Page 1

dramatic movements a journal essay + log book

by Huda

Let’s be honest here. I do not know how to start a journal entry. What more, a dramatic movement journal. This field has always been my interest and I have never seen it in such a serious light before. Finally, after the last class of the semester, I see the bigger picture. It is an incredible sight. My journal entries here would be me recollecting the ideas and dramatic content that I was exposed to in class. Generally, here is the overview of the subject based on my perspective as an outside elective student.

#1 moments We were told to define ‘dramatic’. What is dramatic? We were dispersed into three groups to where we discussed what it means to each of us. What we always thought about the meaning it holds and what it actually means. Some thought ‘dramatic’ means acting in front of an audience. Some thought ‘dramatic’ to be something that is not normal, something different. Some thought it was the change of something normal to something that is not normal. At the end of the discussion, En. Effindi clarified that it is an action that builds up to a ‘moment’ of interest in those who are watching. It is like looking at a picture. We as the actors are the picture, with the audience simply looking at it. The ultimate test of a dramatic quality of movements depends on how long can the audience keep looking at the picture without feeling involuntary. *** The first day of class, I was rushing from the Faculty of Built Environment, crossing the street and running through the field like I was late for an appointment. Well, I was late. to make things worse, I got lost. A dramatic way to start the first lesson of the first class. Upon entering the Experimental Theatre from behind, I never knew there were classes in such narrow spaces! After going in and rounding every floor; after I met dance students who helped show me the way, I found the drama studio 1. There were a few students in class. I did not recognise any of them, but I was determined to explore the drama world where every action matters.

#2 mapping Like the scientific investigation, in drama there are also steps in which we can follow in order to produce a good piece: Change. Transit. Adjust. Our lecturer did touch on these principles in the last class, but it is only now that explanation is provided. There is something about this class that always talk about abstract, intangible ideas. I could not follow at this one point. It was until En. Effindi mentioned the mapping technique. A method that can be adopted to draw out our thoughts on paper before turning it into movements on the performance stage. Change. Transit. Adjustment. Little did I know this three words will change my perception of dramatic movements entirely. Every action made by an actor is important in making the audience understand his/her role in the piece. Every changed action depicts a difference in the performance. Each change in position is vital to what the actor is conveying, while still acting. Transit is the actions taken in which an action is made to have a sense of continuity to the next movement. It is used to ensure a more smooth transition in scenes and expression of characterization. Adjustment are the minor changes an actor displays to suit the role he/she is playing. A drag, a flick, a nudge, a slur, a tilt or even a slower move is considered as adjustments in acting. There were so many theories and ideas that I wished I knew. It seemed that everyone is class had a certain basic knowledge about drama that I am clueless about. I figured these first few weeks are the hardest. I had to grasp the 6 demands of drama, mapping theory, contrast, symbolism and so on. I had to make my own type of map in my head, like a mental mind map to eventually understand all this. Mapping it out in my head did help a little bit. I tried to understand each word said by lecturer and students alike. Whatever it is that En. Effindi mentioned, the rest of the class seem to be ahead of me. I exchanged puzzled looks with Hazim, my architecture studiomate who decided to join in the class too. We had too much to digest about drama for now, but we were certain we’ll get used to it one day.

