It started way back in June, when Thivya sent me a Facebook message out of nowhere saying that she’d read my blog before and wanted to ask if I might be interested in applying for the position of scriptwriter for this year’s MNight? Prior to this conversation, I’d actually already seen the recruitment poster in the Malaysian Society group and considered applying for a few minutes before hurling it to the back of my mind for later perusal (a horrible habit of mine that has so far led to many passing of internship application deadlines without even realising it).
After Thivya’s message though, the prospect of applying sort of just hung around lazily in a random corner of my brain, not urgently on the top of my list of things to do, but also not completely out of sight in the depths of forgotten ideas. I was back at home for summer; it wasn’t exactly the best recipe for productivity and motivation. It wasn’t until five days to the deadline and three days until I was leaving for Chiang Mai that the matter was forcefully pushed to the front, demanding pressing attention. I had two options then: 1) sit down and intensively brainstorm for a skeleton script within those three days, or 2) give up on the plan entirely while coming up with excuses like “nah it’s okay I’ll just join MNight as something else instead”. Knowing my lazy ass, I was heavily inclined towards the latter, and coupled with the need to pack for my Chiang Mai trip and wanting to laze around at home before a week of travelling, doing something that required so much brainpower wasn’t the most appealing thing to do.
But after years of firsthand experiences, I knew, at that moment, that if I did not sit my lazy ass down and come up with at least something, no matter how shit it might be due to time constraints, I would really regret it. I’d spent the entirety of my first year of uni complaining and lamenting that I had as much worth as that small piece of rubber on the top of a wooden pencil, and to blatantly overlook this opportunity when it was right before me would be almost blasphemous. And I was not wrong. So thanks, past-Michelle, because despite your tendency to dawdle until the last minute, at least you still found it within yourself to make an effort to take the first step towards what would be one of the most memorable experiences of your entire life.
After finding out that I’d gotten the position one month later, the first emotion that came was excitement, and then the second intense doubt. I’d never been tasked with something this big before. I knew how important an event MNight was, and all of a sudden, with just a single Facebook message, I was going to be one of the main people whose efforts would decide whether Manchester’s MNight 2017 would be a success or a failure. Sure, I was immensely excited that I would be playing a huge part, but I didn’t dare allow myself to feel too comforted by getting the position, leaving area for doubts towards my capability to even produce a decent script, what more an excellent one. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch or something like that. That was why I was very afraid and reluctant to tell anyone else besides my parents that I’d gotten the position, just in case I manage to mess up before I even began. I remember when I was still back at home, thinking, “What if I end up not being able to come up with a good script and get fired? What if I end up not being able to come up with a good script and it becomes Manchester’s worst MNight?” These thoughts haunted me for that whole month, even up to when I boarded the flight back here to Manchester to commence my second year of uni.
During one of the first few full runs at Academy 3, Delib asked me why I joined MNight as a scriptwriter this year. “Thivya asked me if I wanted to join” was a truthful answer, but having previously been a part (albeit a tiny part) of MNight in 2016, MNight is something that has unexpectedly left a pronounced mark in me. Being a mere props crew member last year, I was surprised to realise how affected I was during curtain call, signalling the end of MNight 2016. It wasn’t so much that I loved my job a lot, but rather seeing so many people from various departments put in so much effort and come together to make something as enormous as MNight work made me feel so warm and appreciative inside. It made me feel like I was a part of something and that feeling of gratification was one I craved so much at a time when I was in a sort-of crisis not knowing what to do with my life.
Which is why MNight will always be something dear to my heart. That feeling of togetherness was very valuable to me, and well, who wouldn’t feel the same about that? Humans are communal beings etc. And since MNight is an event involving such a large number of people, to be able to witness everyone experience the same kind of interrelationship bonding that was bound to leave an unforgettable mark in one’s life was truly what I envisioned as one of MNight’s ultimate goal, and one I continuously strived hard for.
I was pretty scared during our first ever MNight committee meeting during the second week back in Manchester because of a number of reasons: 1) almost everyone was an MSSM committee member, 2) everyone knew everyone, 3) it was my first time talking to some of these people, and 4) I had to explain my script in front of them. I think I spoke not more than a hundred words that day, which frustrated me because that was the opposite of growth, but it was only the first meeting, and second year of uni has somehow given me a certain level of motivation that was absent throughout my first year.
Fast forward the next few months, it really was a journey all of us took on together, from the first few meetings at Pavithra’s flat in Nick Everton to setting up auditions in SU to discussing new script ideas in Starbucks. The entire process feels like something I call the time conundrum: it feels like this was such a long time ago, yet at the same time it also feels like just yesterday that I met Thiv, Kesh, Pav and Soo Han for the first time in Nick Everton.
