Transforming for theatre: Acting 101 with the pros

Adrian Pang, Neo Swee Lin, Selma Alkaff and Nikki Muller
Adrian Pang, Neo Swee Lin, Selma Alkaff and Nikki Muller
11 Mar 2015

Adrian Pang, Neo Swee Lin, Selma Alkaff and Nikki Muller

Photos: Tammi Tan
Videos: Tay Yixuan

If you’ve ever wondered what happens in an acting class (or, as FLY Entertainment multi-hyphenate Nikki Muller mentioned, “Why your thespian friends are so eccentric”), then Pangdemonium’s Circle Mirror Transformation is the play to see.

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright Annie Baker, the production centres on an eclectic ensemble of strangers who join a drama class run by archetypal “earth mother” Marty, played by veteran actress Neo Swee Lin. Joining her in the cast are Nikki as disillusioned actress Theresa, Adrian Pang as shy divorcee Shultz, Daniel Jenkins as gregarious teacher James, and fresh theatre graduate Selma Alkaff as misfit teen Lauren.

“Each character is full of weird idiosyncrasies and flaws, and audiences will relate to them very easily,” said Adrian during our interview with four of the stars (Daniel was unavailable) at the Pangdemonium office yesterday.

In Circle Mirror Transformation, which opens on January 29, audiences will be entertained by the myriad of theatre games actors really partake in during their training sessions. One such activity is communicating in gibberish while making the exchange sound like an actual conversation, as Adrian and Nikki skilfully demonstrated using only the words “ack mack” and “goulash”.

All this talk about acting classes had the stars reminiscing about their days back in drama school, particularly Selma, who graduated from School of the Arts (SOTA) last November and is making her professional debut with this play. The 18-year-old won the role after taking part in auditions held at her academy.

“We were doing a ‘focus exercise’ [where participants lie very still on the floor in order to clear their minds and relax their bodies] and all of a sudden… (makes snoring noises)” she recounted, as her seniors chuckled at the anecdote.

Adrian, too, had a similar – albeit cruder – experience during his days at ARTTS International in England, except instead of heavy breathing, it was something more, er, aromatic, as demonstrated by the obnoxious sound that came from his mouth that was meant to replicate a fart.

Well now, it appears that acting (and learning to act) really isn’t as glamorous as everyone thinks it is.

Pangdemonium’s Circle Mirror Transformation runs from 29 January to 15 February at DBS Arts Centre. Tickets are priced at $30 and $40 for the preview shows on 29 and 30 January, and from $40 to $55 for other shows, and are available on SISTIC. Stay tuned for our upcoming giveaway!

Ever wanted to take part in an acting class for yourself? Well, we brought the next best thing to you, by getting the stars of Pangdemonium’s Circle Mirror Transformation to dish out tips on how to nail a variety of emotions. Click on for more:

WATCH: Why does Neo Swee Lin have to watch out for Adrian Pang?

WATCH: The cast of Circle Mirror Transformation are here to teach you acting

Adrian Pang
Adrian Pang
11 Mar 2015

Adrian Pang

To play a psychotic villain… do your research

After his spine-chilling portrayal of a child killer in Pangdemonium’s last project Frozen, Adrian was a natural choice to demonstrate the fine art of turning into a deranged psycho à la Hannibal Lecter or The Joker.

Upon hearing of our challenge, Adrian immediately raided the props closet and came out with a gruesome bloodied dummy head, which was used in another play years ago, to aid with his little skit (remember to watch the video here).

“The key to being a psycho is to not be aware that you’re a psycho, because if you know you are a psycho, then you probably aren’t one,” said Adrian (did you guys follow that?).

On a more in-depth and serious note, Adrian stands by his practise of doing as much homework and research as he can in order to make the character as real as possible, rather than adhering to a stereotypical trope.

“To portray any kind of character, let alone something as extreme as a psycho, requires you to find the absolute truth in him, and why this individual behaves the way he does,” he explained. “By finding some kind of humanity to the character and not making him one-dimensional, you have an opportunity to make the audience see him in another light, or even like him and root for him. Then, you would have successfully created a well-rounded villain.”

