A verbatim performance with original music about Third Culture Kids and the questions their between-cultures experiences pose.
INTERVIEWS & TRANSCRIPTIONS
15 interviews were conducted between June and September 2018, culminating in 18 hours of source material.
The first interviews were transcribed by original company members, Ethan, Jiun, and Kevin, before we realised we were unable to trascribe fast enough to give ample time to the writing process.
We used third party transcription company, Scribie, to complete our transcriptions.
From Interviews to Workshop
As transcriptions were completed, they were placed in a tabbed binder, alphabetical by interviewee first name.
I spent the months of September through November reading the transcription and pulling text based on what I found interesting, what I resonated with as a TCK, as well as contrasts and parallels I found across the interviews.
The first draft was completed in December 2018. The second draft was completed in January, shortly before the workshop period and the third draft was completed in February, as we moved into rehearsal.
From Rehearsals to Performance
Four more drafts were created over the course of rehearsals. I have highlighted three of them,
Draft 5: I was reluctant to write myself into the script at first but for this draft, based on advice from Joanna Settle, I wrote in a character based off of my own experiences. This was necessary to complete the thematic arch of the show in scene 3 and tie together any loose ends.
Draft 6: Following the draft showcase, I realized that some of the characters were left distant at points in the script. I re-arranged some of the lines and brought in a couple of new text selections.
Draft 7: Following Lina's departure, I cut the three characters she was playing. This forced me to make some minor amendments to text arrangement and transitions, bring in a new text selection to Scene 1, and give some of Lina's text to the other characters.
Kevin Ke (Assistant Director) and Tan Tzy Jiun (Performer), long-time collaborators of mine, joined the project in June. I asked Lily Khamizan (Stage Manager) to come on board shortly after our initial collaboration in Fornes. I held auditions in December, with the intention of creating a company that worked together both in the room and outside of it. Mary Collins (Music, Performer), Tori Mondello (Performer), and Kyle Adams (Executive Designer) joined the company at this time.
At the time, I was writing a play for four performers and, having failed to find what I needed in auditions, I decided to hold a second round of auditions in early February.
The company dynamic was vital to the success of the project.
Collaboration with Mary Collins
I began my collaboration with Mary by outlining my vision for the play's four songs and providing the source material which she would write from. This source material included speeches from Donald Trump and Theresa May, as well as the interviews which were not being used as character source material.
After the first draft of the first three songs, we decided the cut the Trump song and replace it with a reprise of the opening song. The Trump song was the weakest of the drafts and a reprise promised to fit better with the thematic arch of the show.
The final song was the last song to be written and the only one not to use source material. It was written as a reaction to the piece, to close up some of the ideas we were tacking in the third scene.
Two-week exploratory period
In February, we entered a two-week workshop period consisting of lab exercises, script reads, and Viewpoints training.
The intention of this period was to create a common language within the company, develop the script, and freely experiment with form.
During one workshop we experimented with earpieces. The performers conducted interviews with each other and performed a 30-second segment of that interview. An example of this work can be seen in the video below. Because of this experiment, I decided on a more actor centric-style of performance.
Another discovery made during this period was the character spaces. The workshop period allowed us to take risks, without fear of losing rehearsal time. These experiments helped me understand which direction I wanted to take the script and production in.
In February, following the January break, we released a casting call for South Asian and MENA actors. Despite initial interest, only two people auditioned, one of whom was later told by a parent they should not accept the role I offered them. Lina joined the company at this time.
Week 1 - 3
The first weeks of the process were dedicated to the development of performance style, design of the space, and the finalization of the script.
In the opening weeks, we spent rehearsals working scene by scene. Through this work, I began to understand the performer's relationship with the interview text. The performers were embodying the characters as themselves. They would keep their own mannerisms but would enact the text with empathy and an understanding of the character's memories.
The performers acted as designers in the company and were responsible for designing their own character spaces, which Kyle and I oversaw. We spent a few rehearsals dedicated to designing the spaces based on images we had received from the interviewees.
Week 4 & 5
Draft showcase reveals work
After the draft showcase on March 9, I began to get a clearer picture of the work that needed to be done. At this stage, the play's weakest points were the transitions. I spent much of the next week staging the moments before and after songs to ease the flow in and out. This would later develop into Mary carrying her guitar to her character spaces and preparing to play from there, rather than standing up and retrieving her guitar from the center.
Another key issue the draft showcase highlighted was the lack of connection the performers had to their characters. We spent the following weeks going through the play moment to moment, developing an understanding of what the characters were saying and what emotional consequences were connected with that.
Over spring break, I produced what I hoped would be the final draft; however, on the first Sunday back, a few hours before rehearsal I received an email from Lina, informing me she was leaving the production due to academic concerns. I quickly cotacted an individual, who showed intiial interest, to replace her but after three days of negotiating schedule this individual was unable to join the team. With only two weeks until opening night, I decided to cut Lina's characters and adjust the script accordingly.
Spacing rehearsal and beyond
The week started off with two days of spacing rehearsal in the Black Box. This gave me a better idea of my staging options and highlighted just how big the Black Box was in comparison to our rehearsal space.
This week was also the first time performers were fully off book and many of our props we had ordered online were in rehearsal for the first time. With scripts out of hand and props on set, the actors and I were able to spend time working on their relationship with the character spaces.
Rehearsals Week 7
The final rehearsal week
In the last week of rehearsals before tech, I focussed on infusing more energy into the script by running exercises like the one pictured, in which the performers are all speaking at once, fighting for Lily's attention. I also mandated that the performers always try and cut each other off, regardless of whether it made sense in the script. Through these exercises, we were able to create tighter, more engaging performances.
In this week, I also focussed on crafting key staging moments. At the start of the week, the play was too static, therefore, I purposely created moments in which the performers were forced to move. One example of this is Mary's performance of Sadaf's family, in which I made her stand and create specific stances and gestures for each sub-character in the sequence.
The world comes to life
Tech week began with load-in on Sunday, April 14 and culminated with an invited dress rehearsal on Wednesday, April 17.
The process was surprisingly smooth and stress-free. The most notable change during the opening days of tech was a re-arrangement of the floor plan to better complement the staging I had developed since Lina's departure.
After the dress rehearsal, however, I cut the EU flags from the third song because they were taking attention away from the lyrics. This forced us to spend the later part of the evening restaging the song. Another change that occurred after the dress rehearsal was the inclusion of a black-out. I had been reluctant to cue a blackout because I thought it would introduce a divide between audience and performer but without it, the ending was confusing.
Three shows across two days
On Our Borders premiered in the Black Box at the NYUAD Arts Center on April 18, 2019. This was followed by two performances on April 19. Just short of 100 audience members experienced the play.
I was most satisfied with the final performance. It was the tightest of the three and kept consistently high energy throughout.
A video of the third performance can be found below.
THE FUTURE OF ON OUR BORDERS
On Our Borders continues its development. The 30-minute production will be expanded into a full-length play after I conduct additional interviews, review and add unused source material, and continue collaborating with Mary on further songs. The play will also be re-written for a universal audience, re-focussing its attention on migration’s relationship with community, nationalism, and globalization.