There were many ups and downs, and a lot of throwing myself out of my comfort zone. Like literal picking up and hurling across the street kind of throwing. There were times when I managed to stand atop my doubts and fears triumphantly and was confident enough to let myself believe that this year’s MNight would be the best among the rest, and then there were days that saw me lying awake until the wee hours of the morning, paralysed with anxiety that MNight 2017 would be a flop and it would be my fault. This fluctuating spectrum lasted even up until moments before the show itself started, but by the time the real curtain call occurred, it finally settled upon a wholesome conclusion.
The birth of the idea of 16/5 was as unconventional as MNight scripts don’t usually go, with six of us huddled around a small coffee table at Starbucks in December randomly throwing ideas out in the open in the hopes that some good ones might stick. 16/5 was not a single idea, it was an amalgamation of several ideas that we spent the next few meetings piecing together to make it what it is today. Which is why I love it so much: it had a little bit of each of us in it, like a limited edition Horcrux, representing the camaraderie that fostered among us after weeks of meetings and practices and discussions. And unlike the initial script, there were a number of issues we wanted to tackle specifically now that we were starting from scratch. Interracial relationships, mental illness and its stigma, rape culture, breaking stereotypes in society (especially racial ones) etc. 16/5 was a story each of us wanted to tell by addressing social themes that were personal to us.
Acting practices recommenced after that, and then soon it was 7-10PM five days a week at Denmark Road without fail. The first time running through a scene is always the most surreal, just like the first time seeing all the actors do a read-through of the Rewind script. Like, what the heck. I always have imagined scenes in my head whenever writing the dialogues, but seeing real life people actually reading them out (and then later on, acting them out) in real life is honestly on another level altogether. It was even more so with 16/5, in which the characters were written more or less with the existing actors in mind.
We only really had six whole weeks of acting practices left once the new script was finalised, and it was only a matter of time before the weekly countdown to the 11th of March started, and the technical aspects of the play started coming into play. This included sound, lighting and stage arrangements, which meant that Yee Lin and Ee Min started attending practices more and more frequently with me too. Objectively, with these important components coming into life, it meant that MNight was becoming realer by the moment but even then, I just couldn’t realistically contemplate the prospect of the play being put on stage for so many people to see. It was just too surreal. These used to be just words that I typed out on a google document.
And then it was two weeks to MNight and we started having full runs which were somehow loaded with conflicts and problems which left everyone in various states of frustration and panic by the end of the night. There didn’t seem to be a single perfect full run, up until the day before MNight, and the fears and doubts that had reasonably died down with time started flaring up again. “But tomorrow is MNight” felt like a statement of hopelessness, but what else was there to do but to continue trying?
The night before, I could barely sleep, and when I went to Dancehouse the next morning, I could already feel slivers of contradictory reluctance sneaking into the crevices of my bones. I kept on checking the time, not wanting time to move so fast and MNight to end so soon, but also feeling exhausted from consistent rehearsals. And still, I couldn’t really believe MNight was actually going to happen. That in a few hours, 400 people would start pouring into the theatre to watch a play that I’d written and worked on with the rest of the production team and other crew members for months.
By 5PM, I was starting to get a little bit nauseous from the nerves. It’s true that my anxiety was relatively unwarranted because it wasn’t like I was going to be acting or performing on stage, but what happens during those mere three hours of MNight is going to reflect all the effort and hard work we’d put into making the play work since September. Three hours vs seven months. That kind of pressure was terrifying, and I was nervous on behalf of everyone acting, performing and working on that night. With the amount of effort that had been put in to make MNight work, there was no room for fuckups – that was the kind of mindset that I had on, and I reckon it was the same for most others as well.
But you know what? When Adam and I went around interviewing people for Humans of MNight, we asked Soo Han to describe MNight in one word and he said “magical”. He’s right. Despite the abundance of problems that surfaced during the previous rehearsals, everything somehow magically fell into place that night. I was biting my lips so much and channelling a hundred percent and more of my concentration towards the stage from my position backstage, hoping that if I thought hard enough, I could send everyone the strength and luck they needed through telepathy or some shit, all the while running around barefoot to provide help where needed and being entirely too nitpicky about every single thing because it was the last performance, and if not then, when can we truly go all out?
