We believe that making your own work is one of the best ways to gain experience and build your network within the industry, and we want to give our students every chance of success. That's why earlier this year, we launched the inaugural Fine at Fringe program. Fine at Fringe is designed to offer support to HFAS students and community wishing to stage works during the Melbourne Fringe Festival.
This year, three projects from HFAS Full Time graduates were selected from a pool of applicants, and as part of the Fine at Fringe program, we payed their application and public liability insurance fees, as well as providing them with free rehearsal space, and mentoring and support in the areas of marketing and production.
In the lead up to the Melbourne Fringe, we'll be introducing you to our 2018 Fine at Fringe winners here on the blog. They will be putting on a diverse range of works, from original scripts to Edinburgh Fringe successes, and we can't wait to see the results of their hard work!
This week, we're excited to introduce you to 2017 Full Time graduate Lansy Feng, and her Fine at Fringe project How I Met My Dead Husband.
Q. Tell us about your project.
Lansy: This is a one woman cabaret show that I wrote, created, produced and performed in February of this year. The story is about a funeral in 1950, Taipei, Taiwan. Cheun-Jiau, the widow is giving a eulogy for her dead husband and sharing the story of how they met. She is cursed and that's how all these stories are connected and how their fates are bound together.
I don't want to spoil too much, but the main purpose of the show is talking about love, and cherishing the love that's around you. This love can be from family, friends, and even a kind stranger.
Q. What inspired you to write this show?
Lansy: I started to write the story last July due to my singing teacher's encouragement. I had worked on it for a few months and was still not happy with the script. Then we started David Coury's Speech and Singing for Actors (SFA) course in October (as part of the HFAS Full Time program) and this changed everything.
After SFA, I was truly inspired and realised how great it is to use my own cultural heritage. I scratched my whole script for the show and started again with the story I wrote for the heritage exercise (an exercise undertaken in the SFA class). That led me to finish the whole script very quickly and I added in 8 different songs from pop, to music theatre to jazz, in English, Chinese and French, plus an original song.
Q. Once you finished the script, what was the next step?
Lansy: I had a test run for two nights at the Butterfly Club in February 2018.
From writing, rehearsing, making props (ie. a coffin), getting costumes, making posters, advertising, hiring a pianist and technician, to producing and performing this show, I had a really crazy busy two months. For someone who is totally new to this industry, I had an amazing, fun, try not to freak out, stressful journey, and I learnt so much by doing all this by myself.
I'm really grateful that I had a sold out performance on the opening night and also great feedback from the audiences. I'm also really happy that a few people came to me and told me that they were inspired, which is my main purpose in writing the show.
Q. What did you learn after your run at the Butterfly Club? Has the show changed at all since then?
Lansy: One of the biggest things I've really experienced is that audience is the missing character. When I was rehearsing, I felt empty. It stressed me out a bit and made me think that I wasn't doing well. However, on the opening night when the audience was engaged in the story and reacted in laughter or tears, I felt like that was the best rehearsal ever.
The other thing I've learnt is that stress eating makes your costume shrink!
As for the question "Has the show changed at all since then?" The main story hasn't changed. It's still a work in progress and it will always be. I'm still exploring and discovering new things every time I rehearse and making changes, and I've learnt that that's the fun part of this whole thing.
Q. Can you tell us a bit more about how your cultural heritage has informed the show?
Lansy: The story was inspired by the first few lines of a Taiwanese song "望春風"(Longing for the spring breeze) from the old time Taiwan.
The first few lines of the lyrics are as follows:
" 獨夜無伴守燈下, 春風對面吹, 十七八歲未出嫁,看著少年家"
They say that a young girl is still not married at the age of 17 or 18 (which was quite old for the time), and she is waiting and looking at this guy she likes. I started from this girl's point of view in the old time Taiwan to build up her story. Taiwanese people talk about fate, and lots believe that things that happen in their lives are destined. People also talk about afterlife and reincarnation and there are lots of folk tales about it. It's these aspects of Taiwanese culture that inspired me to write the show.
Q. How do you approach working on a song? Do you treat the lyrics like a script or a monologue?
Lansy: Besides singing technique, David Coury's synonyms work is normally how I start working on the text. I also translate everything into my first language, which is Mandarin. Although I'm fine with speaking English, my first language still gives me a deeper meaning of the text, and it actually makes me feel much more. Then I vocalise the text in both languages a few times. When I hear it out loud, it makes a big difference. Then I go crazy applying Howard Fine's 8 Steps, and personalising the story of each song.
Q. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to write, perform and produce their own show?
Lansy: I think one of the valuable lessons is to be humble and try to learn anything you don't know and be grateful to those people who helped you and supported you. Then pass on the good deed to help others.
As for practical advice, book a venue 5 months before. And when the time gets closer and closer, one day you'll realise you have 2 months left, you will have the moment of "Shit, I've got to get my script done. My ass is on fire!" I personally find that this is the best way to kick my own ass to push myself into doing it. Or I would be still sitting there saying "One day I will write a show and perform it. One day!" Why not start today?
Lansy's show How I Met My Dead Husband will be performed as part of the 2018 Melbourne Fringe Festival, from September 20 - 27, at Gasworks Arts Park. You can get your tickets by clicking here.