PETALING JAYA, Feb 26 — It may not be the first thing that comes to mind but creating a set that draws the audience into the world of the characters is a crucial component in theatre.
In Gold Rain and Hailstones, the upcoming Instant Café Theatre restaging of the beloved Jit Murad play, set designer Melissa Teoh has been given the task of creating that world.
Teoh joined the team right after director Gavin Yap and producer Jo Kukathas decided to stage the play about Amy, who returns to Malaysia after living abroad for years when her father is taken ill and, in the process, is faced with confronting issues of identity, culture and belonging.
“We will see ourselves in one of these characters. Even if you haven’t lived abroad, most of us have been abroad.
“As Malaysians, we always have this thinking of whether we will fit in so when I did the initial sketch, I asked myself ‘How do I subtly represent that on stage?” said Teoh, who has been doing set design for the last 15 years.
The plot is certainly one she can relate to, having studied and worked in the United States for a decade before coming home to Malaysia.
After majoring in directing and production at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles, California, Teoh joined the Furious Theatre Company, which had a space at The Pasadena Playhouse, and also worked at Smothers Theatre, a performing arts centre in Malibu.
“Then I came back to Malaysia because I missed nasi lemak,” Teoh said.
“I guess I never had the intention to apply for a green card or permanent residency and I thought it would be better to leave early than leave later.”
Comparing her experience in LA and here, sourcing for items in Malaysia isn’t easy given the lack of choices.
Essentially, getting a set that works well comes down to what a designer can achieve within the parameters of the play’s budget and stage space.
“There are a lot of challenges and limitations that designers face increasingly, one being budget and available venues, and we are also restricted by measurements.
“Ultimately, what you decide to do with the set should first and foremost have to do with what the story is about and then from there, what are the technical and financial challenges that come,” said Teoh, who is also producing the play.
For Teoh, the qualities of a good set are one that is in line with the director’s vision, speaks something of the play, provides adequate play space for the characters and works along well with lighting and multimedia and costume.
She told Malay Mail designing the set for Gold Rain and Hailstones has been one of the more challenging sets she has worked on.
The play involves multiple locations and has around 17 scenes with actors taking on multiple roles.
“Jit writes in a way where things are very fluid so when you watch the play, you’re not going to see a blackout and then the scene changes — each scene flows into the next.
“So what do we do with the set if I’m going from someone’s apartment to an office to a supermarket? How do you weave those things together without those in-between breaks?”
She added that it was also important to ensure the setting is current as the play was written more than 20 years ago.
One of the most difficult things a set designer will encounter, said Teoh, is sourcing for furniture and props.
She usually rents furniture but this time, furniture companies Janine and Gudang have come in as sponsors, easing the burden.
“We are so happy Janine and Gudang are also sponsoring a lot of the item we are using on stage,” said Teoh.
She revealed that a basic set without furniture and props in a space like the Damansara Performing Arts Centre can range within RM15,000 and RM20,000.
Amazingly, sponsoring furniture for a play is a first for established home furnishing companies like Janine and Gudang.
“Normally, if people ever ask to borrow anything or loan things, I usually say no,” said Janine and Gudang managing director Karina Merican.
But after meeting Jo at a party and learning that the play needed funding, Karina warmed up to the idea and thought it would be fun to have a few of her furniture on stage.
“We figured it is our sector of customer and we wanted to reach out to the new generation that’s coming through,” said Karina.
Gold Rain and Hailstones will be staged at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) from March 1 until March 10.
Tickets are priced at RM50 and RM65, available at DPAC. Alternatively, call 03-4065 0001 or 03-4065 0002 to purchase.
You can also become an Instant Patron of the Arts by purchasing a Golden Ticket.
Priced at RM150, a Golden Ticket lets you choose the best seats in the house and is available at DPAC or by emailing [email protected].
For more details about Gold Rain and Hailstones, visit here.
Malay Mail is media partner for the play.