After two sold-out runs in 1995 and 1998, Toy Factory’s Purple returns to the Singapore stage, and will run from August 2 to 18 2012 at Joyden Hall at Bugis + (Formerly known as Illuma). Directed by Rayann Condy, the R18-rated Purple tells the true story of Maggie Lai, who was born a boy but became into a hairdresser, masseuse, transvestite, transsexual, stripper, prostitute, and movie star all in the blink of an eye…and the father who loved her through it all.
The cast – Shane Mardjuki, Rebecca Spykerman, Matilda Chua, and Elizabeth Loh – took some time off from rehearsals to answer some questions for us.
Shane Mardjuki (left) and Rebecca Spykerman
What drew you to Purple?
Shane: The character of Maggie, as she is a really strong resilient character. To have faced the things she has faced and to keep persevering in the manner she has is fairly astonishing and inspirational.
Rebecca: I was interested in doing something that was locally written.
Matilda Chua (left) and Elizabeth Loh
Shane: Maggie is a character that has different sides to her. She can be loud and brash at one point and then suddenly change and become quiet and diminutive at another point. Portraying those different sides of her is an interesting challenge.
Matilda: The role of Mademoisella is so different from who I am in almost every aspect. Her speech, her behaviour; fully embracing who she is has been a challenge because there are so many layers underneath as well.
Rebecca: The creative process has been fun. The only challenge lately has been managing my health with the recent flu bug going around.
Elizabeth: Having to do research on a sex change operation and looking at visual videos of the operation!
What has been the easiest aspect(s) of taking on this story and/or role?
Shane: Rehearsals have been surprisingly fun! At times, rehearsals can be a long arduous process but we have a great team and the vibe in the rehearsal room is always positive so you feel at ease opening up and exploring different things as you rehearse.
How tough was it to train for the circus elements we’ve been told are in the story?
Shane: The circus elements are tough but also really fun! I actually look forward to doing them. Plus now I have a few new party tricks up my sleeve, like pole dancing!
Matilda: It is not actually that difficult. Yes, you do need a certain degree of strength and stamina but that can be built up over time. I would say the most difficult thing is remembering the sequence in which you move your hands or legs in certain tricks. It’s a safety issue and you could risk falling if you forget.
Rebecca: It’s not as tough as It looks but what’s tough is psyching myself into thinking it’s not tough. It challenges my fears on what I think I can and cannot do.
Elizabeth: The nurses (Rebecca, Matilda and I) have been training and attending classes since April. It takes a lot of stamina to just do a four-minute routine; it may look effortless but it is not.
Purple is termed the “sexiest show on earth” – What would you say is sexy about yourself?
Matilda: I really like my eyes. I don’t know if people would generally say that eyes are sexy, but I think they are.
Rebecca: Embracing myself is what I find sexy. Being okay with being naughty is what I find sexy too!
So tell me, what is sexy about your significant partners in life?
Matilda: To be completely honest, one of the first things I notice about a guy is their physical appearance. But what I find sexy is their personality. They have to be able to engage me in conversation. I like friendly debates.
Rebecca: I’m attracted to energetic qualities in a person such as passion, being caring, gentle, accepting, funny and adventurous!
Purple obviously has the theme of transsexuality. Do you know of transsexuals in real life?
Shane: Yes, I do.
What have you learnt from this person?
I have learnt that the more you interact with someone, the more the outer appearance seems not to matter. You stop thinking of this person as “Person A, my transsexual friend” you just think of them as “Person A”, embracing them as themselves.
How do you feel about transsexuals?
Matilda: Transsexuals are people too. They should not be treated any different just because they feel that they were born in the wrong body.
Rebecca: I think they are extremely courageous and self-embracing people. I’ve learnt from this play that the journey they go through is not easy at all and for them to persist and go with who they feel they are, is extremely inspiring. I have nothing but respect for them.
Elizabeth: I never really understood why they are the way they are until we did our research for Purple [and learned] that people can be born that way and it is not something they chose. I do not treat them differently as it is their life and they can do whatever they want to make it wonderful for themselves.
If a loved one came up to you tomorrow and told you he/she was a transsexual, what would be the first thing you would say to him/her?
Matilda: I would probably thank him/her for being open and honest with me but, to be honest, I would probably need some time to come to terms with that and then support them.
Rebecca: I’ll support them all the way. I feel very strongly towards people making choices in their lives to go with embracing themselves, as opposed to living by how other people expect them to live.
