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‘Dondang Dongeng’: How To Make Musicals That Kids Would Love

Published on 19/04/2024

(This blog post is written by Eksentrika. Check out their website here)


CloudJoi Show On Interview Video

Dondang Dongeng directed by Melina William, garnered 10 BOH Cameronian Arts Awards nominations for its care and love in retelling Malaysian folktales through a musical for children. Learn how the cast and crew made creative decisions with the little ones always in mind. 


Kids are a tough audience to crack, but the creators of Dondang Dongeng, Playspace and RMP, managed to capture their hearts with a musical production filled with local folk tales and catchy tunes in 2023.

The production was received well among children and adults alike who caught the musical at the Petaling Jaya Performing Arts Centre (PJPAC) between August 25 to 26, 2023. Due to this, the production team garnered nominations for 10 categories for the 19th BOH Cameronian Arts Awards 2024.

How did the team manage such a feat? In an insightful interview with CloudJoi, Dondang Dongeng Creative Director Melina William, Composer & Music Director Irena Taib, and Performer Ryan Lee Baskaran shared with the ticketing platform how they turned well-loved Malaysian folklores into a memorable experience for everyone.

Understanding your audience and doing it out of love for them and your craft

Dondang Dongeng cast performing on stage

‘Dondang Dongeng’ was successful in getting children to enjoy musicals. IMAGE: Playspace


Dondang Dongeng happened because the cast and crew wanted to tell stories to the little ones.

“We were talking about all kinds of ideas and we talked about the stuff that we watched when we were young and we felt there’s a whole generation of kids who don’t know about these stories (folklores) and we thought it would be fun to do it,” Melina revealed.

Melina then approached Irena who quickly agreed to compose music for the production.

“Of course, I said yes. It’s for kids!” Irena quipped. When probed further on what particularly motivated her involvement in Dondang Dongeng, the bespectacled musician replied, “Because of my niece Layla, I just want to do it for her and her friends.”

All three also have one similarity: They understand the psyche of children because all three have children in their lives in one form or another.

Ryan is a father to a sprightly toddler. Irena and Melina have nieces and nephews who they meet frequently.

“We all have kids in our lives. That’s our motivation,” Melina said.

She was also instrumental in leading the cast and crew to go one step further by tapping into their childhood memories to bring the musical to life.

 

Choosing the right stories for kids while consulting them frequently

A 'Dondang Dongeng' performer.

Consulting children was an important part of the Dondang Dongeng musical’s success. IMAGE: Playspace


The entire Dondang Dongeng deeply understood their target audience. How children felt about key decisions was super important to them and they were always in the cast and crew’s minds.

“When we first started, the number one thing we had to do was to decide which stories to do,” Melina said, revealing that she pored over a whopping 300 folktales to pick for her musical.

But it was no easy task since much of the folklore had dark endings.

“I wanted to pick stories that when we stage, we don’t have to worry about traumatising children,” Melina explained.

The solution was simple. The team worked out key decisions while consulting children they knew.

 

When we needed to make decisions, it always came down to ‘What would my niece or nephew think about this (story)?’

 

Apart from stories, the team also gently consulted children on the audio levels for sound effects such as thunder and even key lighting decisions.

“Usually for theatre, we prefer to have full darkness. But for kids, we can’t because some children need to sleep with the light on. We thought about all of these things,” Melina said.

The team eventually went with folklore that is familiar to Malaysians such as the Sang Kancil stories, Si Luncai, Bawang Putih, Bawang Merah, and more that were turned into fun, memorable songs.

Dondang Dongeng is nominated for the following categories; Best Group Performance – Instrumental (Dondang Dongeng Ensemble for Liling), Best Solo Performance – Vocal (Asmidar for Dondang Dongeng Repertoire), Best Group Performance – Vocal (Dondang Dongeng Singers for Rasa Sayang, Geylang Si Paku Geylang, Fidi, Asmidar, Yonlynn & Dondang Dongeng Singers for Pekan, Ryan Lee Bhaskaran & Dondang Dongeng Singers for Sorry Ma – Dondang Dongeng), Best Musical Direction (Melina William & Irena Taib for Dondang Dongeng), Best Original Composition (Irena Taib for Pumpkin and Mia Palencia for Pekan), Best Production Values, and Best Of Nominees.

The Boh Cameronian Arts Awards (BCAA), held since 2002, honours Malaysian performing arts practitioners. Organised by Kakiseni and Boh Plantations, the awards span 37 sub-categories. This year, 74 productions were nominated at PJPAC, 1 Utama. The award ceremony is scheduled for May 5 and the full list of the nominations can be viewed here.

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