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Skyduck: A Chinese Spy Comedy

"You can only get away with something like this in the theatre"

As Skyduck: A Chinese Spy Comedy prepares for its premiere, actor-writer Sam Wang reflects on what you can only get away with in theatre.

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Company: Belvoir 25A
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Skyduck: A Love Letter in Disguise

Date: 30 Jun 2019

Should I make it to 21st July alive – a day after Skyduck closes – then I can finally call myself a writer.

Admittedly, a writer of just one show, which at a running time of 55 minutes just passes for One-Act play. A touch short of the more esteemed 70-minutes-or-more Full-Length Play, but who’s counting?

The best part is that theatre is the only medium where you can get away with so many things and still call yourself a writer!

Here are four of my favourites:

As a writer, you can skip over important, difficult-to-write plot points.

Have a plot point in the story that’s really hard to write? A big dramatic death scene, maybe?

Just skip it! Write the scene beforehand where the family’s all together and then jump to three years later where a loved one is reflecting on the death. The audience will fill in the gap with their own imagination. Easy!

As an actor-writer, you can skip over important, difficult-to-write plot points.

Have an actor who struggling to cry during that big dramatic death scene?

Can’t fire that actor because that actor is also you?

Great! Just skip it!

As per above, write the scene before and after. I’m all about finding ways to show off your strengths and cover up your weaknesses.

Theatre is a team sport and the audience are the ultimate test!

I’ll be the first to admit: Skyduck is impossible on paper.

It’s bilingual, it has surtitles, AV, puppets, transforming gadgets, musical numbers … It’s not just hard to read. It’s unreadable.

Lucky for me, I have the most amazing, talented and incredible team of collaborators and supporters sticking their necks out for me in a senseless display of faith and love to give Skyduck a chance to be read where it counts: on stage.

Which brings me to my final point …

It only has to work for 25 seconds!

In Skyduck, we have a prop that represents a flight simulator. It features in the show for 25 seconds. It only works for 25 seconds. It only works for those 25 seconds. That’s it! It’s completely useless before and after those 25 seconds. If the simulator’s on stage a second too early or a second too late, we’re fucked.

You can only get away with something like this in the theatre. A building or a bridge that only works for 25 seconds equals death, destruction and a colossal lawsuit.

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Now, if you’re still reading this, you’ll be forgiven for thinking Skyduck: A Chinese Spy Comedy is a show with very little substance, conviction, belief or philosophy.

You may well be correct but if there is one redeeming quality, then it is this:

Skyduck is a love letter in disguise.

Ultimately, I think all artworks are love letters in disguise. And not necessarily in the romantic sense.

They could be love letters to other works of art; attempts to imitate and create tributes to other writers, filmmakers, musicians and artists who have inspired, touched or made us laugh. They could even be tributes to our teachers.

In writing Skyduck, I have drawn endlessly from one of the most important lessons I’ve learned, which came from a wonderful movement teacher at drama school.

In one pivotal class, he assigned us an open-ended task. Devise a 30-second movement piece on anything. No restrictions, no criteria … Anything.

The only suggestion was that it should be something we find ‘cool’. Not ‘cool’ by anyone else’s standards, just ‘cool’ for ourselves. We were then picked out, two at a time in class, and asked to find a way to create a ‘cool’ transition from one person’s ‘cool’ movement to the other.

The result was simple but revealing.

If both people were honest about what was ‘cool’ to them and could then create a ‘cool’ transition between them, the resulting work not only showcased their individual uniqueness, but created a greater whole by building a bridge between their individuality.

The lesson?

One: be true to your own tastes. Don’t apologise for what’s ‘cool’ to you.

And two: transitions are important. A show might not be about its transitions, but transitions can make or break a show, so write accordingly.

That lesson is the foundation of Skyduck’s entire philosophy.

If nothing else, Skyduck is a series of little, ‘cool’ movements which are love letters in disguise, each one paying a little tribute to something we love, from the over-the-top antics of 80s action movies to the DIY charm of Michel Gondry’s films.

We’ve then tried our best to string them together using every trick we’ve stolen from the master of theatre transitions: Robert Lepage.

So, come 21st July … if I’m still alive and Skyduck hasn’t been shut down, I might just be able to say that I’m a writer now. Just for theatre, perhaps, but then why would I want to write for anything else?

(…OK, maybe screen too…)

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