A few meters away, Jaime is in full dramatic frenzy, speaking lowly to Belinda — Dragonfly’s leading lady and co-founding member — while squinting at his script and jotting notes frantically before the first actor arrives.
It’s Sunday, but the weekend is a blur for all three, who have been blocking for the past 48 hours, a process where actors learn the precise movements and positions that will bring their characters to life on stage. It requires actors to run through scenes dozens of times while Jaime circles around them, stopping them mid-line to adjust a hand here, a foot there. It’s an exhausting ordeal, since blocking a single scene can take hours, if not days, but it seems to have had an opposite effect on Jaime, Aaron and Belinda, who are bursting with more passion now than ever.
“It’s still very early in the process since we’ve just started to block,” says Aaron. “It’s the first interaction that the actors have had with [mine and Jaime’s] vision, but that first step was very successful. We’ve already started working on the characters [in script readings], so when [the actors] come to the blocking session, they already have ideas and instincts.”
While only a month ago both Aaron and Jaime were still deliberating about colour and costume designs, now the actors scribble notes on their scripts — instructions for a glance to linger before a line, or to touch a shoulder during another — and before their eyes, the world of Dangerous Liaisons is taking shape, scene by scene.
“The actors’ ideas add a lot of value to [the creative process]. [They] expand your vision, but they don’t necessarily change it,” says Jaime, relating how the characters, and his vision for the production, are beginning to come to life. “It’s like a small universe that’s expanding. In essence, it’s the directors’ vision, and the work of the actors is contributing to that expansion. You have to make sure that expansion happens and is faithful to the core of the vision, though. It’s like… the big bang.”
An Uphill Battle
While the actors scribble new notes on their well-worn scripts while running through scenes countless times, the world of Dangerous Liaisons continues to unfold. The production is coming to life with each passing rehearsal. It’s something that the Dragonfly veterans have come to expect.
“The artistic side of [a production] is always as gratifying as we want it to be, which is often the thing that keeps me going,” says Aaron. “It [holds] up its side of the bargain, always.”
To keep going, it turns out, is the consistent battle for the three, who describe the production processes less sunny outcomes as ‘deja-vu’.
“We always think that the next production will be easier, because we have so much experience,” says Aaron. “Every time, though, we face the same [obstacles].”
Dangerous Liaisons is no different. This production was set to be the company’s most ambitious — an extravaganza that would rely on partnerships with major businesses and corporate sponsorship to transform it into an event that rivaled the Broadway productions that were touring the world. The plan was to attract sponsorship through the promise of brand awareness for businesses, specifically towards high-end retail that would match the opulent and ostentatious imagery that Dangerous Liaisons encapsulates in its French turn-of-the-century setting.
“[With this approach], we thought ‘we’ll get businesses to sponsor us, and it’ll be a great business model,” Aaron laments. “But it just doesn’t work that way.”
The three came to the conclusion after Belinda — who plays a leading role in Dangerous Liaisons and counts Dragonfly as her ‘third child’ — spent months contacting businesses in vain, which routinely responded to the prospect of sponsorship with a dismissing slam of the door.
“A lot of the companies here don’t understand what theatre is. They don’t understand just what they can get out of [sponsoring] something like [a theatrical production],” she says. “We know how good our product is, and we know how many people will come, and who will see the advertising,” she continues. “The thing is, the businesses don’t.”
The Ferocious Beast
Although exasperated, they show no signs of giving up. Putting corporate funding on the backburner, they have decided to turn instead to the very people who have made Dragonfly Theater Company the premiere English-language troupe in Ho Chi Minh City — the fans themselves.
“[I meet] people who are desperate for this kind of culture. That’s been the most inspirational thing that I’ve experienced since [I started with Dragonfly],” says Belinda. “Meeting these people and connecting with them… they’re so passionate about what we’re doing.”
With the launch of a brand new IndieGoGo crowdfunding effort, the troupe hope to cover the expenses of the production, including the costumes and set design, all adding up to a hefty VND60 million. The online tool — which allows dedicated fans and strangers alike to donate towards Dragonfly with the click of a button — is one of the company’s few remaining options to keep from going into the red. Hopefully, the contributors will be rewarded three-fold, with one of the best and most spectacular theatrical experiences that Saigon has ever seen.
With all of the mounting pressure, the dwindling capital, and the exhausting parade of unwilling corporate sponsors, the Dragonfly veterans are still sure of one thing — the show will go on.
“It’s the ferocious beast within,” says Aaron of the unrelenting passion and drive to continue forward. “I wish I could satiate the beast, but it refuses to be satiated. I wish I could tell it to shut up, so I could live a normal life, but I just can’t do that.”
So, is there anything that will truly keep the show from ever seeing the stage?
Jaime’s own wife asked the same question, reminding him of their non-existent sponsorship, mounting production costs and unrelenting obstacles. The answer, to him, was obvious, as he responded emphatically, “I’m the captain of the Titanic. I’m sinking with this ship. I’ll be here until the very last day, no matter what.”
Dragonfly Theatre Company’s IndieGoGo campaign can be viewed by visiting indiegogo.com/projects/dangerous-liaisons. Contributors can support Dragonfly’s next production with donations of as little as US$25 and up to US$3,000. With just over 30 days left in the campaign, every dollar counts toward making Dangerous Liaisons a spectacular reality