch a production with a more Singaporean slant to it?
Pin Lang: We did British last year and it seemed nice to do American for a change. A couple of years back, Hallplay did do a local play and though I am not sure of the details, it was relatively well-received. We did consider of doing a local play but Singapore playwrights are pretty limited. Somehow, the plays we read just didn’t feel right, so we decided to forgo the idea.
Linus: Actually, we didn’t pick ‘Come Blow Your Horn’ just because it was American. We stuck to the comedy formula because we wanted people to just relax and get a healthy dose of American humour and felt that the theme of family and relationships was something that everyone can relate to. We actually wanted to showcase the work of a Singaporean playwright but couldn’t find a suitable work and ended up with Neil Simon instead, which turned out to be a good choice!
Annie: We actually wanted to do a Singaporean play, but we were limited by the scripts we found (a lot of the famous Singaporean scripts were either very abstract, or had extreme language or themes that we thought wouldn’t get approved, or simply didn’t have a workable number of cast members). Anyway Neil Simon’s script had a heart to it that we thought Singaporeans would be able to relate to, and it was modern and clever, and most importantly it was feasible.
Q: Hallplay is undoubtedly one of the biggest CCAs in hall. How did you guys make everyone see the bigger picture, even within the framework of their individual sub-committees?
Pin Lang: I think the fact that all comm head were aware of their job scopes and had their own unique ways of dealing with their members helped a lot. Through them, a lot of things that I wanted to convey were efficiently communicated across. In addition, the goal of having a successful performance was probably a major factor why everyone cooperated with everyone else and made things relatively soon.
Linus: We got everyone in the steering committee to regularly share their individual sub-committee’s plans, ideas and progress to have an overall view of the whole production. Members were also welcome and encouraged to come down to watch the many rehearsals held at the comm hall so that they can view their efforts as a part of the ‘complete picture’.
The DIRECTOR – Annie
Q: Compared to last year’s production, you only had 6 cast members on hand this year. How did you overcome this challenge?
Annie: Actually, having six cast members was something I wanted. I looked for a smaller, more intimate cast. I knew it’d be tough to work with the schedules of 10 people from different faculties like last year, and getting every single person to a certain standard of acting – well, the more of them, the bigger the challenge. I was thinking a small cast would bond quicker and so we’d all get comfortable working with each other onstage more quickly, build our chemistry sooner, and so on. (But later the SC realised that a smaller cast meant we couldn’t sell the same volume of tickets as easily because the pool of friends/family was smaller.)
Q: Having acted in Out Of Order, which was a unabashedly slapstick affair, what prompted you to cast a more sombre mood in some of the scenes in Come Blow Your Horn, especially with regard to the scenes which dealt with more serious issues, like family relationships?
Annie: Great question! Unlike last year, the material was a little heavier and it carries its humour more through dialogue than physical slapstick. To me, Come Blow Your Horn had a definite message about family, love, and life choices. It dealt with universal human themes that weren’t always frivolous. And as a director I thought this “sombre mood” was interesting to explore; it adds a bit of substance to the performance. Perhaps I got itchy for more emotional material after acting in a role for pure comic relief last year. Or perhaps I knew I couldn’t live up to Asher’s great directorial capability to consistently bring on the hilarity, and chose to adopt a slightly more serious style as a result.
STAGE – Greg
Q: Tell me about the challenges you faced, having to use the comm hall as a place for rehearsals, especially with Chinese Drama using the space at the same time, and the IHG season in full swing.
Greg: Most of these challenges were actually minimised due to a planned schedule of the comm hall usage before the start of our rehearsal. However, one of the main challenges that my team and I faced was that the stage markings were either gone missing or mixed up with other productions’ marking.
Ticketing and Publicity – Ruth and Jamil
Q: The house was pretty packed on both nights. Do you think we will ever be able to fill the larger theatre in UCC?
Ruth: I think your question can be asked in another way, like whether we can look at having three performance days. I think the UCC hall has a more conducive environment for a play compared to UCC Theatre. The attendance of the audience could still be improved, as I’ve mentioned above, that there were clashes in events resulting in lesser audience. However, with IHG, Chingay, and other hall productions and events during that peak period, I guess our competition with all these events will still be quite strong.
