For the first 33 years of IASAS history, no school had ever combined drama and dance for their Cultural Convention performance. This year, Singapore American School was one of the two first schools, along with International School Bangkok, to blend the traditionally separate disciplines.
SAS dance coach Tracy Van Der Linden and drama director Tom Schulz announced to the team at last year’s convention that they were planning to combine the divisions. According to Van Der Linden, the two directors had been talking about a combined performance for about three years.
Senior Fiona Galey said the directors announced a combined performance at last year’s cultural convention.
“Everyone was a little unsure at first, like people are when things are new or something has been changed,” Van Der Linden said. “However, everyone on the team was committed to making it work even if we weren’t sure of how the process was going to work at first.”
The show was derived from Sarah Ruhl’s script of Eurydice, a Greek myth that teaches the importance of patience and trust. In her second and final year at Cultural Convention, Galey played the lead female protagonist Eurydice, whom the production is named after.
There were clear benefits to combining the disciplines this year – the main advantage being that SAS would host the convention. For instance, the host school is able to take 12 performers from each discipline to a home convention instead of traveling with eight. Furthermore, it’s a huge advantage to work and practice on the same stage that will be performed on during the convention. According to Galey, traveling and then performing on a stage the delegates don’t know can be difficult.
Because of these complications, a combined piece is not something the directors are planning to produce again anytime soon. “I think it’s only something we would do if we were hosting,” Van Der Linden said.
For the first couple months, delegates worked separately in their distinctive arts, allowing the artists to establish a clear identity of their performance before the merge. During this time, actors focused on revising the script and dancers started choreographing.
The production method for the actors was very different from previous years. Usually, the actors receive their scripts right after being assigned a role and right before winter break, using the time away from school to memorize their lines. Upon return at school in January, the cast starts rehearsing. This leaves the actors and directors with at least two months to practice the entire script. This was not the case for this year’s production.
“We actually didn’t have a script at the beginning,” Galey said. “We devised it, meaning we had the skeleton of the adaptation of a Greek myth, but we use barely any of that script. This year, we were changing the script up until three or four weeks before the show.”
Along with the complete change of approach toward rehearsal, individual revision processes were different for each cast member. Everyone was responsible for independently solidifying their characters.
Sophomore Freddie Shanel, for instance, not only had to write her own script, but also had to create her own character. Her role as the narrator – nicknamed “The Worm” – wasn’t in the original script. The character was written into the play, for Shanel and by Shanel.
“Creating a script for a character that originally wasn’t in the show was an incredibly fun experience, as I could make the character entirely my own,” Shanel said. “After the initial idea was assigned to me, I was allowed to create and mold all aspects of the character – hopes, dreams, quirks – which gave me extra insight into the character as I had literally been there from the beginning of its existence.”
Because she created her character, Shanel was able to revise closer to the show date than other cast members. In fact, the sophomore revised up until two days before the show, adding new jokes and incorporating current events into her script.
For example, during the performance, Shanel mentioned events such as Miley Cyrus’s performance at the VMAs last year and the blue and black versus white and gold dress debate from just days before.
The 24-person ensemble experimented with different ways of doing different scenes. According to Galey, the cast tried at least five variations of the opening scene between Eurydice and Orpheus, and, according to Shanel, the cast revised the end scene right up until the show date.
“It wasn’t even just an acting process,” Galey continued. “It was a whole creating process between dancers and actors, where there were constant revisions and constant creations. It wasn’t just rehearsing.”
After changes were made to the script, dancers had to alter their choreography according to the revisions in the story and script. According to senior Catie Lee, this wasn’t always easy.
“As dancers, we usually come up with everything ourselves,” Lee said. “Our performance is our own idea and our own structure, and we have all the creative control. I think it was hard for us to not be able to have complete control this time.”
Although they weren’t able to control the storyline since that was the actors’ responsibility, “the dancers still had creative control over the dance sections within the chosen story through music selection and movement vocabulary,” Van Der Linden said.
One of the main priorities for the directors and delegates was that each discipline got the stage time they wanted: a balanced show was crucial. In separated shows, dance performs for 20 minutes and drama for 45. During the combined rehearsals, the cast worked to tweak the balance between the disciplines.
“I think that’s one of the great things about our show,” Shanel said. “People didn’t feel like the drama was better than the dance or the dance was better than the drama. We had a great system in which the dance would complement the drama and the drama would complement the dance.”
Combined rehearsals also allowed delegates from both disciplines to influence each other’s performance. According to Lee, delegates absorbed each other’s confidence and helped develop qualities that may have been previously lacking.
“[The dancers] never had to vocalize on stage before, and there were quite a few parts during the piece where we had to talk. There were even parts where we would have to scream. There’s definitely a different kind of confidence needed to talk on stage,” Lee said. The actors helped them with this aspect, showing how to develop a different kind of stage presence than the dancers were used to.
Galey had a similar learning experience.
“As actors, we have really important text, and we have expressions to make, and we change our tone of voice. But our body language is also so crucial to our performance, and being constantly surrounded by people who know how to use their bodies influenced us to use our bodies more effectively to translate and evoke emotion,” Galey said.
While a difficult process, the cast expressed pride and a strong sense of accomplishment over the finished piece.
“Every single person grew so much as a performer, as a creator, and as a person. Whether it was a dancer, or an actor, or even a director, everyone pushed themselves so hard,” Galey said. “It was a really good growing experience. The production was a very different and more difficult process. I think it pushed everyone really hard and really far out of their comfort zones, but it was worth it in the end.”