Maggie Lai had to resort to being a stripper and prostitute at various times in her life. If you were to be hit with hard times, is there anything you wouldn’t do? Where would you draw the line at what you’re willing to do for food, a roof, and money?
Shane: I think at one point there was talk of me going fully nude for this show. I was freaking out! So that is where I will draw the line.
Rebecca: So far, I have been very blessed to have a home and food on my table always. I do not think a person at their worst needs to compromise their bodies/sensuality to make ends meet. I believe we are all worth surviving with integrity. There will always be a way out when a crisis hits, it is up to us to find the opportunities within.
Maggie Lai’s life was one filled with all sorts of sex basically. If you were asked what is SEX, how would you define it? (Literally, figuratively, it’s up to you). Sex is…
Shane: Sex is….. a physical expression of an emotional desire?
Sex is………. kinda fun?
Sex is……… messy?
Sex is…….. best enjoyed in the company of others?
Rebecca: Sex to me is… exploring, release, freedom, self-connection, energy, life and love.
This play is also about parental support. At the end of it all, most people look to their parents for support. How is your relationship with your parents, in terms of supporting you being an actor and/or being in this play/role?
Shane: My relationship with my parents is awesome. They are fully supportive of whatever I do. I am very fortunate. For example my Dad is pretty old school and not too open about certain things regarding sexuality. BUT he went and got tickets to a screening of a film in which I had a bedroom scene with another man. I was really surprised and happy that he did that. Honestly, when I found out that he was going, I was nervous but after getting over that fact, I was really happy and pleasantly surprised.
Matilda: My parents have been very supportive about my decision to be an actor. In fact, both my younger siblings are involved in the arts too. With regards to Purple, they would often ask me questions about the play. Usually, they want to know how rehearsals are coming along.
Have you discovered anything about yourself through doing this play?
Rebecca: I would like to share that I have been discovering lately that aside from parental support, it is okay to cry by myself. I am usually used to putting up a tough front and realized that what feels scary – being vulnerable and okay with the downs in life – is pretty liberating and uplifting after I allow myself to let it all out.
So, Shane, what’s the best part of being a man wanting to be a woman, as your character Maggie Lai yearns for?
Shane: I would think the best part of being a woman is the ability to blame all that ails you on a man. (LOL!)
If you could be a woman in REAL life tomorrow, would you want to? Why or why not?
Shane: I would not want to be a woman forever. I would rather not have to deal with the societal pressure to wax, put on makeup, suffer in heels, etc.
What’s the best thing about being a dude?
Shane: The ability to pee standing up.
Girls, what’s the best thing about being a lady?
Matilda: The clothes. And the fact that people usually feel the need to take care of you.
Elizabeth: Being able to have lots of options for fashion! I love shoes, especially sneakers and I am glad girls tend to have more designs, shapes and colours to fit our personality.
If you were given the chance to be a dude, would you take it? Why or why not?
Matilda: I was a bit of a tomboy growing up but I do not think I would want to be a dude. I am more than happy with the body (and gender) I have.
Rebecca: YES! I have always wondered as a kid about being the opposite sex.
Elizabeth: Yes, why not! It’s exciting to think and behave like a guy for a change.
What do you reckon are the best things about being a dude?
Matilda: Guys definitely have more freedom. I mean, my brother and I were definitely treated differently when it came to things like curfews.
Are men and women really that different, aside from being physically different?
Rebecca: No, I personally think that if we set aside gender and social distinctions on how people in their respective roles should be or generally are, we are just left with humans who think, feel and move according to our own authentic way.
Rebecca, this is your second pairing with Shane after Twelfth Night. How’s your working relationship with each other?
Rebecca: It is very interesting getting to know Shane better through these two projects. I admire him a lot for how he has embraced his own Maggie.
Is it getting easier or harder to work with each other?
Rebecca: It is definitely comforting working with people you already know as the working relationship and chemistry has already been established.
What do you hope to take away from Purple by the end of the run?
Rebecca: A sense of fulfillment, completion, growth and acceptance.
Any future productions or work that you have lined up?
Shane: After Purple, I will be in Army Daze which runs in late August.
Rebecca: I will be in Dream Academy’s production of Company at the end of this year and will also be moving towards international and commercial work so do keep a look out for me.
Last question, folks: What do you hope the audience takes away from Purple?
ALL: We hope they will be inspired through the life of Maggie and know that we have a responsibility to be accepting of all mankind, regardless of gender. There is a place for everyone in this world and nobody should be marginalized.
Look out for the review of Purple, coming soon!