Jillian Is Your Friend

{ramblings & chronicles on food x music}

YES Academy ASEAN: Musical Theatre, Thai Food & Everything In Between

It’s been less than a month since I got my acceptance email to the YES Academy ASEAN. Still adjusting my body to not doing kamikaze workouts, hours of jazz kicks & the daily commute. Still adjusting my brain to not memorising numerous sets of choreography, lyrics & stage placement within a short time frame. I am now in the confines of our condo in Manila, but I can’t help but try to condense two weeks of intensive musical theatre training in a blog post.

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The YES Academy ASEAN is a highly competitive program for aspiring actors, singers, dancers, rappers & poets across Thailand & the ASEAN region. I got myself a scholarship through sending in an application & audition video & was accepted in the Broadway Musical Theatre program wherein they provided us housing as well as allowance for transportation & meals. Yay!

The program started with us meeting other classes such as the rap/spoken word & hip hop dance. After a short orientation, it was straight to business with cardio workouts, learning choreography & songs. I am not used to such rapid instruction & my brain couldn’t keep up sometimes – what, with learning several excerpts from A Chorus Line, Pajama Game, Rent & Cabaret all in two weeks. It was a good thing however, that I am quite familiar with these musicals so I wasn’t clueless at all.

STUDENT LIFE

During the first few days, I would get up in bed & cry for a few minutes because of the intense body pain & bruises, but a few sprays of Perskindol & doses of Alaxan always get me through the day. And to think I already conditioned my body with cardio & stretches before leaving for BKK! I was more than happy to live in the nicest hostel & dorm rooms where vocalising & belting as early as 6 AM is acceptable, reviewing choreo or dissecting sheet music together at 12 MN is the norm & eating in the lobby while discussing Kerrigan-Lowdermilk or swapping scores was the usual scene.

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Commuting in BKK is very pleasant. Our daily subway rides & walks to the university are made a million times better by authentic & cheap Thai food we can buy on the street & readily eat along the way. All my classmates (from Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Singapore) are super friendly. I truly enjoy working with them & discovering about their respective performing arts scenes back home. When we’re not hammered after a heavy class day, we usually go shopping for dance shoes or feed each other crickets for fun. We had different activities in between such as a student dinner & an open mic night where people were free to perform whatever they wanted.

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Chulalongkorn University was a beautiful space to work in with their Faculty of Arts facilities, & the volunteers went over & beyond their way to help us YES kids get around. I loved walking through the hallways listening to brass students playing for fun or observing people rehearsing dances in the hallway during breaks. I oftentimes ask myself why the hell I never took up music or theatre for college, but at least I had a taste of how it’s like. Better late than never!

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TEACHERS

We were lucky enough to work with Nikki Snelson (Legally Blonde, A Chorus Line, Tick Tick…Boom! among others) & Ira Spaulding (Oklahoma, Porgy & Bess, Showboat) for dance, vocals & staging. I love how they didn’t dumb anything down for us students, expecting only the best from everyone. I don’t know about other people, but I’ve always enjoyed tough love whenever I’m learning something. It’s not everyday you get teachers who are Broadway performers who can give you hard-hitting advice such as “You better do everything full out, because there are 25 other actors who are ready to take on the role if you can’t do your absolute best.” We were pressed for time & classes were lightning fast, but it taught me to prioritise whether I should go over the voicing or practice hat flips for Steam Heat.

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DANCING & VOCALS

Dancing is my weak spot but the excitement of learning original choreography from Broadway shows (I got totally kilig when Nikki taught us choreography to What You Want) was such a rush, even if it meant frying my brain (four different dances in a day) & sitting out sometimes because of joint pain (dancing for hours straight, I even had classmates who went to the hospital). Never in my life had I imagined I’d dance Fosse or legit chorus moves since I always felt I was more of a singer than dancer. It was pretty intense, but I loved it.

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Half the day, we would do vocal work with warm ups & tons of helpful tips from Ira as we worked on a 17 minute (I know right?!) medley & tons of other songs. Other times, we’d have other classes such as individual audition critiquing or Q&A with our teachers which were also very helpful in giving us insights. At night during our final week, it meant dress rehearsals along with the other programs.

SHOWCASE

At the end of our two weeks of classes & even press conferences in between, we had a concert as an output by performing for an audience including members of different ASEAN embassies.The Rap/Spoken Word & Hip Hop Dance classes had their respective showcases as well & the numbers wherein we collaborate are especially fun.

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***

I cannot wait to try out again next year since these past few weeks have been incredibly enriching. All in all, I extend my heartfelt thanks to American Voices, Chulalongkorn University US Embassy Bangkok for giving us such an amazing opportunity to be honed further as performers. But one of my favourite things about it is meeting new friends who make me want to shed a tear right now because I miss scouring for food, drinking at the rooftop or simply hanging out with in between breaks.

I declared 2015 as my year of more training in my new chosen career & with this as a headstart, I’d say I’m on the right track. It’s not just a YES anymore, but in Nikki’s words, “YAAAAAS!”

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This entry was posted on August 3, 2015 by in Uncategorized.

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