GEORGE TOWN, MALAYSIA – Created by the Youth Community Arts Project over a six month process, which brought together five financially needy schools from Kulim Bandar Baharu to create an arts performance, Singing to the Lions follows Alisa, a dead girl who attempts to weave her memories together to figure out what happened to her in life after it was taken by fierce lions. Over the course of the play, she reincarnates to discover a history of bullying of her friends and family, inspired by real incidents happening across Malaysia, and has to learn how to let go.
With such a dark and affecting theme, it was important for the rehearsal process to be a safe and nurturing one, with choreographer Kasvini Muniandy mentioning how all rehearsals would start with a meditation/sharing session, which was led by producer Soonufat Supramaniam. These students each came from underprivileged backgrounds, many of whom were stepping into a rehearsal studio for the first time ever. With many of them having never even spoken English when rehearsals began, it was imperative that the producers set up a safe space to nurture and care for these performers, easing them to become performance ready without pushing them too hard.
The performance begins with Alisa finding herself with a “lion” onstage, played by an actor wearing a mask. One already establishes that Alisa, dressed in white, symbolises purity and goodness, while the lion, dressed in black, suggests a streak of darkness and ill intentions. As we follow Alisa piecing together her past, we bear witness to various scenes of her facing bullying in school. As an institution designed to protect, nurture and make new friends, naturally, the proliferation of bullying all the more shocking. From being coerced into joining a gang to a death over a stolen phone, each of these acts of bullying have violent, devastating consequences. But what is perhaps most disturbing of all is the fact that most of these incidents happen as a result of the adults turning a deaf ear to the children pleading for help, where even the people one loves turn against you.
As these flashbacks come to a close, Alisa finally returns to the stage and it becomes cler that she is already in heaven. As she stands calling for her mother and back, it is finally revealed that Alisa has been missing for days when a missing report with a photo of Alisa is handed out to audience members, leaving some clearly affected as the real fear of losing one’s own child hits.The bullies featured across the flashback then return as lions, each getting bigger as they ‘devour’ their victims. Alisa no longer stands for this as she walks on them, conquering them at last.
As the cast comes together in a show of unity and strength to sing ‘This Is Me’, one is left with the realisation that above all, what is most important is to find one’s own voice and speak out against the bullies and conquer them ourselves. This project is inspiring as it shows the potential impact arts education can have on an audience and its young performers, providing a rare opportunity for self expression, and the final product is testament to how far these students have come since their humble beginning at the start of rehearsals. It honestly is moving how they’ve managed to take the arts in their stride and come up with a production that’s heartfelt, relevant and performed with gusto.
While there are some that may not believe in the show, that should not stop anyone from continuing to support such movements, a key part of the ecosystem in continuing to nurture not just a future generation of arts lovers and performers, but also to bring across urgent, highly relevant messages to all, and change the world bit by bit in its own special way.
Singing to the Lions played at the Performing Arts Centre of Penang from 23rd – 25th August 2018. The 2018 George Town Festival runs from 4th August to 2nd September around various locations in George Town, Penang. For full programme lineup and tickets, visit their website here