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Wednesday, 17 June 2015 15:28

Artistes’ Rehearsal for Dharma as Water Sutra Adaptation Performance

Written by  Yam Hoy Mun, KL & Selangor / Translated by Chong Pei Fen

The local artistes had their fourth rehearsal on May 30. Although it was just a rehearsal, Laurens Teo (from right), Mike Chuah and Remon Lim were totally into their roles. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]

On May 30, 2015, local artistes had their fourth rehearsal for the Dharma as Water sutra adaptation performance at the KL Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall. With encouragement from the co-ordinating volunteer, Chong Li Lei, eight artistes decided to try out a 30-day vegetarian diet with the hope of demonstrating the significance of deep repentance.


Appreciate the blessings of giving

Before the rehearsal commenced, the artistes divided the room into four flat mock stages using masking tapes. Without a director, they could only practise by referring to the video footage of the same performance staged by volunteers in Taiwan. After spending about three hours to complete the practice of the 15 scenes, and in order to get into the atmosphere, the 31 artistes shared their feelings and watched the volunteers practising the sign language.

Johnson Low, who is fully responsible for inviting local artistes to partake in the performance, took into consideration religious beliefs, work schedules, and so on, while executing the task. He said, “Close to 70 had verbally agreed to participate, but some rejected later citing reasons like work commitments, childbirth, health and family issues. It’s ideal to have 40, and to-date 38 had confirmed their participation.”

Johnson believed that all religions encourage the practice of repentance, which leads us to correct our wrongdoings. He said, “The Buddha has shown us the way, and we have to decide if we want to change. It’s a blessing to be given a chance to perform on such a solemn stage for the Dharma as Water sutra adaptation performance, which involved more than 4,000 volunteers.”

A tiring but rewarding journey

“Killing, stealing and sexual misconduct are common wrongdoings that we commit. I hope that the artistes can take this performance as a chance for repentance, not just another show. We must understand the role we portray, be engrossed in it and play it well. If we repent now, we will experience great changes in our lives because only by repenting can we eliminate our karmic obstacles,” said Johnson, who hopes that the artistes’ participation can bring forth positive energy and set an example for doing charity.

He added that the solemnity of the Jing Si Hall and the disposition of the volunteers exude positive energy, and some artistes are slowly influenced to try observing a vegetarian diet. Despite the foreseeable challenges to bring the artistes together, Johnson knew that nothing would be too difficult with mindfulness. He expressed, “The artistes’ high level of cooperation is the most direct reward, which brings Dharma joy that money cannot buy.”

Laurens Teo, a veteran actor currently filming in Singapore shared, “I rejected Johnson’s invitation with excuse that I had no experience in stage performance. However, I was touched by his sincerity, so I decided to learn more about it. Then I realized Tzu Chi’s sutra adaptation performance is different from other stage performances. The performers need to walk and act following some videos and tracks. Thus, I decided to partake.” He would drive all the way from his hometown in Melaka to KL Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall for rehearsals, and would always arrive earlier to avoid affecting the schedules.

Having understood the significance of the Water Repentance Text through the plot and verses, he said, “Everyone experiences greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance and doubts. Whichever role we portray, it leads us to repent.”

Self-reflection and sincere repentance

Laurens expressed his gratitude to Tzu Chi for giving the artistes a precious opportunity to take part in the sutra adaptation performance. From the scripture, he realized that being in the entertainment industry, they had been creating unwholesome karma without realizing it, and now, they are given a chance to repent.

He related that the movies or drama series that they feature often tout greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance and doubts, and instil improper lifestyle, such as, indulging in binge drinking after work. He said, “Recently, I play a recuperating patient, who wanted to eat chicken, but the wife said fish was better. I immediately requested a change in the dialogue from ‘chicken and fish’ to ‘greasy and light meals’ respectively.”

He shared, “As actors, we should not have such a mindset like ‘I am a celebrity and I am here to help Tzu Chi.’” He was deeply moved by Tzu Chi’s decision to reserve the main casts for them despite his suggestion for the volunteers to play the main casts upon learning the challenges faced by the team in scheduling a practice.

He hopes that the artistes can seize the opportunity to cultivate and reform themselves with the influence of many. He said, “If we just treat it as a show and perform superficially, how then would there be sparks and positive energy?”

Fostering good affinities with others

Mike Chuah is thankful for this opportunity, which is also his first participation in a large-scale Tzu Chi’s activity. He used to partake in Tzu Chi’s recycling activities in Puchong, but has stopped doing so due to his filming schedules. He and his wife are both Tzu Chi donating members.

He hopes that they can all appreciate the opportunity to join the performance and give their best. As much as he wished to act fully in accordance to the scripts, he was worried that he would not be able to keep up with the timing as he was unfamiliar with the mock stage. He added, “Actually, it is not a big issue to be a little off beat. But it is important to ensure that the position/location is right. There is never a second chance once you take to the stage.”

