So far he’s tracked down a roll of duct tape, adjusted and re-adjusted the seating that hugs the stage and located a mysteriously missing champagne bottle that makes an appearance during the first act. He’s visibly twitching with nervousness, but manages to maintain an air of complete control despite his shaking hands.
“There are always things that can go wrong, and usually they do,” he says. “It’s nothing unexpected, though. Really, it’s part of the thrill.”
He darts in and out of the dressing room, where the nervous energy is ten-fold. Theatre rookie Diem My has been muttering lines under her breath for the past half an hour. Belinda Shorland, who plays the deliciously evil Marquise de Merteuil, splashes cheerfully around the dressing room with a crimson red smile, her cascading black and red lace skirt trailing behind her. Aaron Toronto has his lips pursed in concentration as he silently inspects his costume for the second act.
In 30 minutes, the actors will take the stage for the opening night of Dangerous Liaisons — a nearly four-month labour of love. The final weeks of preparation for tonight have been tireless, including what Jaime describes as an “incredibly long” dress rehearsal process where nearly a quarter of the blocking had to be changed to accommodate for massive hooped petticoats worn by almost all of the female performers. Last-minute adjustments to the script persisted until hours before the debut performance, and complex choreographed dance numbers were rehearsed countless times.
Still, the final show looks different from the extravagant image that directors Jaime and Aaron envisioned, after being forced to make massive concessions in set design and props.
“Budget [played] a big part of it. Some things [were] more expensive than we [anticipated],” says Jaime. “When you are trying to put a show like this together, you know that 18th century furniture might not be available.”
After three fruitless months of searching for corporate sponsorships and even launching an IndieGoGo crowd funding campaign, Dragonfly still came up short-handed. The choice was a difficult one — either make sacrifices or go far into the red. Ultimately, the choice was made to forego the elaborate stage pieces for something within their means.
One key set piece — originally conceived to be an antique chaise longue — would have cost the theatre troupe VND16 million. Ultimately they conceded to use a modest bench that was lent to them by Red Door Deco. Ornate period backdrops that were meant to be hand-painted replicas of lavish 18th century French interiors gave way to projected images of set pieces that could be easily switched between scenes.
A Show of Passion
But while some necessary adjustments were made, some aspects weren’t up for debate.
“Where you don’t make concessions is on the quality of the acting,” says Jaime. “That’s the only thing that we [won’t sacrifice], because that’s the only thing left for us to really shine out there.”
Each and every actor spent hours examining their character, working with Jaime and Aaron until the last moments before the show. A final climactic sword fight was rehearsed on stage five times only an hour before the audience arrived, and actors were still running through scenes as they added final touches to their makeup on opening night.
The result was an ensemble-driven production that showcased the dedication, passion and creativity of the troupe. An operatic arrangement of U2’s Love is Blindness was performed live by Stacey McCandless and Aaron Toronto, and sultry bedroom scenes became choreographed dance numbers performed to Beyonce and Adele. The bare bones set design was overshadowed by the powerhouse performances from Dragonfly’s actors, whose passion smouldered through the three-hour emotional rollercoaster storyline.
A triumph of will for Dragonfly Theatre Company, Dangerous Liaisons marked a moment of true achievement in English-language theatre in Vietnam. Against all odds, Dragonfly staged one of the most ambitious theatrical performances they had ever embarked on, and they did it in spectacular style.