There’s always something exciting about something un-tested being brought out into the open. The production Now You Simi 2 was no exception. It promised a completely original production, with a brazenly pun-ny Singlish title and the promise of a ‘riveting musical-sketch-comedy-play misadventure’ staged by ‘local lack-of-talent’. I was even more thrilled to find out it was written by a pair of amateur actors, Matthew Ryan and Kevin Wong. The polish of many professional artistes is, to me, never as interesting as the unadultered honesty and passion of the hopeful ones just starting out.
And so on a Wednesday evening, I found myself in Matthew’s spacious Bukit Timah home, the main location for many of their rehearsals. We sat down and talked on soccer-ball-shaped chairs in a small room with an XBox and an old Guitar Hero set – a location that could not be further removed from a theatre rehearsal space. Away from the rush of planning scripts and practicing, the duo were just like any other pair of boys, frequently punctuating their responses with bursts of laughter. Yet the serious energy and eagerness they showed when discussing their production was very palpable, and I admire their dedication and courage for taking on something that seemed so uncertain. You can read the full interview I had with them below.
Moony: Alright! Hi guys. The first question I actually have for you guys tonight is: how did you guys decide to meet up and start doing this production together?
Kevin (K): Matt and I are in the same church, so we were putting together a play for church last year, suddenly, like, we said: why don’t we do our own show?
Matthew (M): And before this, we were also in the same school for 6 years, and we were classmates as well. And we were both in drama in ACS. So, yeah, Kevin was like: Hey Matt, do you want to do a musical? And you know, I was just like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ We didn’t really think of the logistics or anything, but we just wanted, you know, to just do it.
Moony: So how did you get together the production crew, and flesh out your idea?
M: Well, we are the production crew. In our production, there’s very few people, because our cast size is 2. The play we’re putting up is rather minimalist in the manpower sense. How we got together….
K: (to Matthew) They’re mostly your friends, from OM.
M: Yeah, most of them are very close friends of ours, like Saad (one of their production managers). And then Saad has his own bunch of close friends that he got from his own musical in 2014.
Moony: Why a musical in particular?
K: I think it offered more versatility. So, for musicals you can have dialogue like in a normal play but you also have songs, and dances. It just offers us more freedom and different creative ways of expression.
M: And I guess also, we really wanted people to come to the play and really enjoy themselves. And I think in general we are decently funny people. So we wanted the play to be a comedy, and have some musical elements as well. We really enjoy writing lyrics, poems and stuff like that.
Moony: Wow, that’s cool. So I actually read a bit of the blurb for your production and it seems to be like a comedy-mystery kind of idea. What made you have the idea of having a detective and weaving it in as a comedy and a musical?
K: Okay I think the reason why we chose a detective story was because it offered you a lot of oppurtunities to go to all sorts of places, because a detective can go to a shopping mall, or to someone’s home, or to a crime scene. It just offered so much more freedom, and provided a basic structure that we could follow as a reference: the standard catch-the-murderer, and then on his journey along the way, solving clues and all that.
M: But I think, before we got to this idea, there was a whole bunch of ideas we fleshed out before then. For some reason, ideas didn’t come easily to us. The second we thought of this detective thing, it really opened up different options. We became a lot more inspired, and that inspired us to write a lot easier.
Moony: Back to your detective production, right, so each of you is playing a variety of different characters. Without spoiling anything, would you like to give a brief overview of what these characters will be…?
M: Okay, so Kevin actually plays the main character who’s the detective, and I play everyone else around him…
K: With one or two exceptions.
M: …With one or two exceptions. Without spoiling anything, the people I play, who are the people Kevin/the detective encounters along the way, are the suspects. The murderer, I can’t say who, because that would be part of the reveal. Stuff that happens along the way, and other suspects, and other detectives. People he meets along the way, basically.
Moony: So, Matthew, would you say you have a favourite role out of all the roles you’re doing in this production?
M: Oh, there’s so many characters I love! A lot of the characters are purely there for comedy. I would say I have a favourite character; his name is Rovinder Govinder s/o Muthusamy Alberto. And he is this rather dramatic Indian bank-teller. And I love him because he’s just overly dramatic and I think he’s the character who’s likely to evoke the most laughter from the audience.