Three hours felt like three minutes when you’re backstage, and before I knew it, it was already scene 20, and Azhani was delivering her final speech as Cik Fatimah. It really, REALLY occurred to me then, as I looked at the actors filing out in a line to say their last line on stage, at Ee Min in the stage director seat, at the dancers waiting by the stairs to come out for curtain call, at the props and stage crew members, at Thiv and Shun who had appeared behind me clad in their respective dresses, that 16/5 was over. It was over. And it was a success. Months and months of working so hard, all for this moment, and it paid off. The audience was clapping, and so were we. So was I. Grinning and feeding off the high and giddiness of watching the last scene of 16/5 for the very last time of my life.
And then I went out on stage to take my bow.
One of the reasons (among a whole legion) why I was so anxious for MNight was the incessant fear that 16/5’s story might not make sense to the audience after all. That it won’t be appealing, but rather boring and dull. After working on the story forever, I was already so immune to it that I couldn’t look at the play and form objective opinions about it anymore. It had transformed from ideas and messages I’d thought about previously to mere words and syllables being uttered by the actors.
Which is why to this day, I still lumber around in confusion everytime I get good comments about it. The first thing Ken Fui said to me when I met him after the play was “the play is so you“, and that the classroom settings nostalgically reminded him of his own high school days. Lionel said the same thing too, that “if you don’t know Michelle and watch the play, you’d just think that it’s a story focused on tackling social issues, but if you know Michelle, you’ll know that it’s more than just that, the whole story itself is just so her”. Janice said it was a brave move for an MNight to tackle sensitive issues such as mental illness, rape and societal stereotypes, and Joe even said that the last two scenes, coupled with appropriate background music, made her almost cry. Even Marco, Lionel’s friend who came all the way from Edinburgh just to watch Manchester’s MNight, said that he could personally relate to one of the characters, and it was a story that he needed at that current point in his life.
I may not be able to have objective opinions about the play itself anymore, but after hearing comments like these, it truly warms my heart to know that we’ve accomplished what we’d set out to do in the first place when we took it upon ourselves to organise MNight this year. It didn’t matter if people thought it wasn’t the best MNight story out there, because being told that people could relate to aspects of the characters and storyline, and that it succeeded in delivering strong impactful messages to the masses, is honestly the highest form of compliment one can receive.
All my worries about appealing to the audience were also for naught; THEY WERE SO RESPONSIVE. So much so to the extent that I found myself wondering incredulously as to why they would even laugh at the most unnecessary parts. But the audience that night was truly amazing; they laughed at the right parts (mostly), aww-ed at cringey romantic moments, and went pin-droppingly silent at sorrowful and suspenseful scenes. Being backstage throughout the whole show, I couldn’t really watch the show clearly because I was constantly moving around, so I could only really guess what was happening onstage based on the audience’s reactions and responses, and I was not let down at all.
And for this, I really have to thank the actors for putting on such an incredible show for everyone to see. It really is just so incredible to witness everyone’s growth from day one to the day of performing onstage for everyone else to see. Joey, Thejas, Azhani, Darren, Chong En, Farah, Ryan and Husna, thank you for constantly striving to improve yourselves, for consistently giving it your all and even more during MNight itself, for growing so much since day one of practice to calling yourselves actors now, for embodying your characters so much to the extent that it stirs emotions within others as well, for being witty and quick on your feet to know exactly what the crowd wants and aim to deliver, for persevering and choosing to hang on even when things got tough and tiring, and overall for being so dedicated and committed towards a common cause of MNight. I am just so, so grateful to see the efforts all of you have put in, and to see all of you shine so brightly like the stars you are on stage that night.
Story aside, I also want to applaud all the choreographers and dancers for truly breathtaking performances that night. I’m honestly running out of adjectives here but there was not a single performance onstage that night that I felt was not the product of everyone’s sincere and genuine heart and soul. I’ve attended a couple of dance practices and to be so consistent in practising for so many months leading up to MNight is really something else. Whenever I think I’m tired, I look at the dancers and doubt my exhaustion can ever compare to theirs. Thank you to all of you too, for your hard work and sleepless nights and tiring practice sessions. 16/5 wouldn’t have been what it was without all of you.
Finally, the MNight core team. I don’t think words can ever do justice to describe my endless gratitude towards all of you. We’ve been seeing each other constantly for the past few months, and I cannot deny how much I’ve learned from all of you. There were times when things got so tough that MNight didn’t even seem possible, but all of you believed in MNight, which fuelled my own belief in it, and I really am so glad that no matter the hardships, we still toughed it out to the end towards our common goal. Thiv, Shun, Pav, Kesh, and Delib, I couldn’t have asked for a more passionate and dedicated team to work with to make 16/5, mere words on papers in my hand, a reality that was enjoyed by so many. Thank you for giving me the chance to grow and learn from my mistakes, as well as offering help and encouragements when I needed it. Like I said to Thiv paralleling Mrs Lee’s infamous quote, I believe in you, I believe in us, I believe in the MNight 2017 committee.