Performing together with so many local artistes for the first time, Mike was thankful for the artistes’ understanding and accommodation. He felt embarrassed that he had come unprepared, and acknowledged that he will seize this rare opportunity to perform together with them and give his full cooperation. He also promised to put in more efforts to repay the volunteers’ warm reception. He looks forward to the acceptance review by the Taiwanese team, especially their guidance, which would enable him to better portray his role soon.

Loo Aye Keng, who is occupied with the filming of a TV drama series, accepted Johnson’s invitation to partake in the performance, as she had been looking forward to such an opportunity. She said, “I wanted to take only one role, and was shocked to find out that it is a grand performance involving a few thousand people. Thus, I dare not slack off.”

One of the roles assigned to her was that of a rich lady, who loves meat. To portray that role, some background in Chinese opera is required. However, she does not even have a dancing background. She said, “Even with my experience in acting, the actions in the Dharma as Water are still challenging. What’s more I need to wave the long flowing sleeves. I feel pressured.”

Aye Keng has been practising by referring to the video footage and hopes that she could master the actions before the arrival of the Taiwanese team. She finds ways to juggle her work, family and Tzu Chi so that she will not miss the performance.

She revealed that she had participated in Tzu Chi’s Great Love Mothers’ Nurturing Class two years ago, but stopped attending after a few sessions due to work and family commitments. The sutra adaptation performance has reconnected her with Tzu Chi, and she found it incredible.

Just do what is right with a simple mind

Candyice, who participates in a sutra adaptation performance for the first time, takes five roles in the performance. She did not expect the performance to be of this scale, but is thankful for the opportunity to learn new things and improve herself.

She acknowledged that she is still polishing her acting on the exaggerated body movements. She said, “I do not memorize the script or make notes yet because I cannot feel it without seeing the real things. At this stage, I can only watch the video and count on my imagination.”

She also confessed that there are few parts in the scriptures that she could relate to, for instance, wasting food and following trend blindly. Now, she learns to order the appropriate portion of food, buy what is necessary depending on the situation and occasion, and even opt for renting costumes. She is also remorseful for her cravings for meat, and hopes to try observing a vegetarian diet for ten days.

Happy that she has learnt to be more proactive in doing good deeds, she shared, “I always worry about bothering others, but now, I will create opportunity for them to do good. For example, I took the initiative to raise funds for a charitable organization the other day, and very soon, the donation cards were fully filled up!”

Yap Qing Fong, a veteran actor known as “Uncle Fong” in the entertainment industry, accepted the five simple roles assigned to him with a grateful and simple mind. He said, “I am old now and I don’t know how much longer I will live. So I will just seize every opportunity to contribute.” Since he accepted the invitation, he has given his highest priority to the performance because he feels that it is happier to give than to receive, and hopes that he can foster positive affinities with others. With a good habit of being punctual, he is always there at the Jing Si Hall for rehearsal before the scheduled time. His dedication is indeed admirable.

Touched by the artistes’ dedication

Volunteer Chong Li Lei, who is in charge of the theatrical sketch team, was delighted that the local artistes have taken the practices seriously. Their positive response has eased her worries and stress. She also praised the artistes for their professionalism. She was especially grateful to Johnson, who has been supportive of Tzu Chi’s activities and had successfully engaged more than 30 artistes of different age groups to join the performance.

Since assuming responsibility as Artiste Coordinator in 2012, Li Lei has involved herself in backstage preparations for several musical sign language stage performances, and has been working together with Johnson. Thus, she is well aware of the challenges in planning and coordinating. She said, “I am very nervous thinking about the acceptance review by the Taiwanese counterparts from June 5 to 7, but I am confident with the performance of our local artistes. Another challenge would be the drill on the actual stage.”

Pleased to see the positive changes in the artistes over the past few months since December 2014, Li Lei said, “Some have gradually gained a deeper understanding of the significance of the performance. Although there was never a full attendance, I can tell that they have taken it seriously. The sense of responsibility and cooperation demonstrated by the veteran artistes is especially touching.”

 

Loo Aye Keng accepted the role assigned to her although she has no background in dancing. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]   Johnson Low, who is responsible for inviting the artistes to partake in the performance, hopes that they can seize the opportunity for repentance. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]

Loo Aye Keng accepted the role assigned to her although she has no background in dancing. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]
 
Johnson Low, who is responsible for inviting the artistes to partake in the performance, hopes that they can seize the opportunity for repentance. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]
 
Chong Li Lei, who is in charge of the theatrical sketch team, was happy and touched to see the artistes’ commitment. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]   Laurens Teo grasped the time to study the scripts. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]

Chong Li Lei, who is in charge of the theatrical sketch team, was happy and touched to see the artistes’ commitment. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]
 
 
Laurens Teo grasped the time to study the scripts. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]
 
Despite playing some simple roles, veteran actor, Yap Qing Fong (left) is happy to contribute what he can. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]   Candyice (right) is seen here portraying an avaricious secretary. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]

Despite playing some simple roles, veteran actor, Yap Qing Fong (left) is happy to contribute what he can. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]
 
 
Candyice (right) is seen here portraying an avaricious secretary. [Photograph by Low Mai Yin]