On February, the team behind Singapore Management University’s Gelar Budaya (GAYA) production celebrated another successful show, “KISAR The Turning Point”. GAYA is an arts and cultural production team supported by SMU Komunitas Indonesia (SMUKI), the community of Indonesian students at SMU. Like many Indonesian student association-backed cultural productions, each GAYA musical draws its inspiration from the archipelago’s rich collection of traditional folklore and historical events, injected with a modern twist. However, what is unique with GAYA is the diversity of its cast and crew members: in addition to SMU’s Indonesian students, they also include students from other universities, such as Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), LASALLE College of the Arts, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), and PSB Academy. Not only that, they can also include students of other nationalities.

SekolahSG spoke with four of GAYA 2017’s non-Indonesian cast and crew members to understand what attracted them to the Indonesian musical production, how they prepared for it, and what they learned about Indonesia from their experiences.

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Chia De Zhong (“But everyone calls me ‘handsome’”), Actor — Prince Suryanegara

Year 3 Corporate Communications Major, Singapore Management University
Singaporean

Why did you choose to join GAYA?

Two years ago, my classmate suggested me to audition for this Indonesian musical. At that time, I had the impression that it was a small-scale, all fun and games kind of musical. I was in the middle of a filming project and I wanted to try something on stage as a sort of renewal. When I got in, I realised how wrong I was and how serious everyone was about it. And that’s what made me love it even more.

So how long have you been with GAYA?

This is my second year with the GAYA family, and I hope it won’t be my last! There are people who have been here longer though. Shoutout to Maggie Sun who has been here for four years!

I understand that you are a Mediacorp actor. How does it feel to be part of a student production?

When I’m preparing for GAYA, I see myself as an equal, not a professional actor. It helps me take feedback and learn from others with an open mind. In fact, the directors from the past two GAYA productions had taught me quite a bit about acting in general which I can apply in my work, both onstage and on the screen.

The beauty of a student production as well is that it gives everyone a chance. It allows everyone to dream: those who want to dance professionally but have to think of his or her future financial needs, to those who want to act but are afraid to take the risk of studying full-time to be an actor.

On a less serious note, it can be quite funny sometimes seeing amateur actors act. Their rawness is adorable. And I can see how hard they work, so when time comes for the production, they can are nearly on par with professional standard.

Did you know about Cirebon before joining GAYA?

Not at all! I can count with one hand the places in Indonesia which I can recite: Jakarta, Medan, Aceh, Bintan and Batam–wait that’s in Indonesia right? Now, I also know Cirebon!

Suryanegara, unlike Mahadewi, is a real historical figure. What attracted you to play this character?

I did not choose to play Suryanegara. The directors were unsure of whether to cast me for the role of Suryanegara, or the antagonist Sambarana. During my audition I did express a preference to play an antagonist role, which would be a departure from my usual roles, but in the end, I was cast as Suryanegara. Then I realized that I get to wear the nicest costumes in the musical!

Did you do any research on Suryanegara?

Yeah. I googled him and realized that Suryanegara isn’t even King Kanoman‘s son (as portrayed in the musical)–in fact, they’re from different time periods!

From working with GAYA, did you pick up on any Bahasa Indonesia words or Indonesian culture?

“Selamat malam” means “good night”. “Saya ada kelas” means “I’m in class”. I can also sing the entire “Tanah Airku” song, and I think I know what it means now.

After being in GAYA, I developed an interest in Indonesia as a whole, so I did some reading on Indonesia’s colonial times under the Dutch; how there are so many ethnicities in Indonesia other than the Javanese; and how the Chinese Indonesians manage to assimilate so well, in a different way from how the Chinese assimilate into Malaysia or other cultures.

And one more thing: Indonesians are really laid-back; you can see it from the way they walk.

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Tanabat Sripakdee (Jo), Properties Director

Year 1 Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Singapore Management University
Thai

Why did you choose to join GAYA?

I have always been interested in theatre and cinema as art forms. I did literature in junior college, too. GAYA was a platform that I could see myself engaging in the craft further so I decided to give it a go. Also, I wanted to make new friends because GAYA is known to draw a diverse pool of people.

Are there a lot of people from your country in SMU?

There is a small number of Thai students in SMU and we have our own cultural club called “Yim Siam” (“Thai smile”). Having our own production would be really cool, but we would need a lot more Thai members who have deep knowledge about our theatre.

Why did you choose to join the properties department?

Prior to GAYA, I picked up painting as a hobby, so I thought, why not props? Since I would be painting and making stuff anyway. It was a very faint connection but the idea was that I wanted to try new things. Also, I wanted to be involved in the storytelling. Since acting was beyond me, props seemed like the appropriate path. There was a great deal of symbolism in props that contributed to the narrative.

What is your main responsibility as the director of the properties department?

My main responsibility was to materialise the words of the script. As a department, we created the world of the play that allowed the characters and their interactions to exist. Apart from that, my role involved a great deal of coordination with the members as well as other departments like dance and acting to make sure that everyone had the props they needed.

