It took a lot of rehearsals, advice from lecturers and encouragement to play Medea, the daughter of a Greek god.
AT a university’s theatre here recently, a Sarawakian in the role of a Greek demigod is flying into the heavens. The character, Medea, is seeking revenge on her husband’s betrayal.
Music, loud and dramatic, came on cue just as palm branches fell from the three-storey high ceiling. It was a startling moment at the conclusion of the play, like the world around Medea crumbling at the height of her powers.
The audience of about 100 students and lecturers was enthralled. Everyone in the room seemed to know how rare it was to witness a Greek play in this part of the world.
The title character was played by first year Drama and Theatre programme student Renee Edina Empiang Lukut Sylvester.
After the performance, the 19-year-old told friends how nervous she was. She may have been a dancer since 14 but acting in front of an audience was a different challenge altogether.
“I was very scared. I didn’t know what to expect because I wasn’t exposed to acting growing up,” Edina, who is from Sibu, told Sarawak Metro.
“Medea is a very strong character – it’s difficult to play her. I’m no expert in family and relationship matters. I’ve never experienced such feelings before.”
In the one hour student production, her character, the daughter of a god, experiences love, scorn and anger. Medea is both heartbroken and powerful like a comic book heroine – a complex character for anyone to play.
It took a lot of rehearsals, advice from lecturers and encouragement from course mates for Edina to become the title character.
“I didn’t know that I would like acting. I wanted to be a teacher – I applied to be a teacher because I love languages – but this is the programme I was offered,” she said.
“Learning acting, being involved in drama, I think I’ve grown to be more open-minded. The thing that surprised me was becaming more responsible as a person because of drama. I learnt simple but difficult things like strict time management. People think drama is, you know, ‘just drama’,” Edina added.
Dr Nur Afifah Vanitha Abdullah is a senior lecturer at the Performing Arts and Production Technology Department at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak. For Medea, she told students to take the Greek text and incorporate Sarawakian elements.
The actors and actresses wore local indigenous pua kumbu costumes. The fight and dance choreography included ngajat, silat and wushu elements. The students were told to be experimental and theatrical. Dramatic devices like smoke machines were used alongside falling palm leaves.
For Afifah, there are profound life lessons and universal values to be learnt from the stage. Shesaid she was refreshingly frank on the programme and student expectations.
Afifah said she was fine with the fact most of her students probably did not sign up for drama and theatre as their first choice for university.
“People don’t always end up working the kind of jobs that they graduated from university in. For my drama students, I hope they learn to think critically. I hope they learn values through their characters. I want them to learn and grow as individuals through the programme,” Afifah said.
On Medea, which ran for three nights, she said it met her expectations but was not great. The students would be passing but not with flying colours. Afifah said she expected students to work hard to earn their degrees.
Students like Edina reflected that mindset. When asked about her initial choice of study and drama, she had no qualms admitting drama was actually her second last choice in her university application.
“My ambition was to be a teacher but I was offered this. I did some research after I got the offer and thought, OK, I’ll try it. Since I’ve learnt it’s beyond just drama. It’s really difficult to put up stage shows. For our next project, I’m going to be the stage manager. I think I’ll enjoy the hecticness of management,” Edina said.
Was she thinking about a career in the arts eventually? “It depends. There is a future in drama especially in Peninsular Malaysia. I have two more years to go. Or maybe I can be a lecturer, not just a teacher. Who knows?”