#3 memphis Growing up as a young girl in PJ, I had always dreamed of getting involved with theatre. School was long finished and gone, but I never thought I’d be as excited as a schoolgirl again. After 3 years in the university, I never had imagined that I would be walking in the Cultural Centre like I was a Drama student myself. We were told to define ‘dramatic’ in a previous class. I think it was dramatic enough for me to choose this subject. I sense it building up to a moment of realisation of what dramatic skills can bring in any field, even architecture. En. Effindi brought a surprise today. The entire lesson would be revolving around the musical, ‘Memphis’. Memphis is a musical by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro. The plot of the story is loosely based around a disc jockey, Dewey Phillips, who is one of the first white DJs to play black music on the radio in the 1950s. There were so many themes revolving around the 2 hour video. We were to watch the show and pick up relevant points and relate it back to class. Even the way each actor carries himself can be a point of references for us beginners. One good way to learn is to imitate the best. It’s true. Even in architecture school, they often tell us, “Don’t try to invent something new, just copy”. While watching the movie, my eyes were transfixed on the things that appealed to my senses; what can be seen, what can be felt, and what can be heard. The stage set was amazing. It had trap doors and movable pieces that when moved, changed the entire set. There were many layers of acting, the background dancers and singers were always in unison and had the same expression at times. The supporting roles were distinct, yet static in their significance to the play. The main character was always a little bit different than the rest, in terms of the colour of the shirt he was wearing, the walk he walked and the way he talked with a slur in his speech. I finally understood the term ‘adjustment’.

#4 log book We were told that every actor has a purpose. There will always be a message to convey to the audience. As we learned, the simpler the message, the better. I guess it is the same as what I was exposed to in architecture, “Less is more.” You only need at least two messages to make a conflicting piece. Imagine the possibilities of portraying messages through performance. Imagine the different approach to acting that we can use? I remember En. Effindi told me after class to swallow what is taught in this class slowly. He says Dramatic Movements is not hard at all. It’s all about expanding your understanding and letting it out in performances. Pieces can be simple or complicated, what is more important is that you express yourself through movements. He suggested that I think about it. Watch performances on youtube and even practice in my architecture studio if I have to. Well, after some words of motivation, I was determined to find out what I can grasp from the internet. I found so many things. There is a common saying that goes “Today’s world is the age of too much information”. And I can’t remember who said that, or how I stumbled across it. I am finally beginning to understand why the saying is indeed true. I found write ups by philosophers like Aristotle about drama and their demands in today’s world. I began reading what is required in schools of performing arts abroad. I saw monologues on youtube and random videos attached to forums on drama. I watched local short films that were available on youtube and discussion about this creative field. Malaysia is a nation where there is a lot of potential in performing arts. Drama in our country might not yet found the mainstream interest in society, but we are definitely trying to reach out to the masses. Shows in Istana Budaya, KLPAC, PJ Live Arts and The Actor’s Studio have always been producing plays of various genres that I thought were related to this class. So, I tried to jot down ideas and whatever I understood about this field in my own log book. I can’t help it but sketch out the things I understood as well. I guess there are just some things that are just too abstract to write about and so drawings can speak just as much, and sometimes even more than words alone can say.

#5 contrast I felt like a contrast in my own class. I thought if I can list out how different I was from my classmates, I would understand what makes up a contrast. Most of the time I am the only one from a different faculty that speaks in a different language, more of what makes our built environment compared to what echoes the corridors and fills the amphitheatre with colour and joy. The other people in class would talk amongst themselves and poke jokes at each other but am sitting in a corner with a book titled “Concrete” because I have a presentation on building materials tomorrow. I am the only student in class who wears a colourful hijab, whereas others have colourful hairlocks on their head. I believe I was a contrast ever since the first day I walked in the doors of this studio. Contrast can also be extended in forms of choreography, balance and stage use. Imagine a bunch of ballerinas dancing at the side stage until one of them twirls out. That is contrast. Contrast can also be explained in the form of using minimal action or maximum space. Imagine a talk show host who does funny faces on camera. He ought to be static and focus the attention on his changing face while the ensemble goes about their daily lives walking about, rather than walk around the entire stage together with the ensemble. Contrast should be highlighted and not subsided by doing unnecessary movements. That is contrast. Contrast can also be done in vice versa. A play that uses maximum actions but within minimal space. I went to watch my classmates’ performance in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. They did a slightly adapted play for Malay theatre. The story was the same, yet the language was malay. It was hard to digest at first. Random laughs would burst at random lines said that did not really made sense in malay, but after translating in english we completely understand why it had to be like that. The play was eye opening. I realised the characters in the foreground held a certain contrast from the actors on the background. This relationship is hared too, when the characters interchange roles of foreground and background. In the woods, Puck would be in the foreground as the couples we’re sleeping at the back. Puck scurries to the back to hide and eavesdrop on the conversation of the couples when they arise. The element of contrast would then be passed on from Puck to Lysander and so on. Playing with the element of contrast guides the audience where to look and what to observe at a certain scene. Now, I understand.

