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[CONTEST] Esther: Win A Theatre Experience Made For Malaysians

Director Darren Yeoh on what it means to steer and shape this local production coming soon to DPAC.

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[CONTEST] Esther: Win A Theatre Experience Made For Malaysians
This Actspressions production has a message and a timely one at that for its audience. Set in the future with an age-old storyline that rings ever true in today’s ambivalent culture, mores and values, Esther is the stage play to watch out for. Deborah Tan stars as the lead character, Esther, while Darren Yeoh directs this art-meets-life piece that pits an unassuming social worker with a lifelong goal of helping the less fortunate against her oppressor in a metropolis embroiled in lies and intrigue.
Esther character profiles (left to right): The Chairman, Esther, Haaman and Mordecai. (Image: Actspressions)

Hear what director Darren Yeoh has to say about Esther.  

Darren Yeoh, director of Esther. (Image: Actspressions)
How did the idea of telling this story come about?
Change has been quite a central topic of discussion in Malaysia recently. We wanted to tell a story that makes us think about who we are and what moves us towards change. Esther is one such story.

What inspired the theatre production of Esther?
Theatre in a sense was created as a medium of entertainment, but also a medium to express ideas and explore them through the different perspectives of the characters. So I think just the fact that this nation is at the cusp of achieving greater things, and how Actspressions is always looking for creative ways to make a positive impact in the audience… those were our grounds for inspiration.

Esther is based on historical events that are still celebrated in some parts of the world and it examines the relationship between change and sacrifice. By tying our plays with a message that is relevant to the times, we hope to encourage Malaysians to think about how they can contribute to the betterment of this nation in their own way, too.

“A reluctant heroine has to make tough, sacrificial choices to save her people and all that she loves.” Based on the quote above from the synopsis, can you elaborate on the plot and the driving force of the play?
At the urging of her cousin, Esther goes from community worker to an undercover agent in order to prevent a massive conspiracy that involves her people and would forever change their lives for the worse. Esther going undercover sees her agreeing to work with the most powerful man in The City, putting her life at risk and potentially living a life that isn't of her choosing, but demands a huge sacrifice on her part.

As the director of this production, what are you bringing to the stage that is new and innovative?
We are retelling a classic story within a contemporary setting. Many local plays centre around a theme that may be relevant to our nation but is often set in the past or present. We wanted to try something a little towards the future, populating it with conflict and asking questions that may be relevant to today's Malaysian viewers. What would the story of Esther be like in a more modern era? This production explores iconic characters and themes in a fresh new way. The audience can expect to be entertained with a good mix of drama and humour that has a meaningful message to take home if you catch it.

Behind the scenes at Esther. (Image: Actspressions)
What sort of rigorous preparations were done to get everyone ready for the play?
Most of our cast members have little or no acting experience. In light of this, we’ve had to devise ways to equip our actors with the necessary skills in a short span of time. This includes physical training to mental preparation, which is one of the key areas for new actors. For most of Esther’s cast, this is their foray into theatre so they have been coached and put through a gruelling preparation process in order to get them into a proper frame of mind before showtime. We've focused a lot of time in getting them to be confident, stay in character, keep consistency across all runs and recite their lines confidently. This began the day rehearsals started, and continues to be a focus until today.

Managing a team of actors and crew can be challenging, so what was the most challenging part about directing Esther?
Our challenge is to know what motivates them, what their strengths and passions are; and how to channel their energies precisely to create a strong team working towards a common objective.

What is the best thing about directing Esther?
Watching the cast and crew develop and mature in their talents and abilities. It is a reward in itself when you help someone discover themselves.

Why should someone watch this play?
Esther's story has been written and arranged to appeal more toward the general public. This is reflected in the language of the dialogue, the more elaborately designed sets and the central theme, which is "What will you do to bring change?" - a question that every average person has had to ask themselves before. We're basically making theatre relatable to the general palate. The performing arts scene in Malaysia is a rich and diversified scene, with plenty in store for an eager audience. What we seek to be is a starting point for Malaysians who have never watched a play before, much less step into a theatre. Hopefully by easing them into the scene, their interest can then be piqued further.

If there was one thing someone could do for Malaysia, what would it be? And what do you think this country needs in its citizens the most?
In my opinion, Malaysians need to be more proactive and not wait for other people or groups to take action on matters close to their heart. One thing I hear the most is, "I'm only one person, what can I do? My actions won't matter much!". Don't we have a Malaysian saying, "Sikit-sikit, lama-lama jadi bukit." (You start with little, it adds up in the end). We need to be proud of who we are and what we can do as individual Malaysians. When we start taking ownership within our own hearts for our country, not just in an emotional but also in a practical sense, it creates a desire within us to contribute back to the country instead of leaving it for “greener pastures”.

If you could describe this play in 3 words, what would it be?
Choice. Action. Purpose.
Esther cast profile. LtoR: Mark Loo, Deborah Tan, Emmanuel Sobotie and Winson Boey. (Image: Actspressions)

Esther is no ordinary staged play, the latest in the works for Actspressions — a theatre company birthed in 2005 by an enthusiastic and passionate group of people in the name of performing arts. Armed with a vision to ‘sow inspiration by telling a great story’, it seeks to entertain while enriching its audience with relevant insights. Actspressions achieved success for its previous production, The Tailor Made Man, which was nominated for the title of Best Costume and won the Audience Choice Award at the 11th BOH Cameronian Arts Awards in 2013. 

​For more information please visit: www.actspressions.com.my/esther2016

Catch Esther to be staged at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) on 30th September (8PM), 1st October (3PM and 8PM) and 2nd October (8PM). We've got two pairs of tickets for the 30th September show to give away so fill in the form below to be in the running!

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