Moony: Mm, so do you find it easier to be him or find it easier to be yourself? Do you find it hard to play such a dramatic character?
M: Not really, because I feed off the energy of the audience. And if they really enjoy the humour of the character, it makes it easier for me to be more energetic and that really helps.
Moony: Oh yeah, I understand that too because I’ve also acted in a few productions. So, did you face any challenges in particular with acting or anything?
M: Everyday. Everything was.
K: Every aspect had a different challenge. So finding a venue was a hard challenge, and then because we wanted to do this for charity, so then we also had to decide which charity, and contact them to get permission to share their information publicly and things like that. Then, also because with the script, we were never too happy with it, so we kept writing and rewriting, and then we would want to flesh out more characters. And then sometimes we would write an entire scene, and come back to it and realise we don’t like it, and just throw it out and write a whole new scene in its place.
Moony: So how long did you guys take to write out a full script?
M: We first came up with the idea of writing a play/musical in the first place sometime in March this year. Then we properly got down to writing it in July, and then we met maybe three times a week, and then by October we had a full script. A first draft, and that’s been constantly edited from then until now, for the last two months.
Moony: So, earlier you mentioned having to choose a charity. And the charity you eventually chose was MINDS. So what made you decide to choose MINDS in particular?
M: We had a couple of charities in mind, but we wanted to take a look at where our donations would most effectively go to help people. We did some really proper research on MINDS, and we found out how much of the money we give them will really go into helping the people that MINDS helps. The work that MINDS does is very, very meaningful. It was mainly that we feel that the intellectually disabled in Singapore need the most assistance because… uh, Kevin.
K: A lot of charities or organisations that help people, like for example with cancer, there are lots lah. But for charities that help the intellectually disabled, MINDS was really the most prominent and the most established that we could think of. Doing more research into it, it was also a charity that we felt we could trust to use the money in the best way. Rather than us trying to decide, ‘Oh we should use the money for this or for that,’ we decided to let them be in control, because they know better how they do things than we do.
Moony: Going back to your production for a bit – I forgot to ask this earlier – but why specifically a two-man cast?
K: Right now it might sound like super creative, avant-garde art direction. The truth is, when we first wrote this thing and came up with the idea, a lot of people thought we were crazy. We approached a lot of people, but they thought we were crazy.
M: We were initially planning on having a cast size of 5 or 6, but everyone we asked were like, ‘What on Earth are you guys doing?’ We were also genuinely busy because of university applications. So we were like, ‘You know what, let’s use this to our advantage. Let’s use this as a unique factor in our performance.’
Moony: So it was taking something like this challenge, and making it into something new.
Moony: That’s great! So what would you say is your favourite part of working on the production so far?
K: I think I love the brainstorming process because you can just throw out ideas no matter how stupid or insane or ridiculous or ambitious it may be. And then of course, some of them have to be knitted down, and you have to take into account the practical considerations also. But the initial brainstorming process, where the script is barely formed and we can be like, ‘Why don’t we throw in this or that’ and insane things like, ‘Let’s do a rap here!’ or ‘Let’s throw a dance here or a song here,’ out of nowhere.
Moony: So the final production is going to be very eclectic, in that sense.
M: It’s not going to be a conventional production in any sense of anything you’ve seen before, because there are elements of a musical, there are elements of a comedy sketch, there are elements of a normal play. But there are also elements of…
M: And there’s going to be a magic show as well, and it’s just going to be like a variety show that somehow blends and comes together into a cohesive plot.
Moony: Including a guy in a gorilla suit.
M: The guy in the gorilla suit was for a music video.
K: Not in the actual production.
Moony: So who was it?
M: It was… Harambe.
Moony: No but seriously, who was it?
M: That’s a secret we can’t tell.
K: I don’t know who it was, to be honest.
M: I know who it is, but, let’s just… keep it to ourselves.
Moony: Cool. So what do you guys do when you’re not doing theatre?
K: Um, well….
M: That’s the boring part!
K: By day, we’re clerks. In N.S.
M: We’re both in N.S. It’s a boring job.
K: But if you want to know weird stuff that we do, apart from this, I do poetry as a hobbies. Poetry slams, that kind of thing.
M: We both write poetry and we go perform it. And I also coach Odyssey of the Mind which is a CCA in my old school. But besides that we’re boring clerks in NS.
