Can you believe our youth musical was 8 weeks ago? Does it seem like yesterday - or several holidays back? Before Christmas, while it was still fresh in minds, director Doug Brown chatted with three members of the “Once on This Island” cast about their experiences in and around the show. The lighting on Zoom wasn’t very bright, but the interviewees greatly illuminated the story of the production. Here’s a transcript of interview highlights; many thanks to Doug, Mai, Laura, and Kent, and to Carla for the show photos!
Doug: What was it like on the first performance night when the curtain went up, it was time to start, you were in costume and make up, under the lights, in front of an audience?
Mai: It was a little — actually a lot nerve-wracking. I couldn’t hear when I first came
because my heart was so … [indicates big with hands], so I just decided to stare at the wall the entire first song because it was like “If I look at anyone, I will fall down and pass out!”
Kent: I kind of did the same thing: I was nervous at the beginning but I committed to not looking at the audience.
Doug: Could you see the audience at all on Saturday night, under the stage lighting?
Kent: A little bit. And more so on Sunday afternoon with the natural light.
Laura: I agree with the nervousness, but I was also excited to see — we’d all worked so hard on this one thing. It was exciting to see how it would turn out and how we were going to do it under the pressure.
Doug: And 20 minutes in, it felt completely different, right? You were more in a groove, like in rehearsal? [Nods all around]
Doug: The first time you heard the audience react — what did that feel like?
Doug: So different from rehearsing?
Laura: Yeah, it was kind of relieving .. [laughter] like “we’re done with that!” We talked about that, and it didn't suck! [laughter]
Doug: I know from where I sat, it was really amazing to look at your faces when the curtain came up Saturday and you all came alive. It was really cool. I could tell you were no longer in rehearsal mode! How else did the performances feel different from rehearsals?
Mai: There was no joking around - I can tell you that!
Doug: Any thoughts about how the show grew during tech week [Mon - Fri PM rehearsals with lights and sound leading up to Saturday’s opening]?
Mai: That first Monday, I was like: I don’t know if we’re gonna do it. [shakes head] Mm - mm.
Kent: Yeah, I don’t think it felt complete at that point.
Laura: I was wondering how we were going to put it together; we hadn’t put the songs together all that well yet. So I wondered: during the show, are we just going to wing it? [laughs] I was kind of nervous.
Doug: The cool thing for me as a director is when I can turn over to you guys to use your brains. It was really cool when it didn’t have to come from me anymore and it came from you all. I was there to help out and troubleshoot, but you all were running the show as of that Tuesday. You knew all the stuff you needed to know, and you worked together to do it.
Doug: A deeper question: what are your thoughts about Ti Moune, and what she put her faith in, and how she lived that?
Laura: I thought it was kind of inspiring. I mean, she did die. But, she was very optimistic about love.
Mai: She definitely threw herself fully into everything she was doing.
Kent: She fully had to believe that she was going to make it across the island to the hotel. If I did it, she could do it.
Laura: Given that we were too old for children!
Doug: What about some of the ways that Ti Moune would pray or address the gods?
Mai: Like me! [Mai played the god of love] I think she had respect for all of them.
Laura: I think in a way they also respected her and believed in her. A mutual relationship.
Doug: Mai, what was it like to be one of the gods?
Mai: (jokingly) I had a very big ego for the entire show.
Doug: What do you think about the relationship among the gods?
Mai: We liked each other, on and off stage. We all fit in our categories in a sort of harmony.
Doug: I loved those Thursday afternoon sessions with the four gods. A pair of tenth graders, an eighth grader, and a sixth grader. Such different kids with such different stories. But, you all interacted so beautifully.
Doug: What did you think about the line “Faith is why we tell the story”? What did you think about doing this in a church context rather than doing it in school? As an expression of faith?
Mal: We’re all in a church for a reason. We have a particular basis of trust because of that.
Kent: A lot of us have known each other for a long time.
Doug: Did you think it was a good fit for us?
Doug: Which is interesting, because, you know, it has four gods. I know it felt like a bit of a funny fit for church for me at times.
Mai: It did feel a little funny until I heard the music.
Laura: I feel like it fit our church. It wouldn’t fit every church.
Mai: Especially with our belief that everyone is welcome.
Doug: A very inclusive show. How did the little snippets that we did as little open rehearsals during church services feel?
Mai: I think I was more nervous for those than for the actual performances.
Doug: Do you think the worship series held up?
Kent: Yeah. Definitely.
Doug: The community of youth…you knew some of the people, but you didn’t know all of them. What would you say about the transformation of the community from start to finish of the show?
Laura: I would say that we are a lot closer. In August we were still in our little groups, not talking to anyone else. There were definitely a few people not talking to anyone. During tech week, we were talking to everyone.
Kent: It gave some of the newer people a chance to fit in.
Doug: The characters kind of pushed you all together a bit. Any other thoughts?
Mai: The makeup room was genius.
Doug: Yeah, I remember asking Vicheaka what her favorite part of the show was. She said, like, hands down…the makeup. I had no idea how meaningful that would be. I thought it was just a thing you have to do. I was amazed at how much of a difference that makeup, costumes, sets, lights, and props made.
Mai: I swear. Marc turned into a different person once he had those red lights and that plastic knife.
Doug: All four of the gods embodied those roles so beautifully and so differently…in ways that I hadn’t directed. You just figured out how you were going to be those roles. And the rapport between Ti Moune and Little Ti Moune and her parents. You could really feel it in the room.
Anything that surprised you?
Laura: It kind of surprised me how well we were able to work together. I didn’t really see that coming. We had to rely on each other in those songs. We had to trust.
Doug: That was a cool moment during tech week when I said “Hey, I’m not on the stage with you. You all need to work this out together.” I had a rough road map for how the show was going to come together, but all I could really do was to teach the show the best that I could.
Mai: I was surprised that I liked it.
Doug: What’s it like to listen to a Once on This Island song now?
Laura: It would make me a little sad.
Kent: The songs are still going through my head.
Doug: Did it occur to you that we were forming a special community while singing a show that was so much about community?
Mai: I think a little bit. The day after I was riding to school, and I just burst into tears. “I’m going to miss everyone so much!”
Doug: Hey, thanks for this reflection. We’re really grateful for this. You guys were really amazing.