#6 concept What do you want to say to your audience? Would it be audible or not? Will there be gestures and dance moves to complement the piece? How about the usage of the stage and voice projection? These are main questions when thinking about the concept of a performance that also sets the pace and impact of a piece. For example, a silent piece may have a very impactful and profound way of telling a story with the entire focus on just facial expression and body movements. There seem to be a trade off when there is many elements in a piece. A piece full of sound effects need not have dialogues to explain where the sound came from. It should be self explanatory that a honk is made by an imaginary vehicle that the character is interacting with. Explaining that a car came to pass would be redundant and will lessen the impact of the piece. If a piece pauses for too long as well will put the audience into a state of oblivious boredom. It is vital to know when a piece is ripe enough. Cooked with every element that is just nice; not too much salt, neither too much sugar. One way to test this out is by running through the piece with a friend and be open to various feedback by the rightful audience. Picking a concept is essential to the effectiveness of the performance. Immediately I knew this had something to do with the solo performance that is coming up next. We were told to find an idea for our mid semester test, a solo performance of five minutes each. The goal to keep it simple and look for a concept that can make an impact to the class. En Effindi told us to keep to one character at the very least. One character can be complex to a play itself and can say more than enough. What more about holding in two characters? There is one more thing that he kept on reminding us. “Be an actor, not a director” I do not quite fully understand the drama syntax of this phrase, but I was pretty sure it was to do with focusing in performance. An actor envelopes himself with a mood to understand a character fully, whereas a director would be thinking of the correlation of the entire play through scenes and various characters. I guess, being an actor would mean our minds should be focused on the game while on stage and not guessing and doubting oneself about what is about to happen next. This concept search is pretty challenging. Qila told me that it’s better to know your character and decide on something familiar. Because unless we do comprehensive research of making the unfamiliar known, it’s better to stick to something you are familiar with to reach the deadline. I think I know just the piece to explore.

#7 characterisation character vs. characterisation You make a character. Characterization makes you. Yes. It is confusing. The constant imbalance of a character and what makes the characterization always brings a point for discussion. It’s like the chicken and the egg story. Which comes first: The chicken or the egg? The character or the characterization? It is fair to say that both are heavily depending on the other. A physical trait of a character can be seen. It’s the characterization of the character that can be heartfelt by the audience. I didn’t know there was a big difference between the two. I always thought it was the same wherever and whenever it comes together. Oh, how I was wrong. I learned that a character cannot stand without a characterization, but a characterization can stand without a character. The intangible feelings are the more important role that an actor must achieve before the costume and makeup is put on. Imagine an actor can put on a character of an angry cab driver. He can act a scene as if he was driving and cursing at every car that he meets while sitting down, hands up as if there was a steering wheel. Take the anger out of the cab driver. I’m sure it would be hard to tell if he was a cab driver or a driver that was feeling anything at all. This would make quite a dull show with no life. Now, take the cab driver out of the original character. He would still be plain angry at everything. Calling names and shouting here and there. I’m sure this would still make an interesting show. No doubt, personality becomes stronger with character. It is when the feeling matters that the character is of second importance. Abstract pieces that start out of arbitrary scenes can still be understood by relating to the characterization of a character. Scared, worried, happy, frustrated, impatient, sleepy and all other human traits are the things that make any performance worthwhile to watch. I managed to catch ‘Nadirah’ in KLPAC. It’s a Singaporean play that tells of a struggle in a girl between her belief and her family. I have seen many plays before, each performance adding on to my understanding of theatre and dramatic movements. It is now that I am in this class that urges us to observe and pick up the points of how drama works. Why is it so important to play a role with confidence? I began to understand how a play develops from the beginning of introduction to the end of conclusion and some even ends with ambiguity. The transition from one scene to the other is also crucial to putting the separate pieces together. I like the way in ‘Nadirah’ how the scenes change instantaneously with the dim of the lights and people moving in and out. They move while the sounds of the MRT and Singapore streets muffled the movement of props and setting changes. The stage was a central stage with audience sitting at all four sides around the stage. The performers were still in character even until the spot were lights turned off, until they walked out of the stage. Out of sight.

