Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Prison Within: A Musical by Diploma in Social Sciences students

After 3 months of intense preparation, 52 Year 2 Diploma in Social Sciences (Social Work) students, including myself, finally staged our first musical production: The Prison Within, as part of our Communication & Public Education module!

The musical, a collaboration between NYP and CARE Network’s Yellow Ribbon Project, aimed to promote greater public support for the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders into our society.

 The Prison Within was a musical drama specially crafted to raise awareness of not only the trauma and stigma an ex-offender has to live with, but also focused on what the families of ex-offenders go through; as well as how an individual’s incarceration can affect the communication and dynamics within a family, and even outside the family.

To stage this production successfully, we had to learn the ropes of stage performance from our dedicated team of professionals from the arts scene: Peggy Ferroa (director), Cathy Kee (assistant director and choreographer), Ayda Noor (production stage manager), Ben Wong (vocal trainer) and August Lum (music arranger).  Some of the professionals have experience working with ex-offenders and were thus able to guide us well into portraying the emotions of our characters perfectly! We also had a lot of guidance from our lecturers Saraswathi Raja Krishnan and Jocelyn Tan.

For example, Peggy and Cathy have rich experience working with offenders through rehabilitation programs involving arts and drama. They gave valuable inputs during the preliminary stages of the musical, and vividly described the emotions ex-offenders go through for the leads to understand their character, and thus depicting their personas well. August arranged the music to suit our vocal ranges, while Ben taught us how to sing professionally. Ayda brought life to the stage sets by working with the sound and light crew to create an appropriate ambience for the audience, and helped us obtain and design the props and panels that were necessary to make our sets as real as possible.

We had the pleasure of working with two guest stars too - Catherine Sng and Amy Cheng! Through the experience of working alongside them, we managed to gain some valuable practical tips in stage arts.
 Catherine Sng in action (holding the umbrella)

 Amy Cheng (in red blouse)

Our work with professionals in the industry meant higher expectations of our team; furthermore, we were sincere in trying to let our message to reach our audiences’ hearts, for them to internalize the values we are trying to impart. Hence, the production crew worked extremely hard! During our term, we rehearsed for 2 hours about 3 to 4 times a week. Whereas during our two-week term break, we had rehearsals that lasted from 11am to 6pm! Not to forget, on the last few days leading up to the event’s execution, we had rehearsals lasting from 11am to 9pm!

Rehearsing in Class

Although our entire Year 2 cohort was involved, there were only 15 people acting. All of us were split into 5 teams – Sponsorship, External Liaisons, Money, Videography, Photography and Documentation (MVPD- my team), Publicity, and Logistics. It wasn’t an easy job planning the whole production from scratch. Some of the things we had to do included finding sponsors for our goodie bags, equipment, panels, linking up with external agencies (SACA, CARE Network, etc), documenting the process of our musical, budgeting, promoting the musical, handling logistics and equipment, and more. As such, no one in our cohort was given the slack! Special mention should go to the 15 actors, who were required to act and handle our team duties- tough work!

the team

17 Jan 2015: The Day of the Musical!

We hit our targeted number 1, 200 attendees!  Our publicity team did such a wonderful job that we were oversubscribed by more than 200 seats!

The musical opened with a popular song: “The lazy song” by Bruno Mars.  Sung by the talented main cast, it got the audience wanting more! “The Lazy Song” transited to the high energy “We’ll be alright” by Travie McCoy. This was the part where the side cast, who were all acting as the leads’ classmates, started to run up on stage!

We tried our best to hype up the audience with our choreo!

The lead actors were all eloquent and expressive. They were a truly talented bunch, all of whom could sing wonderfully!  Often, when their vocal training was in progress, I would feel enchanted by their angelic voices!
 Talented people, with great voices

After which, the story got into motion. The Prison Within is a drama involving five polytechnic students and their family members. Three of the students, Charlotte, Ben and Aliyah, have family members who were ex-offenders and the story chronicles how the five of them came up with a school project to reach out to youths in similar situations.

Charlotte found out that her mum was convicted of a company fraud many years ago and is in distress over this issue; she always thought that even without her father, they were a perfect family.

Charlotte’s disappointment in her mum

Ben’s big brother, Mark, was convicted at 17; Ben always looked up to his big brother and is therefore considering quitting studies and joining Mark’s gang. He believes that if he is in a gang, he will have “brothers” to protect him and his aged grandmother.

Ben and Mark - gangsters in the making unfortunately

Aliyah’s father (played by Sani, an enthusiastic volunteer) has been in and out of jail for drug consumption ever since she was five years old. After her dad was caught for taking drugs at home again, Aliyah’s mother wanted a divorce. She is afraid of the future of being in a broken family; and hates it that her dad loves drugs more than he loves his family.

Aliyah with her ex-convict dad

Eventually, the five come up with an idea of an online portal for youths, from families with ex-offenders, to share their stories. People who read these stories can comment and give words of encouragement.

 the full main cast

The audience was mesmerized by the good music, lively choreography and spectacular visuals and audio! The beautiful message of providing acceptance and support to ex-offenders and their families was communicated in a fun, engaging and often hilarious manner that I was sure made an impact on the audience who came down. I believe one day, they will think back to remember the message of this musical when they encounter people in the same plights as our characters and treat them more positively!

Discussing the project

Our Guest of Honor was Mr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman, mayor of the South East District of Singapore and a Senior Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence and National Development. He addressed the audience and also spoke to us after the event, and shared his thoughts on the beauty of social work and some takeaways he gained through his experience of over two decades. He had plenty of praise for our musical and recommended that we keep up the good work!

Mr Mohammad Maliki Bin Osman (holding the poster) was in praise for us

The experience of being a part of this whole production led me to ponder the importance of second chances and how much it means for ex-offenders to be allowed to hold their head up high again after their past mistakes. Everyone deserves a second chance, so why not ex-offenders too?

Sometimes, all they ask for is for people to trust them. Ex-offenders are often made voiceless because they are deemed as a disgrace to society. This project seeks to remove this perception. It is true that some of their mistakes cannot be erased, but isn’t it unfair that we do not give them a chance for some dignity? Ex-convicts have undergone a punishment they deserve in jail already. By completing their sentence, they have already received the rehabilitation they need. They are seeking a new start after they are released, so why are we not helping them?

Judging from the thunderous ovation we received from the audience after the musical ended, our musical was a success!

First year Physiotherapy student, Leow Hua Hui, who attended the musical, said: “The musical was very insightful because I hardly hear people talk about ex-convicts. And most awareness of ex-convicts are always filled with negativity with little showing of the repentant side of them. The musical made me consider that my friends may be in a situation like the characters as well. There should be more of such musicals around.”

As part of the cast, it is an honor to be part of this major production, especially when it is such a meaningful project! We do hope that our musical left a profound impact on our audience, and according to this review, we certainly have!

Missed the musical? Check it out here:

By Matthew Tan Ser Yung, Diploma in Social Sciences (Social Work)

Matthew is 20 and pursuing his Diploma in Social Sciences (Social Work) at NYP. He may have suffered a traumatic brain injury in a judo competition and may have lost his hopes of becoming a judo champion,  but he has found new passion and interest in writing. He is happy to share how he feels and thinks, and hopes to encourage his readers with his writing.

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