Last year, I gradually warmed up to MNight despite only being a props crew member after seeing the combination of everyone’s efforts materialise into a legitimate play right before my eyes. It was such a fascinating thing to me, to see such harmonisation among so many people to work something work, and that was the main reason why I ended up loving MNight.
This year was no different, but the impact is even closer to heart in my position as a scriptwriter being involved in MNight from the very first day when it was only a barren notion with nothing to show. And it wasn’t just MNight that was an empty shell from the very beginning, because I was too, until coercing myself to work on MNight filled me with a certain level of self-confidence and fortitude that told me I was good at something, and good for something. I did so many things outside my comfort zone, and I’m thankful that MNight has repeatedly provided me with opportunities to do that despite the initial fear, so that now I can at least look back and say that I don’t regret not doing certain things I wished I did. Of course there were definitely some things that I still wish I did better and more adequately, but despite the exhaustion, busyness and stress that accumulated with time, unlike many others aspects in my life, I don’t think there was ever a time when I contemplated throwing in the towel and just giving up. There is no other way to put it: I enjoyed it. I enjoyed working on MNight. And I was so happy and relieved upon this realisation because after years of studying things that I dislike and hoping that it would end one day, the same never occurred in this instance. I had finally found something I thoroughly enjoyed doing.
And it wasn’t just writing the script (though that in itself was a brand new experience; I learned later on how different writing speech dialogues to convey a story was compared to descriptive prose). Bouncing creative ideas off each other and offering opinions on them, attending practices to watch the directors work with the actors, looking for suitable background music and sound effects to insert into the play, reading the first few drafts for the programme booklets, discussing mic arrangements with the stage director, and running around being as much of a help as I could backstage on the day itself; I loved doing all those things despite the workload. I was busy, but I was satisfied, and satisfaction derived from busyness was something I’d craved for since last year to make myself and everyone else around me believe in my own worth as a human being.
Compared to last year, I can say with even more confidence and gratitude that I am so proud of every single person involved in this year’s MNight.
The day after MNight saw me nursing a hangover and a headache while bringing Ken Fui and Anabelle around town, but when I came back, there just wasn’t anything that I felt like doing. I was tired, but it wasn’t the kind of tired that you could recover from just by resting. I was tired and unwilling to do anything except lie on my bed and think about the previous night’s events, going through the play scene by scene through multiple lens consisting of my own and the audience’s. I missed people, I missed places, and I missed routines. It’s true that you only really start to appreciate something when it’s gone, just like how I suddenly only have this extra motivation to write dialogues and attend practices when I don’t have to anymore. Nothing else felt as compelling as this. I didn’t really know what to do anymore now that there was this phantom limb that had been attached to my torso for seven months.
But I allowed myself this mourning period, like I always do with anything that comes to an end. Just like how things were after I came back from Sunway, I allowed myself this grace period of being mopey and sad all the time because I think I deserve it. Something as huge and impactful on my life as MNight deserves the proper mourning I’m giving it. And just like Sunway, I feel heart pangs whenever I pass by Denmark Road or Academy 3 or Dancehouse, a sensation that never existed previously because I only possessed a one-track mind towards MNight, and now that that track is gone, everything else in its wake stands out even more noticeably like a sore thumb.
I told my parents that part of the reason why I feel so upset about MNight ending is because after hitting the summit of 16/5, it feels like nothing I do after that will ever compare to this, so what is the point of doing anything else if my prime is over? This is definitely the sentimental melodramatic persona in me taking over, but some part of me really does believe that anything else I do in life will never top this level of success and gratification, and it’s a feeling dominating this mourning period.
With all this said and done, nothing remains as conclusive as the fact that MNight is over. 16/5 is over. And whether I like it or not, it’s time to close off this chapter of my life, just like how I closed the “16/5 lines” google docs tab for good. Closing is a brutal word, but it does not carry with it the definition of severing ties with the friends I’ve made along the way, nor the experiences and memories I’d gained throughout this eventful journey.
If there’s one thing that I do feel like doing during this period though, it’s thanking everyone once again, for making MNight, MNight. Thank you to the production team for, you know, everything I said above, thank you to my friends who came all the way from London, Glasgow, Lincoln, Loughborough, Liverpool and Edinburgh just to watch and support Manchester’s MNight, thank you to all my friends, old and new, who have offered shoulders to cry and lean on when I was at my worst, and cheered me on enthusiastically when I was at my best. I signed up for MNight expecting a lot, and came out with so much more; this is an experience of a lifetime that I will never ever forget.