Friday, April 21, 2006

Testing Wan, To, Pee (Part 2)

That familiar feeling of anxiety hit me as I looked up at the architectural piece of grandeur. After been left stranded at the Sentul KTM station for a significant enough time due to the sort of Malaysians that do not comply to the selfless joy of waiting in line for a cab, the restless feeling of unpreparedness and tardiness was at an all-time high.

But at last I was here. I ran up to the third floor of the KL Performing Arts Centre, towards the steady thumping of a muffled song. I turned to my right at the top of the staits and pushed a heavy door into a wide open space. Pat the choreographer was in the centre of the room and facing the mirrored wall to my right, surrounded by several burly men trying their best to imitate her moves to raw, synthesized beats. Behind me, a handful of girls lined the wall, fervently analyzing loose pages of script. To my left, seated in the same manner as they were on audition day, were the playwrights, director Joe and his wife Faridah.

I tiptoed over to their table and apologized for my delayed arrival. Faridah smiled the smile that could end all wars. Joe passed me a few script sheets and I joined the other girls by the wall. The one next to me introduced herself to me as Rachel, a modest bespectacled young lady. I looked over her shoulder at the one woman whom I had expected as classic competition: the one with the fairness of white bone china, the hair of a silken black waterfall, the smile of virginal innocence, the grace of the penultimate oriental princess.

Naturally, she snubbed my lowly presence.

Rachel said I missed out on a bit of choreography earlier, but Pat ran through the moves with me again and the other girls joined in. Padding circles on the floor with chinese fans fluttering in our right hands, we were to epitomize the chicks of the cheongsam. Initially I was a little clumsy with the fan and the swaying of my hips, but I got the hang of both after a few more tries. We then did a dance together with the men, a cultural-style dance to an upbeat number, complete with flowing fingers which my rusty joints found a little extreme to emulate.

"For the girls trying out for the role of Mei Ling, please come to the keyboard," Joe then announced. Four of us stepped forward.

Jan the pianist was ready at her keyboard in a corner of the room, and Joe distributed some music score sheets, samples from two songs written for the musical. "Can you all read music?" Joe asked. The three other girls responded gleefully as my face drained itself of all color. "Don't worry, you'll pick up the tunes as we go along," Joe assured me. Jan ran through the tunes one or twice, and we were to follow: twice altogether, then one by one. I was only vaguely familiar with the lines and dots dancing across the paper, a distant memory of my nimble-fingered years on the piano.

Rachel sang like a nightingale.

The oriental princess sang with a voice caught on a summer breeze.

The third girl placed her score sheet down, closed her eyes, and sang as though she had burst into a Sarah Brightman number the moment she popped out of her mother's womb.

It was then it was the retard's turn: the only one who, of all the luck bestowed upon her, had obviously no form of vocal training whatsoever. I opened my mouth and my vocal box grated itself against the back of my neck. I tripped over my words. I was done for.

"Davina, can you try it again please?" Joe asked politely.

I did so, and the wonderful man nodded with sufficient-enough approval.

The final session was the line-reading with the other actors. "Oh my god, my pronounciation is so bad! I don't think I'll do well..." Rachel lamented in a panicky whisper. I rubbed her shoulder to calm her down as the first girl ran through the lines together with Kopitiam actor Douglas Lim, who portrayed the main protagonist. She was confident, her local Chinese accent permeating her watery voice like a potent teabag. Princess was up next. She spoke slowly and clearly, if not softly. Rachel then took a meek step forward. Her lips were cautious, her voice uncertain, but there was an audible strain of elegance. I was the last to go. One of the excerpts was the same one given to me for the audition, except now it felt more relieving to be interacting with the actual character. My stomach squeezed the space out of my lungs as I spoke in the moment of zest.

And then it was finally over.

Joe sighed and said he had a lot of thinking to do, which he had to do quickly so as to inform of us of our luck, or lack of it, to participate in rehearsals next month. He thanked us all and we were dismissed, the sparks of silent rivalry made apparent in the steely goodbyes as we left the building.

I received a call less than two weeks later.

"Hello Davina, this is Faridah."

My brain took a while to shake itself out of weekday afternoon mundanity.

"...OH! Faridah! Hi!"

"Davina, Davina, Davina. The trouble you put us through..." She chortled dryly before continuing. "Davina, we have thought a LOT about our final decision, and we thought you would be great for the lead female role..."

Oh my gosh. What an honor. It would be my pleasure, Ms. Merican. I don't know how the heck I'm going to handle it but by golly gee there is no way in hell that I shall intend to dissappoint you.

"BUT! But... But."

Oh, that's fine Ms. Merican, ma'am. It was an honor to be even considered. Thank you so very kindly. Getting as far as I did was more than I could ever ask for and I shall definitely continue striving for higher heights.

"We have decided to put you into the chorus group instead."

"...The... chorus group?"

"The ensemble. Consisting of ten men and ten women. You're very pretty, and you move well too, so we think you'd be great."

I deposited an unexpected pause.

"Can I get back to you in a day?"

"Sure, just email me by tomorrow then. If not, then we'll just move on to the next person..."

For the past few weeks I had geared myself up in 'all or nothing' mode, so to settle for something in between was a command too imcompatible to mentally compute. I plummeted down a well of dissapointment and self-pity, my ego dropping to the floor and kicking itself round in circles like a spoiled child.

I was so close.

I slept with a smattering of dread in five-minute intervals. Sacrificing a third of my year to offering minimal services to a production, cumulative days of waiting at the train stations and taxi stands, spending countless evenings pouring my prized energy into a forgettable cameo, at the expense of my health, my job, my social life and ultimately my sanity... was it going to be worth it?

I opened my eyes groggily the next morning, turned on my phone and opened a new text response to my dilemma:

Honey, you may know your body's limits, but you wouldn't know if you'd be able to cope until you've given it a shot. What's really crucial right now, is to ask yourself if this is one break you've been longing for in your pursuit to perform. However little your role might be, you're still working with the best show directors in the country - and people of their calibre, always take the smallest things seriously. Who knows dear, they might discover your capabilities in a different light. But you have to try at least.

That familiar feeling of anxiety hit me as I looked up from my monitor screen to see my boss stride into her room this afternoon. I thought of Angeline's words of love, took a deep breath, knocked on my boss's door, and prepared myself for a serious case of déjà vu.