Jamil: There’s a reason why we have 2 shows instead of one. It gives a choice to the audience to choose to watch on either day if they are not free on one of the days. The small UCC theatre seats about 400 people while the big hall has 1000+ seats. Unless we are like Chinese Drama which gives out free tickets, it is going to be very hard for us to ever fill the larger theatre.
Q: Was having a grand total of only 3 people in ticketing a problem?
Ruth: Compared to the department from the past few years, the ticketing committee has always been run by 2 members (and with mostly guys involved, not to say that girls are not capable). 3 people in the department are actually sufficient for ticketing. Even during the production days, we had the help from the publicity team. So, it’s manageable.
Jamil: Lol. Last year it was just Patrick and Ruth who did everything. This year Ruth has June and Melissa plus 6 more people from my Pubs Team if she needs manpower. 3 people is quite a number of people actually. Unless we want to do more chim stuff like online ticketing system, but that will probably require more manpower and technical expertise…
Q: What was your overarching strategy for publicity this year? Did it work?
Jamil: Well, this year’s publicity I aimed to publicise more to the general population of NUS. We got an article in The Ridge which was not achieved last year. We had banners and posters all over school including the other halls. I learned that it is not difficult to reach the NUS population, but admittedly the response was not very encouraging. This is mainly because our main audience are actually the people from our hall (or was from our hall). Future publicity should concentrate more on getting the whole hall to come down and watch Hallplay. Besides the people in hall who come to down, the only other audience members were the friends and family of the people who are part of the production. We really need Hallplay members to sell their tickets in order for us to fill up the seats. It is not just the job of the Ticketing and Publicity department. Selling tickets is everyone’s job.
All in all, I think Pubs and Tix learned a lot this year and have quite a number of things to pass down to the future generations of Hallplay.
SETS (the building half) – Azrin
Q: How did you deal with the situation where it was necessary to rebuild the bar top? Any words of wisdom to provide on hindsight?
Ah, the bar top. The problem with productions is that things always come at you out of the blue. The bartop was one of the first few things we had built for the set, and when the cast began to do rehearsals, we realised the bartop was unnaturally tall with respect to the actors. This was sometime towards the end of the December holidays, when full dress rehearsals were scheduled to start. I had a couple of courses of action available. 1) leave the bar as it is and let the actors look awkward, 2) build a platform for the actors behind the bar so that they wouldn’t look too awkward, and 3) rebuild the entire bar at the cost of more work and possibly not meeting my deadlines. I took up the job in the first place with the aim to build a set that would do justice not only to the actors but to the entire production itself. Such an imperfection could not be allowed to exist on the set and my course of action suddenly became very clear to me, much to the disdain of the set decor head who had spent lots of time doing up the old bar. Besides, it was the perfect chance to use better wood and better construction techniques to fabricate the new bar which in the end turned out to be a whole lot better than the original.
The takeaway? make sure you clarify everything and leave nothing (as much as possible) to uncertainty or guesstimation. but in the event that things do muck up, you shouldn’t be afraid to take a step back and even start from the basics if that’s what it takes – within reasonable limits of course. Don’t decide to rebuild your set a day before the actual performance.
Q: What makes you soldier on late at night, even when your ears are buzzing with the incessant noise of the electric drill, and your fingers bruised from getting inadvertently hit by hammers, nails, and other such potentially destructive items?
Oh, it was difficult believe me. I had to juggle set building, floorball, choir and reservist ICT as well. It was so tiring but the end product kept me going. The motivation of building a set that could add to and complement the atmosphere of the play as well as wow the audience was enough for me. Besides, the consequences of failure were extremely dire. It helps to have a team of builders that are extremely enthusiastic and fun to work with. I swear, I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have a team like the one I did. As an added incentive, working with power tools is really fun and the feeling you get when you see your work slowly take shape from a pile of wood and screws into a functional set is unparalleled. When I watched the play from the audience and I saw the set in its full glory I knew that all that time working on the set was time well spent.