The acting bug bit LASALLE's BA (Hons) Acting student Fahim Murshed early in life. Just eight-years-old then, he had stared down at the audience in his primary school’s hall, clad in fuzzy ears as a Mouse in a school play, and felt an incredible rush. “I think I spent my entire childhood searching for that same feeling in everything I did,” Fahim admits candidly. But accompanying this burst of creative passion was a lingering sense of insecurity and restlessness – what did it take to become a professional performer? What did he lack in terms of skill sets and how could he get better? Most importantly, what would his future be like?
Enrolling in LASALLE’s Diploma in Performance programme brought more reassurance for the self-described overthinker. Recalls Fahim, “I had a chance to be involved in all aspects of theatre-making – my classmates and I were producing our own shows, stage managing, drawing out set plans, creating props and were even given the opportunity to assist in directing. We created touring shows, and even contacted schools to market them.”
If the Diploma in Performance programme made Fahim aware of what it meant to be an actor and a performance-maker, then the BA (Hons) Acting programme deepened his understanding of who he was as an individual and his impact as an artist. “Because it’s an honours degree, you’re challenged as an actor to also be a contributor of knowledge, to be aware of your individual prerogative and politics, and how your performances speak to greater conversations in the world around you,” says Fahim.
This intellectual rigour is complemented by conservatory-style training which ensures plenty of hands-on performance opportunities at the College’s professionally-equipped theatre venues, as well as film and recording studios. Even as students’ develop versatility across diverse genres and performance cultures, they are also prepared for a global industry through exchanges, student residencies, collaborative online international learning opportunities and exposure and projects with international guest artists.
Explains Head, School of Dance & Theatre Melissa Quek, “Projects, productions and workshops with invited visiting international guest artists are often a highlight of the semester for our students. They learn to quickly adapt to different working styles and new approaches to creating work. This extends their own expressive language and equips them to be valuable contributors in professional and collaborative work contexts.”
To see how it all comes together, we take you behind-the-scenes to Fahim’s Year 3 production Pan Jinlian, helmed by visiting Chinese director Chen Gang, a distinguished artist whose films have earned prizes in film festivals in the US, Europe and Japan.
Transforming a Chinese classic
The play Pan Jinlian posed several performance-making challenges to the Year 3 cohort. A retelling of a story from Water Margin, one of China’s four great classical novels, the play was originally in Mandarin and needed to be translated for LASALLE’s production. Moreover, as the story is steeped in Chinese history and culture, the production needed to honour this cultural legacy whilst ensuring that the themes remained relevant for contemporary audiences in a cosmopolitan context.
In order to ground the students’ performances in the characters’ truth and emotions, director Chen Gang led the multiethnic cast through an analysis of the script and characters to first grasp the historical context of Song dynasty China where the story is set. The translated script was then collectively modified by the cast and director to incorporate contemporary sensibilities and a multicultural perspective.
The actors were stretched further by the use of classical Chinese aesthetics and theatrical styles that were antithetical to contemporary actors used to invoking realism. Fahim and his classmates thus had to understand the physicality of their characters, incorporating ancient Chinese customs and manners, whilst still rooting their characters in psychological realism.
Director Chen Gang sees this as a challenge worthy of a graduating cohort of actors. As he put it, “In order to portray vivid personalities on the stage, the actors are called to draw on all they have learnt in their years of training – their physicality, voice and other techniques.”
The students even created some of the music accompaniment featured in the production, which impressed the director further. “The music not only externalises the characters’ internal states, but also impacts the atmosphere on stage,” Chen Gang pointed out. “It is evidence of LASALLE students’ well-rounded artistic qualities.”
Observing how the veteran director conducted the rehearsal process was a source of inspiration for Fahim. “I feel so lucky to have the chance to work with Chen Gang – it’s hard to rehearse when you’re continuously starstruck!” says Fahim effusively. “I’ve never met a practitioner more confident in their choices, capabilities and artistry than him.”
This admiration was reciprocated by Chen Gang. “The students have thrown themselves into this with immense creative passion,” he lauded. “In the rehearsal process, they have collaborated professionally and selflessly with each other in a unified spirit.”
This chemistry between the cast is by design – having worked together as an ensemble since Year 1, the students have learnt to trust each other and build a supportive environment where every member is given the freedom to work and play with their performance choices.
Of course working with other people in close proximity is not always smooth-sailing. “It can get a little spicy!” laughs Fahim. “Growing an ensemble that sticks together for three years is no easy feat. But it’s also an opportunity you don’t get anywhere else. You go through ups and downs together, tell different stories and inhibit different worlds and different people on stage. It’s a beautiful journey where you see yourself and your friends, struggle, grow and have breakthroughs.”
The safety in knowing that your classmates, lecturers and directors are looking out for you and rooting for your success can go a long way in mitigating the insecurities of young actors. For Fahim, who knows these anxieties all too well, this safe space is the greatest takeaway from his time at LASALLE.
“While I was taught the skills to act, dance and sing, more importantly, I was given the space to fail and grow. It was the wisdom, empathy and love my teachers gave me that were instrumental in making me the person I am today,” he reflects. “Now I’m coming out of LASALLE not just as a performer who is secure and confident, but as a person who has learnt who I am and how I can be the best version of myself.”
And if the future once held uncertainty, it now holds a heady sense of anticipation for Fahim. “I have no clue what the rest of my life will bring. And I used to be afraid of that,” he says. “Now, I go to bed excited for the next day. And, oh my goodness, that is a gift.”
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