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Why the Mahabharata
Designing the production
Ready, set, stage
Time taken : >15mins
What is the Mahabharata? Why the Mahabharata? In episode 1 of this behind-the-scenes series, Dr Nidya Shan guides you in examining how the ancient text has acquired its unique universality through its themes and explorations, becoming an important lived tradition across several Asian cultures.
Playwright and director Chong Tze Chien is no exception, having been intrigued by the Mahabharata and its parables for decades. The seminal poem was thus the stimulus behind Kingdoms Apart, one of the opening productions for Esplanade’s Singtel Waterfront Theatre in 2022. Written and directed by Chong, the three-hour play is a contemporary reimagining of the longest epic poem in world literature about war, politics and family feuds.
Independent research practitioner: Dr Nidya Shanthini Manokara
Director/Playwright: Chong Tze Chien
Actors in this episode: Ghafir Akbar, Jean Ng, Lian Sutton
How do different creative elements come together for a theatre production? In this episode, we speak with the designers and artists from various departments—set design, multimedia, puppets, hair and make-up—about their creative process and how they built on or complemented one another’s ideas for Kingdoms Apart.
The long-drawn pre-production planning culminated in a whirlwind bump-in month in the Singtel Waterfront Theatre at Esplanade, which had officially opened in October 2022. A luxury for most theatre productions, the month-long bump-in finally had all the designers in the same “pressure cooker”, working together in real time with the production crew and director/playwright Chong Tze Chien, to integrate every creative detail into the theatrical narrative. The production ran from 23 – 27 November 2022.
Set Designer: Eucien Chia
Associate Set Designer: Grace Lin
Multimedia Designer: Koo Chia Meng
Puppetry & Props Designer, Puppetry Training Consultant: Myra Loke (The Finger Players)
Hair Designer: Ashley Lim
Makeup Designer: Bobbie Ng
Actors: Ghafir Akbar, Brendon Fernandez, Matt Grey, Anne James, Neewin Hershall, Loong Seng Onn, Futoshi Moriyama, Farez Najid, Jean Ng, Edith Podesta, Lian Sutton & Vadi PVSS
Puppeteers: Jo Kwek & Vanessa Toh
It takes a village to bring a theatre production together. This episode takes you further backstage and also back in time, to when the production Kingdoms Apart was first conceived. Technical Director Kenny cycles through some of the solutions that were conceived for this three-hour play to bring to life as much of the director’s vision as possible. Producers Joyce and Michele share the process of bringing a new work from concept to script, while Stage and Production Managers Carolene and Dan Fong speak about managing an ensemble cast of diverse ages, nationalities and languages.
Kingdoms Apart is a theatre production commissioned by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay that was staged in November 2022. It was one of the first performing arts presentations to open the Singtel Waterfront Theatre, a new multi-format theatre at Esplanade. Based on the seminal text the Mahabharata and staged in the round, this multi-language play was written and directed by established Singapore director Chong Tze Chien. Kingdoms Apart included elements of multimedia and puppetry, and was performed by an ensemble cast comprising actors of several different nationalities.
Technical Director, The Esplanade Co Ltd: Kenny Wong
Production Manager, The Backstage Affair: Lam Dan Fong
Stage Manager, The Backstage Affair: Carolene Ruth Liew
Producer, The Esplanade Co Ltd: Joyce Yao
Producer: Michele Lim
Director/Playwright: Chong Tze Chien
Script Translator: A Yagnya
Movement Trainer: Pallavi Sharma
Theatre Made is a three-part series that takes you behind the scenes of how a production goes from idea to stage, illustrated through the development, staging and performance of Kingdoms Apart, an intercultural theatre work commissioned by Esplanade.