Work experience student Jazelle Lin reflects on her week observing rehearsals for Golden Shield.
In The Devil Wears Prada, Andy lands a magazine position “a million girls would kill for” and embarks on a professional adventure through the world of fashion. I recently spent a week doing that at Melbourne Theatre Company: exploring behind the glamorous facade, digging into the core of a play with the playwright, director, and actors, and received a free ticket to see another MTC play. And there’s no devil, only angels. Angels who share their wisdom, insight, experience, time... and cakes and cookies!
I spent most of my time in the rehearsal room, observing the development of Golden Shield, an MTC NEXT STAGE original by playwright Anchuli Felicia King. Like any unfamiliar situation, it’s easy to feel out of place when you ﬁrst come to a new environment, even if everyone is down-to-earth and friendly. I soon realised that it is okay to be afraid, as long as I don’t chicken out. In fact, thinking back on it now, that awkward phase before everything makes sense was actually the optimum time for perceiving my surroundings. It’s like jumping into the swimming pool: the ﬁrst few seconds are freezing cold, and your body feels lighter, but then you just get used to it, and those feelings fade. It’s the same in the rehearsal room. In the beginning, I was very much aware of the roles that each person plays, the tensions between different characters in the script, and the interactions of the whole team. I highly value my awareness of it, because it would be so easy to take everything for granted. Understanding the different professions takes time and effort, and having a chance to discern the overlapping and the distinctive roles of the creative team elevates my appreciation of theatre as a whole. I took note of subtle changes in the rehearsal process that either interested or confused me, wrote my own thoughts on them, and waited for further chances to explore over the next few days.
The Voice and Dialect Coach, Geraldine Cook-Dafner, brought up a similar idea to me during the rehearsal of Golden Shield, in which there is a scene containing both English and Chinese dialogue. Her job was to listen to the emotions in the actors’ voices, guide them to adjust to the right accents, and act as the “audience”. What she meant by being the audience was to disregard all she knew of the script, and concentrate on the actors’ delivery. In doing so, she could view and hear things from the audience’s perspective. Geraldine explained this concept through a line in the script which includes the Chinese word “愛”, which means "love", and has an identical pronunciation with the English word “I”; thus, it is her job to help the audience to differentiate the two. As a native Chinese speaker who is also learning English, this immediately makes sense to me because my brain automatically rationalised the sentence. However, translation is a crucial theme in the play and without Geraldine’s help, the play might lose some of its charm.
Jazelle Lin (centre) with the Golden Shield company
Generally speaking, it is not necessary for a playwright to be in the rehearsal room, but I was extremely lucky to have Felicia and the chance to talk to her individually. During my week at MTC, one of the most important skills that I gained is the ability to ‘read the room’. Everyone is busy, of course, but you can always ﬁnd the right time if you pay attention to the atmosphere of the room.
Felicia happened to be the person that I talked to the most. To be honest, she was like the cool sister that I never had – Felicia would jump off her chair and sit on the ﬂoor with me. She was open to discussing her script and was willing to hear my interpretations of her work, giving me feedback, and prompting more questions. Having the opportunity to meet someone who is close to your age, who was at one stage in a similar position, and seeing her talking through her cultural background and how that makes who she is today, made me feel grounded. I appreciate it a lot.
The conversation with Sophie Ross, who plays Amanda in Golden Shield, also made a strong impression on me. She taught me what it means to be an artist and why I should stay open to different possibilities, to recognise what drives your interests, and not limit your studies. Art is fascinating because we all have different elements to add – it’s like alchemy, you never know what will come up next.
Ahead of my work experience, I thought I would learn more about the technical side of theatre. Well, people say that life is like a play, but my week at MTC taught me that life is more than that. To live is to be present in life – to acknowledge your vulnerability and strengths – and that is what makes a good play.
Golden Shield plays at Southbank Theatre from 12 August. Book now.
Published on 30 July 2019