Nikki Muller
Nikki Muller
11 Mar 2015

Nikki Muller

To play a seductive temptress… take it slow and be subtle

She may be more known for her hosting chops and has a modest acting resume, but Nikki, who dabbled in acting classes in high school before going on to tackle Broadcast Journalism at Boston’s Emerson College, was an absolute pro when she dished the do’s and don’ts of playing sexy.

Naming Angelina Jolie as a classic example of seductiveness (both onscreen and off), Nikki cited the way the Hollywood screen siren exudes a quiet but discernible confidence in her scenes as what makes her effectively sexy.

“It’s all about the eyes, puckering your lips a little bit, and speaking and moving very slowly,” she said. “Don’t strut from one end of the room to the other – just float.”

Another trick is something most women are already privy to: your wardrobe. “It’s funny how the right clothes can make you feel seductive. If you’re in a baggy shirt it might be a little more difficult to get into character, so you should wear something that makes you feel sexy.”

(Continued on next slide)

Nikki tries with all her might to distract poor Pangdemonium employee Tim
Nikki tries with all her might to distract poor Pangdemonium employee Tim
11 Mar 2015

Nikki tries with all her might to distract poor Pangdemonium employee Tim

Her candid presentation of how to fail at being sexy, on the other hand, was a performance of epic proportions (that was gloriously caught on tape). Employing a Pangdemonium staff member as her “co-star”, Nikki writhed around on his desk – and on him – in ways that would make Nicki Minaj blush. Needless to say, her hapless and indifferent target kept his eyes glued to the computer (someone give him an Oscar already!).

In conclusion, shaking your behind in someone’s face and belting out George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ while draped across their lap probably isn’t the best way to bring sexy back. Keep it subtle.

Neo Swee Lin
Neo Swee Lin
11 Mar 2015

Neo Swee Lin

To fake sobbing in despair… get into the mood of misery

With a long and illustrious career under her belt, it’s no surprise that Swee Lin is able to seamlessly transition from a bright smile to bawling.

“First, you think of something really sad,” – her face already starts to contort – “And if you still don’t feel it, just cover your face with your hands,” she exhibited as she broke down into full-blown sobs, then regained composure once more. “A film director also once taught me to bite my lip, then make a tragic expression.”

When it comes to making actual tears stream down her face, Swee Lin admits to having difficulties with getting that, at least in front of a camera. “On stage I don’t have a problem because you have a build-up, but on screen you have to do it on command, which I cannot.”

However, once the right environment and atmosphere is created and Swee Lin is able to plant herself in her poor character’s shoes, she is good to go. She also added that age has made it easier to cry on cue: “Now that I’m a bit older, I’ve lived through more sorrow, and I’m pre-menopausal, so the hormones help. (laughs)”

Selma Alkaff
Selma Alkaff
11 Mar 2015

Selma Alkaff

To act utterly terrified… bring your worst fears to mind

The first thing Selma thought of when bringing up an example of something that “makes you feel petrified” was not something predictable like bugs or being burned alive, but her primary school Malay teacher.

“I shake with fear when I remember her looking at me and asking where my Peribahasa (Malay proverbs) homework is,” Selma declared dramatically, unleashing a terrifying scream that would make her school proud.

One tip the fresh-faced up-and-comer divulged to achieve full fearful efficacy is to not be self-conscious of how one looks when they’re cowering in pure horror. “It’s [a mistake] I’ve made as well, being self-conscious instead of focusing on my character and doing my job as an actor, but my drama teachers told me to stop thinking so much and just do what I’m supposed to do, and trust my director.”

Transforming for theatre: Acting 101 with the pros
Transforming for theatre: Acting 101 with the pros
11 Mar 2015

Transforming for theatre: Acting 101 with the pros

The cast gives us a glimpse of some of the silly games they will be playing in the show.

Transforming for theatre: Acting 101 with the pros
Transforming for theatre: Acting 101 with the pros
11 Mar 2015

Transforming for theatre: Acting 101 with the pros

The cast sits around for a game with director Tracie Pang.

Transforming for theatre: Acting 101 with the pros
Transforming for theatre: Acting 101 with the pros
11 Mar 2015

Transforming for theatre: Acting 101 with the pros

According to Adrian, he was being extra dramatic for our cameras, but we don't doubt he'll show this level of outrageousness during the actual play.

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