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Flip The Script Friday: Stella Kon, Emily of Emerald Hill

It’s Friday, and you know what that means – time to flip that script!

I know you’ve been reading a lot here lately on Stella Kon, but it’s only because I have just about everything of hers out from the library right now, and since I wanted to return them all today, I read all the ones I hadn’t gotten to yet. The only ones which I thought were worth talking about here were Butterflies Don’t Cry (which will appear here…but not anytime soon) and Kon’s one-woman tour-de-force, Emily of Emerald Hill.

Basics:

Written in 1982 and first performed in Malaysia in 1984. Leow Puay Tin played Emily. Its Singapore premiere came in September 1985, with Margaret Chan as Emily. She was seven months pregnant at the time, which is pretty incredible. Since then, it has become Singapore’s most widely-performed play, and has been seen in other countries as well. According to the play text, Leow and Chan pretty much switched off the role throughout the 1980s.

Character:

  • Emily Gan – It’s just her, and everyone else is secondary 🙂 no, really, she spends the majority of the play talking to other people, none of whom are on stage. She is in her mid thirties and wears a traditional kebaya as well as bangles and other jewelry. She does not portray any other characters, but goes back and forth through time, from being a young wife/mother to being a grandmother.

Setting/Plot

1950s, Singapore. At the outset, Emily is making phone calls to various people, arranging her son Richard’s birthday party. As she prepares, she tells of the history of her home, a mansion on Emerald Hill where she lives with her husband, children, and an assortment of family members. After the party, we jump forward in time to Richard leaving for university in England. Against Emily’s wishes, he decides to work as a stable hand instead, and the first act ends when Emily finds out he has committed suicide in England. The second act begins with Emily in mourning for her son, growing irritable, and then going back in time to when her son was even younger. She flashes forward and cooks her favorite meal while telling us, Rachael Ray-style, exactly what she is doing and how. As she chops and cooks, she reveals the imperfections of her life; a cheating husband, and her other two sons, Charles and Edward, growing up and leaving Emerald Hill to start their own lives and families, and of her daughter Doris, whom she intends to keep at Emerald Hill, even if she should get married. Doris ends up going to visit family in America, and stays there, abandoning her aging mother. Even though she’s been alone onstage the whole time, we watch her world get smaller, as her home slowly erodes around her.

My Thoughts

This is definitely a very site-specific play, and I think I would appreciate it more having grown up or lived in Singapore. Still, it provides a good glimpse into the life of a fictional but very interesting lady, a wife and mother, who is often pushed aside but has her own story to tell. The right actress could pull off an incredible transformation, taking Emily from a young and vibrant socialite to an antique, much like the mother-of-pearl furniture she treasures. Other plays/characters that come to mind are Charlotte von Mahlsdorf in Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife, or Betty in Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine, both of whom represent a person who stays the same despite the drastic changes that occur around them, becoming a relic without really doing that much themselves.

How I’d Flip It

Oddly, I think that I would love to play the role of Emily. It’s been performed by male actors before, and even though I’ve never imagined myself in drag, she just seems so frozen in time that playing her would be like being a theatrical cryogenic technician, only instead of defrosting Walt Disney or Ted Williams, some random person from another place and time emerges. I’d also love to do it in a place where the lighting could start off bright, with lots of shadows for Emily to navigate through, and then get dimmer until Emily can only move around her chair, while at the same time, the lighting on the rest of the stage (maybe in a blue or green) gets brighter, so we can see the set, which has actually been really dingy this whole time, despite Emily’s vitality. Of course, Emily would be in pink, but everything else on the set would be in duller browns, grays, and tans, so she could stand out. I can’t decide whether a thrust or proscenium would be the best option, but I think a thrust might be really interesting. I think the biggest challenge of this play is to make the audience really care about Emily, despite probably being alien to her history and her way of life before entering the theatre; rather than making it campy, it should almost be like she’s a flower in her own little greenhouse of history, which is great because in one of her final monologues, she mentions that her gardener crossbred a flower and named it for her.

Works Cited:

Kon, Stella. Emily of Emerald Hill. Singapore: Macmillan, 1989. Print.

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Flip the Script Friday: Stella Kon, Emporium And Other Plays

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)

naga5

Characters

  • Sri Makhota
  • The Princess (his sister)
  • The Penghulu
  • First/Second Courtiers
  • First/Second/Third/Fourth Rakyat
  • The Naga
  • Other Courtiers and Rakyat

Setting/Plot

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.

My Thoughts

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.

Asoka

naga4

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)

Characters

  • 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!)

Setting/Plot

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.

My Thoughts

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!