Moony: So do you tell your other platoon-mates in NS about the production? And try to publicise it to them?
M: Definitely. We told them and they’re all coming down! Which is good.
Moony: Wow. So how did your parents react? Since they’ve allowed you to use this space for your productions.
M: Yeah, I am very, very thankful for my parents. When I first told them I was doing this, they were like, ‘What are you doing? Aren’t you busy don’t you have OM and stuff.’ Now that we actually have the script and stuff, I showed them how serious I was about it. They became very, very supportive and they were like, ‘You can use the space as much as you want. We’re going to get our friends to watch and donate to MINDS as well.’ So they’ve been going around more than I have, because I’ve been busy with the production and stuff, and they’ve been going around to their friends and telling them, ‘My son is doing this. Would you mind donating some money to MINDS in support of their production?’
Moony: Yeah, that sounds nice. I can see that you guys care a lot about this production, and you guys are acting quite prominently in it being a two-man cast and all. What would you say is your favourite part of acting, if you have a favourite part about it?
M: I think we’re very invested in it because the whole thing was outrageous and no one else was involved in it. So to see something that we’ve thought of and worked very hard the first couple of months, fleshed out into a full-scale performance with a 500-person audience, I’d be so happy.
K: Yeah, it’d be such a good feeling.
Moony: It’s literally like your brainchild.
M: Yeah! I think my favourite part of acting is just seeing my ideas and Kevin’s ideas being well-received by the audience. The more they laugh, I think I’d grow into being more comfortable, and putting in my best effort.
K: Like Matt mentioned, when you’re actually on-stage and feeding off the audience’s energy and playing with them, things can go completely different from how you expect. You can tell your best joke and they might not laugh, or you can say your most serious line and they’ll just burst into laughter. You just feed off it and ride off it, and once it starts the show just keeps on going. The energy that you get from your audience, and the feedback you get from it, is just a really great feeling.
Moony: Do you have any specific goals for this production?
M: I think the fact that we somehow managed, from having a crazy idea 8 months ago to having a full-scale production is… I mean, I’m quite happy that this thing is even happening in and of itself. And I’d love if we could get a full audience because we’d be better able to feed off the energy and people would be better able to enjoy the work that we’ve put in so much effort into. So I guess a full audience would be great.
K: On the charity side, a full audience means more money that we can give the charity.
Moony: Would you guys consider producing other shows in the future?
M: We would love to, but the problem is that we both start university next year. So this is the only period where we both have enough time and energy to invest into this. But we’d love to, if it’s possible, because Kevin’s staying in Singapore for university and I’m going overseas to the UK. So we might not be able to do one together. But maybe in the future.
Moony: But separately, would you consider participating in theatre in university?
M: Oh, yeah, definitely.
K: Maybe if we can find other creative people to work with… sure, why not?
Moony: Let’s say when the audience has finished the show, what do you think will be the predominant thought in their minds after they’ve seen this show?
M: Kevin, you go first.
M: Nevermind, I’ll go first. They’ll get lost and go, ‘What did I just see? I laughed, but it was also rather confusing and it was very emotional, and also they did all that just for—’ Okay, I can’t say. The ending is quite strange though. I just want them to go home happy, but also very confused.
K: I know what you mean. I want them to just feel like, ‘That was a $15-$20 well-spent. It was a good evening.’ Yeah. I agree with Matt, that I just want them to be like, ‘That was nothing like what I expected!’
M: But that it was good.
Moony: Is there anything either of you would like to say to the audience?
M: Just, thank you for being part of this whole crazy process.
K: We can’t do a show without an audience.
M: The more there are people to watch, the more we’ll feel like our efforts are being seen by a huge amount of people.
Now You Simi 2 tells the tale of Seah Loke Hong, a private detective who possesses all the wit of an aardvark, the social skills of Chris Brown and the keen logic of prawn mee no prawn no mee. Yet, when Singapore faces its greatest existential threat since Separation there is no one else (free) for the job. What will happen next? More information can be found on their Facebook page.
DATE: 6th and 7th January 2017
VENUE: ACJC, Centre for Performing Arts
25 Dover Close East, Singapore 139745
To catch Matthew and Kevin in action, you can get tickets here!