By QISHIN TARIQ
After a whole season of preparation, this year’s Theater For Young People (T4YP) ensemble is ready for the big one – Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Billed as “Theatre for young people, by young people”, T4YP was founded in 2008 as a platform for youths between 16 and 25 to try their hand at theatre. Participants would run through a series of plays and workshops, ending with a Shakespearean piece like Twelfth Night (2010) and Much Ado About Nothing (2011).
T4YP’s 2013 season was a jam packed one, opening in May with the interactive promenade performance Ugly People, then splitting the group between two plays (What If God Was One of Us and Boeing! Boeing! in July), plus two “sweatshops” – where the ensemble cobbled together a show in 24 hours, twice!
For this year, T4YP director Christopher Ling choose to go with the classic of classics, Romeo and Juliet. The old tale of star crossed lovers is the go to for many a school drama club and has inspired everything from Romeo + Juliet (by the king of garish adaptations, Baz Luhrmann) to this year’s Warm Bodies, where Romeo is a zombie and Juliet a post-apocalypse survivor.
Ever one to experiment, Ling has pulled a “play-ception” by making T4YP’s Romeo and Juliet a play in a play. Set in a fictional school, SMK Damansara Verona, the cast play students doing a reading of Shakespeare, where they act out scenes from Romeo and Juliet.
Arief Hamizan, 20, a returning alumni from last year’s T4YP, opined that people have got the wrong idea about Romeo and Juliet; that it is just an old fashioned romantic tale.
“It’s funny that people look at Romeo and Juliet as a play that defines true love, but it’s really about teenagers that get married, have sex, then die. They’re basically cicadas,” he said, with a laugh.
Nadin Norzuhdy, 20, who plays Juliet, busted another misconception. “People think Romeo is the lead in their relationship, but it’s Juliet that tells the boy ‘If you love me, Romeo, marry me’. Juliet’s a modern girl, one of the first feminist archetypes,” noted Nadin.
Learning about a play and digging deeper into it is part and parcel of the T4YP programme. In an effort to give a holistic education, the cast also got free tickets to watch other local performances.
“It’s a great experience to watch others perform, to see how more experienced actors do it,” said Joshua Aeria, 24, (who plays Romeo), cheekily adding “it’s always more fun watching than acting in a play!”.
A former international school student, Nadin had theatre experience from her time in the school’s drama club. However, like many public school kids, Arief, Aeria, and fellow T4YP member Aaron Lo, 24, never had the chance to be in a drama club.
“I never watched a single play until I started working and got a little disposable income, and even then I was dragged by my lecturer to my first play,” admitted Lo. A full-time musician, Lo joined the programme to improve himself as a performer.
Ironically, Lo found his skills as a musician being used in the play, writing the school anthem for SMK Damansara Verona andsinging his original song Light Years in the central dance scene, where Romeo and Juliet fall in love at first sight.
Ling described Light Years as a perfect description of what the lovers went through, that feeling of being close enough to see each other yet just out of reach.
“After seeing a YouTube video of Aaron performing the song at an open mic session, we bullied him into performing it for the play,” joked Ling.
Joshua summed up the season as an experience in being other people through acting, but also learning more about one’s self.
“Ultimately your character is layered over who you are, and it makes you think about what you personally would do in the same situation and what drives you.”
T4YP presents Romeo & Juliet will play at KLpac, Kuala Lumpur from Sept 12-14 (8.30pm) with matinee shows on Sept 13 (11am) and Sept 15 (3pm). It will also be staged at Penangpac, Penang from Sept 19-21 (8.30pm) and Sept 22 (3pm). For tickets, log on to ticketpro.com.my or call 03-4047 9000.