#8 clarity “Bahasa Perlambangan” directly translates to the language of symbols. Symbolism. Like sign language. No audible voice, but a voice in the form of actions we take to be understood by the masses. Again, we are reminded about focusing on one thing at a time and keeping it simple. “Sometimes keeping it simple is one of the hardest thing to do,” says En Effindi. Because the clarity of the piece is key for the audience to accept what is being shown to them in a performance. Even in architecture, we learn one of the timeless principle of “less is more”. Thus, I find what is taught here to be ultimately true. If there is too many things discussed at one time, there would be no focus at all. It’s ironic how we perform in order to focus on a central issue of theme and if not executed well, we are victim to this lack of clarity. It’s just like taking a photo. If there is no focus, and too many nice things to take, there would be too little space to fill in a photo. How we frame each piece with a good intro and a good closure all within good timing, that piece would be exactly what this class is aimed at producing. I flashed through photos in my head and search my memory of the 1001 things that symbols are related to. Road signs can act as symbols to direct the way. Building design as a metaphor to a phenomenon can be a symbol. Logos are companies’ symbols in the market. Wait. No, I am not thinking right. Those examples are all visual symbols. It might be useful if I was taking visual arts. But in dramatic movements, there are gestures that has a universal language of sorts. A scream would mean afraid. A yawn would mean sleepiness. A run for it would mean panic. Holding up your palm to your face while pretending to put on lipstick would tell people you are looking in the mirror. Walking with a limp would tell people that you have a disability and so on. The possibilities of symbolism goes on and on. “Bahasa perlamabangan tu, senang je..” Was it really that easy. It would be easy to understand if it was clear enough to see and decipher. The process to reach that simplicity is slightly an uphill road. En. Effindi was explaining to us that we would either get it or not. There is no in between. We have to simplify our mind and keep our heads clear. That way, as we were told, we can try to make it as easy.

#9 rehearsal “Hands learn more than minds do.” I was repeating that line over and over again until it is embedded in my memory. I was never good at memorising. Yet, for this performance , I want to prove myself wrong. The last time I tried to memorize this poem by Sarah Kay, I end up stuttering and swallowing back my words that came out not as I wanted it too. The biggest mistake was bringing the script on stage with me. I tend to become dependent on the piece of paper that I brought with me. I would be able to say a full sentence with confidence, but when the next line was blur, I would panic and it would show in my face. I had to find another method to memorise this. Repeating that line, it made so much sense now. En. Effendi keep mentioning in our exercises that memory is not only in our mind. Every part of our bosy and face has a memory of its own too. For example, if we do not try to stretch our arm, the arm will not have any experience in stretching and so the rest of the body would be idle. In my studio, bored of drawing windows on the facade of my building, I stood up and began trying different sequence which way I can perform this responding to the script I have. I began repeating the lines and gestures to my fellow studiomates. At this one point, it looked like I had myself a chorus who knew my exact lines and what would come next when they see me hesitate. I am thankful to have such supportive colleagues. I guess, many hands learn way faster than just my hands learning on their own. We would be performing in Dewan Tunku Canselor! I was thrilled. I have never had the chance to be on stage in DTC. I always thought the only time I would be able to walk on the stage was during my graduation, but here I am. I seem to be the only one really excited for this. What a contrast to the rest of the class who perhaps have performed on this stage too many times to even count. We took our posts and took a feel of the very wide stage. We had a surprise for our lecturer and it seems he had a surprise for us too. Rumour has it that a visiting lecturer from Ireland is coming to assess our performance. Another contrast, I didn’t know what that meant, but the rest of the class gasped in shock. No wonder we had to perform in DTC. A prestigious stage for a prestigious guest.