Kumba Kumba

naga3

Characters

  • 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

Setting/Plot

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.

My Thoughts

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.

Emporium

naga2

Characters

  • Kong
  • Manfred
  • The Impoverished One
  • The Addict
  • The Alienated One
  • Two Security Guards
  • Businessmen/Shoppers/Photographers

Setting/Plot

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.

My Thoughts

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

naga1

Characters

  • Din
  • Minah (Din’s mother)
  • Mat (Din’s older brother)
  • Steve
  • Chang (Steve’s father)

Setting/Plot

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 Thoughts

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.

Works Cited

Kon, Stella. Emporium and Other Plays. Singapore: Heinemann Asia, 1977.

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Flip the Script Friday: Stella Kon, Part II: Zeep! and Birds of a Feather

Finally, my chaotic week is over. Next week looks to be just as chaotic, but hopefully, it’ll be a better kind of chaotic. I spent this evening giving my apartment a much-needed cleanup. All I’ve done is the dishes and picking up all the stuff off of the floor, but it looks better and I feel better. Hopefully the counter tops will get attention soon, then the bathroom, and finally the holy grail: the closet.

Then maybe I can actually get some reading done.

Anyway, now, since it’s overdue at the library (actually it’s an Interlibrary Loan) I might as well write about Stella Kon‘s other book of children’s plays, The Immigrant and Other Plays.

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)

Characters

  • Sri Makhota
  • The Princess (his sister)
  • The Penghulu
  • First/Second Courtiers
  • First/Second/Third/Fourth Rakyat
  • The Naga
  • Other Courtiers and Rakyat

Setting/Plot

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.

My Thoughts

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

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Masterpiece YouTube: “Mime Through Time,” SketchSHE, 2015

I’m tired (so what else is new) but just wanted to get a post in today. I haven’t done one of these since March, so I think it’s time for another. You’ve probably seen this clip before, but it’s so creative and hilarious and just my style, so here’s an in-depth analysis.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 20: “Mime Through Time,” SketchSHE, 2015.

SketchSHE consists of three funny ladies from Australia: Lana, Madison, and Shae-Lee. I have no idea which is which, so I just refer to them as Driver, Passenger, and Backseat.

We start with the three just hanging out in their car. Passenger turns on the radio, and they’re in 1940s gear and singing along with “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” They look like nurses going to a party off base. A salute, and a seamless transition into Elvis, complete with jumpsuits and new makeup/hairstyles. With a headbang, they’re the Beatles. Even though Driver and Passenger are tied up, they can still un-duct tape themselves. A bit illusion-shattering, but no time to think as they morph into Queen. They have a nice transition here into Michael Jackson, and this might be my favorite bit because they each have a different King of Pop look going on; Backseat has the “Thriller” jacket, and Driver is “Bad.” The choreography is inspired too. Then, it’s time for my favorite transition…just wait for it…1:17. That Passenger seat face is scary but hilarious as they all become Whitney. A hair flip leads them into Nirvana, and for some reason I’m getting Hanson flashbacks. I don’t like this song, but they do it well. Then it’s time for a rap interlude, with some mist in the background. Check out the Driver rapping and the Backseat fly girl. This next transition into Britney seems a bit out of place, as the light and positions change drastically, but the head-shaving bit cracks me up every time. The Eminem bit is not my favorite, but then they go all “Single Ladies,” with the one-shoulder jumpsuits and hand-motions, aided in interpretation by some fierce eye makeup and expressions. A great transition into Gotye. That bit seems out of place too because there’s not really a dance style associated with it, but then we get them in full-on “Thrift Shop” pimp mode, which is #$%^ing awesome…and then there’s “Wrecking Ball.” One by one, they realize that they’re topless, and then someone off screen gets Driver to roll down her window because she’s illegally parked, ignoring the fact that there are three topless (presumably naked) women in a car singing along to Miley Cyrus.

I think they did a great job of including a variety of music styles from pop to punk to rap, and the costumes and makeup designs were, for the most part, dead-on. I was surprised at some of their omissions, like Madonna (“Vogue”), Spice Girls(“Wannabe”), Bee Gees (“Night Fever”), country line dance (“Achy Breaky Heart” or “Cotton Eye Joe”), 90s boy band, Motown girl group…but then again, maybe they’re saving them for Part II. I sure hope there is a Part II.

What I learned from this video: Road trips are always fun with friends, make sure you don’t forget your shirt, and don’t park illegally.

This episode of Masterpiece YouTube was brought to you by A & P: Anxiety and Procrastination.

Also, according to my Live Statistics, my 25,000th flag showed up a few days ago, and it was from a visitor from Singapore. Thanks, Singapore!