Tue 22 Jan 2008
My friend Elyse Ribbons is a dynamo. Not one to sit around twiddling her thumbs, she is also likely to challenge others to step up and deliver. I met Elyse when we were both extras in a movie, “Beijing Taxi”, part of which another friend of mine, Nora Wong, was directing, and we talked about acting, writing, producing, et al, and I lamented the fact that I could never seem to finish a script, my enthusiasm always fizzling out shortly after the first plot point. That’s where she challenged me. “Do you think you could finish one if it was only ten minutes long?”
“Yes, as in a one act play around 10 minutes in length.” It turns out that Elyse was at that very moment looking for acts for her ShiFen Theater Festival due to take place a couple months hence through her Cheeky Monkey Theater production company. Never one to refuse a challenge I believe I can meet, I had to take her up on it, and it turned out to be the single most rewarding experience of my life thus far.
I knew immediately that the play would absolutely have to star my little darlings, as well as myself, but was unsure what to write about. Something about our life in Beijing, but what…? Well, I didn’t have to wait long. Blysse came home from school and told me an amazing story that brought home how wonderful it is to live life in foreign country, in “Expatia” as I like to call it, and experience things that you just plain wouldn’t back “home”. The play actually wrote itself.
Now the fun part was taking my two talented but untried and tested daughters through the rehearsal process, and somehow get them to deliver, on stage, in front of over 400 people. The rehearsal process was not only easy, but it turned out to be some of the best quality time I have ever spent with them. They took my script and, adding in their natural ham factor, developed it into a much richer more enjoyable play than I could have imagined. I suppose it helps that I was writing dialog that they, playing themselves, were easily able to embrace and augment. The first few rehearsals led to quite a few re-writes, but by the time the festival approached, we were ready.
The biggest challenge came right before our performance. Blysse, who had by far the most lines, was so nervous she had tears welling up in her eyes. Daddy director to the rescue! “Blysse, you know your lines. We’ve practiced it so many times, you will not forget your lines. It’s your story! Even if you mess up, just remember the story…”
“But there are soooo many people out there!”
“What’s your first line?”
“What!? It can’t be time for bed already!”
“See! You’ll do great! After that first line, it will all just flow, just like in rehearsal.” And it did! Blysse and Ellie not only delivered all of their lines as well as they did in rehearsal, but they projected their voices well and could be heard all the way at the back of the rather large Yan Club Arts Center at the Old Factory 798 Art District. Feedback has been great, but that is absolutely secondary to the thrill of the best daddy-daughter event ever.
After the show, I thanked Elyse for challenging me. “Great!” she said, “Now you can write a 40-minute play!”
Hmmmm. I like a good challenge.