#10 kuala lumpur It’s week 14 already. The last week of the semester. Drama showcase. Finale performance. Date. 20th December 2012 Place. Dewan Tunku Canselor Time. 5.00 p.m. I thought I would be nervous, but I was excited that instead. Anticipation washed over me as I made my way to the Le Corbusier inspired, raw concrete hall, DTC. Final rehearsal was scheduled at 3.00 p.m. and we were suppose to run through our position and movements. Change. Check. Transit. Check. Adjustment. Check. I liked the backstage feel. Everyone had a serious face on. I was a focused serious face. It was a ‘don’t play play’ face during rehearsals thi¬¬s time. We wanted to give a brief picture of Kuala Lumpur that was surrounded by all the positive and negative madness it offers. It started with Syam’s piece of an old man caught in air pollution with everyone echoing his actions and trying to help him. Then came Apple’s piece about noise pollution in the city. Fahmi made sure our actions were on par with the emotive level of each piece. Next, Intan was trying to catch us buzzing bees with different remedy qualities. Then came Misaki’s piece where everyone was a depressed kids who didn’t know of the wonders of the outside world. After jumping around and playing hide and seek, we turned into baby dolls suck in a trash can. It was Yaya’s piece and I had a special role to be the midwife in her phantom pregnancy scenario. Then, everyone turned into hungry people at the infamous mamak stall. Jason was a class teacher who didn’t know how to teach his class of smart kids. With Veea reminding us of our positions, we ran into a single file of soccer fanatics while watching the game in Ah Chong’s piece. And after smoking weed with Qila, everyone became fascinated with their hands in my spoken word piece, “Hands”. Hazim took over the dance floor doing a Michael Jackson impersonation. Finally, the chaos was over when Yaya took the microphone to sing “Kuala Lumpurrrrrrrr....” In a nutshell, Kuala Lumpur did seem diverse as it is. The anxiety of a performance exam can be overwhelming, but after it was over, it was simply relieving.

dance There is something dance and drama. Something about being in the Cultural Centre of my alma mater and feeling simply happy. It’s something I cannot explain, but I wish I knew how to explain it. The walk from my faculty to the other side of campus does not burden me at all. I felt the need to go to class like my day depends on it. Performing arts realy has an impact on me. Perhaps it was those days in secondary school where the foundations of this interest was rooted in. I feel like something is growing inside now that creative juice is often replenished after I watch a play, dance, or any stage performance. My role as the Hall Officer has made me relate to all theatres or performing halls I have been to, whether contmporary or old school. The crazy team that is always behind a production also feeds my soul with energy and things worth discussing about. The story telling in each step works like a chan reaction until it is hard to say who did what in a production. The seamless transition from on scene to the next hold many internal monologues that only the crew understands. I like the feeling that this class evokes in me. And when class is over, I would rush to my room nearby, with new stories to share with my roomates.

finale I guess that is what elective subjects is about. Diving into something else, other than your own. Going out of your comfort zone. It is entirely up to you to pick something that is related to your field or something completely different. I chose the latter as working in studios have always been exciting. This semester, I had experienced a different sort of studio. I do not regret it one bit. I have been exposed to many abstract ideas and began to apply all that I have learned into my own field. There were many clueless days and approaching the performing bit, it was a battle for self confidence. It was not easy rushing after class and getting to studio every week. Juggling between architectural studio and dramatic studio. Alas, now that it is done I am grateful. Thank you En. Effindi for providing the opportunity for me to explore this medium of expression and communication. Thank you too to my classmates who accepted me as one of their own.

dramatic movements  
dramatic movements  

a journal of my experiences and sketches from an elective course in university. Dramatic Movements is a course offered in the Cultural Cent...