Originally published 2/19/16; revised 5/13/16, now with pretty pictures designed by me!
It’s been a slow week for blogging, and kind of a tough week in my life, but I managed to get myself up and out to grocery shop, grade, and go to the social dance over at Holt Commons, so it’s time I managed to get another episode of Flip The Script out. Today’s script comes from Singapore. For my final project for International Theatre for Young Audiences, I have to create a lesson plan about a children’s play from another country. After looking at the ASSITEJ website, I decided on Singapore and luckily found several plays from the country, including this book of five plays by Stella Kon. Join me if you will.
The Naga in the Swamp (1977 – side note: this book was published in 1977, and there is no information on original productions, so I am assuming that all five plays were written circa 1977)
- Sri Makhota
- The Princess (his sister)
- The Penghulu
- First/Second Courtiers
- First/Second/Third/Fourth Rakyat
- The Naga
- Other Courtiers and Rakyat
Kingdom of Palembang, time unsure. Probably long, long ago. The Naga, which is a dragon-like creature, threatens the kingdom but is ultimately brought down by two separate strategies, a confrontation led by Sri Makhota, and an effort to drain the swamp, led by the Princess.
A very short and straightforward play. It is surprising, though, how many things of note are packed in. For one thing, in a reversal of the norm, the Rakyat, or workers, speak in a lilting verse as they toil, whereas the Princess and the other characters do not. I also see the differences between male and female work ethic; Sri Makhota, the man, talks a big game, then falls asleep, but eventually helps to get the job done, whereas the Princess is proactive in mobilizing her forces to do what needs to be done.
How I’d Flip It
This would be great fun to produce for a group of children. There is the opportunity to have a dance number, potentially with a giant naga. I can also imagine the Rakyat handing out tools to the audience and inviting them to shovel, pick, and maneuver hoses to “drain the swamp.” It is a one-note piece, but it might work well in tandem with another. I like the teamwork aspects of it, and different problem-solving techniques. I do not think I’ll use this one in class, but it’s worth noting.
QUEEN: What kind of a stupid show was that? No action! No romance! No suspense!
MINISTER (anxiously): I am so sorry, Great Lady. They promised me challenging, exciting new concepts…
QUEEN: Dullest thing I ever saw. Have them strangled immediately. As for you… (Kon, Asoka 18)
- The Emperor Asoka
- The Queen
- Minister of the Palace
- General of the Southern Army
- Captain of the Left Hand
- Captain of the Right Hand
- Old Man of Kalinga
- Singer of Kalinga
- Five Unseen Voices
- Court Actors (Prince, Princess, Minister, Attendant, Musician)
- Two Martial Arts Fighters
- People of Kalinga
- Soldiers of the Army
- Palace Attendants
(phew, that’s a lot of people for a tiny children’s play!)
India, 280 BCE, bordering the nation of Kalinga. The Emperor Asoka has conquered Kalinga, but is having a bitch of a time getting there because the entire population has staged a sit in on the roads. He orders his soldiers to get in by any means necessary. After they plow through people, seemingly calm and at peace on the roads, Asoka goes to investigate and discovers the glory of Buddha and the need for piece. Oh, and in the middle, there’s a scene where the queen wants to be entertained but isn’t, which is where the above quote comes from.
Way too didactic. Not a whole lot of action happens onstage, mostly because it is things like battles and killings and such, but I think that the message here is considerably weak. Basically, it’s just that peace is better than war, and just general realization that war is bad. It’s not particularly evocative either.
How I’d Flip It
I don’t think Asoka would resonate with children too much. Maybe older children or teenagers. Still, there are pieces out there about war and peace that are probably more interesting. Next!
- Changka, the head of the tribe
- Ellel, his wife
- Ish, Changka’s son
- Ink, Onk, Boh, Bah, male members of the tribe
- A Weaver, A Potter, A Sewer, female members of the tribe
- Lord of the Shining Sun
- Lady of the Bright Moon
Caveman times, somewhere in a cave. The first page of lines is just the characters repeating “Kumba kumba” over and over again to one another, apparently its meaning changing each time. The rest of the play is actually kind of cute, despite being a little too Richard Scarry: Cavemen hunt animals. Cavemen decide that killing each other would be fun, until they are told that that would be a bad idea. Cavemen use weapons to invent games and musical instruments.
Upon re-rereading it, it’s actually kind of cute and daresay, endearing.
How I’d Flip It
Definitely for a much younger audience, but it could be incredibly imaginative. We don’t know what people looked like in prehistoric times so anything goes.
- The Impoverished One
- The Addict
- The Alienated One
- Two Security Guards
Ostensibly Singapore in the here-and-now. Kong, a rich mogul, announces the opening of shopping mega-mall he calls “Kong’s Towers.” His also-rich heir/son/next-in-command Manfred explores the towers and meets some less-well-off people among the shoppers, including the homeless, and begins to question his lifestyle. He loses his mind and declares himself to be an advocate for the poor, and then gets arrested because people believe that he’s not actually Manfred.
Surprisingly, when I read it again, I liked it less. Initially, it was a story about the perils of consumerism and not looking out for the downtrodden. Then, I reread it, and Manfred kind of comes off as a bit of a cult leader by the end.
How I’d Flip It
I think this might be interesting to produce, especially in a materialistic place and time. It could be a colorful and fun shopping mall, in contrast with the homeless people.
In the Repair Shop
- Minah (Din’s mother)
- Mat (Din’s older brother)
- Chang (Steve’s father)
This play is different from the others in that it actually has a little bit more in the way of subterfuge/stakes. Basically, Din’s friend Steve shows up at Mat’s repair shop, looking for a job because his parents are dead. Then, Steve’s father Chang comes around looking for him, and it turns out that Steve lied and he just ran away, even though he tells Din how much he loves his parents, despite Chang convinced that Steve hates him, and Minah and Din having a similarly awkward relationship. It’s a pretty huggable end: Steve goes home, Minah makes one last crack about Din’s hair, and all is well.
My favorite play of the five. I just think that it’s the more relatable, partially because of its universality in both values and context – in most cultures, disrespecting one’s parents and/or lying is universally frowned upon, unlike the conflict of consumerism/capitalism (Emporium), or hunting (Kumba Kumba), and unlike ancient China, ancient India, cavemen, or a mega-mall, repair shops are commonplace everywhere. It is implied that Mat’s repair shop is for appliances, but other places could have it be a repair shop for bikes, cars, or computers. Also, the names are pretty generic without being boring: Chang is the only one that is 100% local in name, whereas anyone could be Steve, Mat, Minah, and even Din (although I’m not sure if it’s Din like dinner or Dean, like James Dean – either way, it’s not a stretch in most languages).
How I’d Flip It
For some reason, I’m having visions of the Fix-It Shop from Sesame Street. I would make Steve’s “fancy shirt” something tie-dye or in a Hawaiian print or something. I just really like this play; it could be done by kids or for kids.
Kon, Stella. Emporium and Other Plays. Singapore: Heinemann Asia, 1977.