How did you conceptualise the properties?

It began with close reading of the script. Then, we conceptualised the items through discussions within the department and across departments such as with costumes since our interpretations of the script must go in tandem. Also, we turned to the directors for the final approval of our concepts.

As you worked on the properties, did you find any similarities between Indonesian and Thailand?

Yes, and no. Yes, our palaces do share common features like a throne, for example. However, I was so baffled when the directors were trying to explain a piece of prop, such as the partition in the palace, that does not exist in my culture. It was a funny but illuminating moment.

Do you know any Bahasa Indonesia words?

Because I’ve had many Indonesian friends even prior to joining GAYA, I know some Indonesian phrases like “apa” and “ini berapa”.

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Toshin Canute Sequeira (Toshin), Actor — Sambarana

Year 2 Economics and Public Policy Double Major, Singapore Management University
Indian

Why did you choose to join GAYA?

I’ve always loved acting from a young age. I acted professionally back in India and I wished to continue this in university. When I watched GAYA 2016, I was absolutely mesmerised and I knew then that I wanted to be a part of this fantastic production. As the President of SMU ICON, I work closely with the all the communities in SMU as I voice their concerns on the SMU Students’ Association Council. I loved working with the Indonesian community, and the sheer warmth that the community exudes attracted me towards GAYA even more.

Is this your first year with GAYA?

Yes, this is my first year with GAYA. However, I did provide some of the logistics for GAYA 2016 as the Assets Secretary of the SMU Students’ Association.

Are there a lot of people from India in SMU?

There are quite a number of Indian students at SMU. About 100 or so across the four years. We have an Indian Cultural Society similar to SMUKI. And although we do have something similar to GAYA, it’s on a much smaller scale. It’s an annual production called ‘Taal’ and has elements of acting, dance and singing to showcase Indian culture.

I understand that you are also the President of the SMU’s ICON. How did you balance your responsibility as a student, your activity as the president of ICON, and the GAYA rehearsals?

I think the key to managing work is the ability to plan in advance. Once I knew my schedule for GAYA, I worked other things around it. My work for ICON is pretty heavy all year round but I’m fortunate to have a brilliant team to back me up. For the academic side, I chose to only take three modules this semester so that I could try to balance everything out.

To prepare for this show, how did you research your character and the story?

I’m actually a pretty big fan of method acting. Since I knew the story was fictional, I mostly looked at historic examples so as to understand how my character was meant to look. I tried to put myself in the shoes of Sambarana who was etched to be a villain yet a character who the audience feels sympathy for. We looked at Loki from Marvel’s “Thor” movies as an example of this.

From working with GAYA, did you pick up on any Bahasa Indonesia words or Indonesian culture?

Unfortunately, I worked mostly with the acting and vocals department, both of which were pretty multiracial, so we didn’t hear much communication in Bahasa Indonesia. As for Indonesian culture, right from last year I’ve learnt to appreciate Indonesia’s rich cultural history, especially elements from when the nation was colonised. I think as I’ve mentioned earlier the most heartening thing about Indonesian culture is how hospitable and warm everyone is.

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Yashvi Moonka (Yashvi), Dancer and Welfare Director

Year 1 Accounting Major, Singapore Management University
Indian

Why did you choose to join GAYA?

I have always loved musicals and theater. When it comes to SMU, GAYA is the dream for any theater enthusiast studying here. I had asked some of my seniors about musicals by SMU and GAYA was the reply every time. One of my camp facilitators was the lead actor in GAYA 2016 and he told me that it was a wonderful experience. I had made up my mind then that I wanted to be a part of GAYA.

Is this your first year with GAYA?

This is my first year in GAYA but needless to say, I look forward to many more years of association.

You are one of the dancers at GAYA 2017 production. Was that your first time dancing?

I have been dancing since I was 11 years old, but I trained in classical Indian dance called the “Bharatnatyam”. It is very different from the styles we explored in GAYA, which made this musical a thoroughly enriching experience for me.

GAYA 2017 has a very diverse set of cast and crew members. How did it feel dancing with dancers from various backgrounds?

In our group of dancers, we had a wide range of experiences. Some had absolutely no experience in the dance form while some had been dancing for years and it came to them naturally. Every rehearsal we would spend time on learning and polishing techniques before moving on to the actual choreography. There were times when I felt I would never be able to match up and thought of quitting, but my choreographers and my friends showed their faith in me and motivated me to continue. Without them, maybe I would never have danced on stage that day.

From working with GAYA, did you pick up on any Bahasa Indonesia words or Indonesian culture? If so, what is it?

I can put on an Indonesian accent now, and from the dance rehearsals I picked up “satu, dua, tiga”. I have been to Indonesia before and found the place very beautiful. Because of GAYA, I have made great friends who are willing to take me around the breathtaking country when I travel to Indonesia again.