Ever since he was a child, Dylan Cheng was fascinated with the fantasy world. Games was everything to him, it consumed him completely, it was all that ran through his mind. The real world was dull, boring and limited but he could be and have anything he wanted in a world he created.
He could create and have it all in the virtual world of The Quest: A Christmas Adventure. He poured all his efforts and resources into the biggest project of his life. It was everything to him…
This is the unwritten and untold story from the side of Dylan Cheng.
(If you haven’t watched the drama, you can watch it below. Otherwise, reading on will only be filled with spoilers.)
Thankful Yet Unsure
I’m humbled to be able to serve as the leading role for 2015’s Christmas drama for my church, City Harvest Church. Having acted as interesting characters (Judas, Jesus, God) in previous productions, this was a new challenge to conquer again. It was difficulty: Normal.
You see, when I first read the story, Dylan struck me as a very normal person. He was a charismatic, charming and good looking person. Something that I still have issues with coming to terms even when I’m done with the show. I’ve never seen myself as particularly good looking, so when I first read this role… I didn’t think I would fit it properly in the looks department.
But I’m thankful I’m not that good looking (I would say… just pass… maybe? Haha) – since I believe I might be stereotyped into a particular character if I was a handsome guy. This allows me to try out for a variety of characters instead.
Having said that, this character wasn’t easy to become – being normal is really hard!
Becoming a Normal Character
The first time I had to act as a normal person was in 2012 as a husband in a strained relationship for a Valentine’s Day drama production. I remember needing to be drilled by the directors a lot. And this is a grace which can only be found in ministry (I believe)… to my knowledge, I don’t think any professional director would keep practising with the actors until they acted out the role just they way they want it.
Most directors would hire an actor that’s already good and expect him/her to do his/her homework (which is to be expected). But I am thankful for the patience of directors Sandy and Jaslynn (the dynamic duo) who are willing to shape me as I allow myself to be shaped by them.
Acting normal on a theatre stage is challenging – because if you’re normal, you’re no different than what people have been doing on a daily basis. People want to watch “drama” – something out of the ordinary… not watch “normal”. So being normal yet still watchable is a tough challenge to accomplish.
What people have seen from the production came from lots of shaping of what I should not do – and trust me, if I could have gone over the top, I would have easily done it. So tons of credit goes to the directors for pulling me back in the necessary areas.
One of my drama teachers once told me that directors are in charge of the world of the story while actors are in charge of the world of the character. We are to tell the story from our perspective with more than just words and lines.
While in front of others, Dylan would portray different aspects of himself. In front of Louis, he would be tough and commanding. With the other gamers, he would be confident. He would give special attention to Reina but be conflicted because of what he had done.
He had to live with his guilt, putting on a mask so as not to show others what he’s really thinking about. On stage, I could not portray the guilt he feels openly. It’s something very internal and I cannot show that on stage. Otherwise, I would have given the twist away very early.
One of the things I wanted to achieve was what I term “The Sixth Sense” effect as I was developing this character. I wanted the audience to not be able to easily guess what’s going on and if they watched for the second time, they’d be able to see why I’ve been doing things a certain way.
I struggled a lot here because very often, the directors needed to see more acting come from me yet, a lot of the struggle was so internal – I could not actively act it out as that would not fit the characterisation of Dylan.
We’ve also had to make a lot of changes to the original script by Amanda – this is sacrilege in the professional world. While we’re acting out during the rehearsals, we’ve been given the privilege to modify the script so we can first of all… convince ourselves since we as the actors were in charge of the characters.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12)
Dylan is a flawed character.
Again, he’s a normal guy with an obsession for games. He developed feelings for Reina but because of what he had done to her, he could not allow himself to reciprocate her feelings. He was afraid of losing this relationship with her so he could not bring himself to tell her the truth… but it was eating him up daily as he has, without even knowing it himself, been modifying The Quest to help Reina feel better about herself.
(Photo credits: Joshua Pwee)
To me, this was shown when he doesn’t understand how his SWAT Team could lose out to Reina when she took out all the Roman soldiers. He had actually unconsciously programmed it in her favour.
But after the dinner date, he realised that whatever he was doing… wasn’t winning him any favours. Because she was angry with the culprit who still had not been found.
Even later, when he goes as far as selling off the rights to the EYE-1, he still does not willingly tell her because of his character flaws. He had not meant to tell her that he was the anonymous donor but because he had always been keeping tabs on her progress from a distance without seeing her, he got caught up with emotions when he saw her walking again and accidentally tells her that he was the one.
And when she says that she has forgiven him, it’s like the final piece of forgiveness that he needed to finally be able to forgive himself. He had been trying to redeem himself but his redemption only came through the decision from Reina to forgive.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12)
Getting The Look
Because I’m just a regular looking dude and Dylan is supposed to be good looking, a lot of work needs to go into making me look good (haha!) so that means I’ll have to do a bit of a makeover. While we were arranging for the makeover, I went on behest of the Costume Ministry to wear some jackets.
The first thing that went was my hair. This was done by Perry at Ooosh. Even though I don’t know how to appreciate it, apparently, his hairstyling can change my nationality. After I was done with the hairstyling, I went to a shop and one of the salesperson greeted me in Korean.
After that, I had to find the right specs. We tested a lot, I didn’t take all the pictures to find the right one but we eventually settled for a PC frames from Owndays due to budget.
While getting the look done, the costumes were custom made by Grace from Awesome Costumes while the props were made by our own backstage crew team.
How Did Dylan Create The EYE-1
If you’re a professional gamer, you might be wondering… why would you use paraplegics to beta test a game? Wouldn’t it make more sense to hire professional players so you can higher quality feedback?
This was actually a plan for Dylan but because of the accident with Reina, he decided to find a way to make up for his mistakes. Because the EYE-1 was a tool that works based on brain activity, he thought it would be perfect to use this opportunity to convince his business partner Louis to proceed with it while using the social enterprise angle.
Check out this cool video about what can be done with EEG (electroencephalogram):
Dylan wanted something that looks cool (he figured it would be tough for people to want to look like Professor Charles Xavier from the X-men using the Cerebro), so he combined the EEG technology with neuro-sensing technology. The video below shows how sounds can be affected without the use of anything but the head.
And because he wanted to make it an immersive experience without the bulkiness of the Oculus Rift, he combined it with the design of the Google Glasses and viola – the EYE-1 was born. Although, because it wasn’t completely covered up like the Oculus Rift, the drawback was that the EYE-1 had to be used in a relatively dark room.
When I first saw the graphics just days before the show, I was bugged about the levels of the characters. It didn’t make sense to me as the levels were too disparate so I asked the directors about it. It was then that I knew we had an “in house game consultant” – Shuxia – she had programming background and was running our sound system.
We debated a little bit and ultimately decided on the primary stats for each character. She even calculated out the stats for each of us with a proper formula!
- I was the knight and my primary stat would be Vitality, therefore being the tank of the party.
- Reina would focus on Strength to be the main carry, meaning, dealing the most damage.
- Amy would be the support role so she had to be high on Wisdom (or Intel).
- Kenny‘s main stat would be Dexterity, allowing him to move in and out fast for scouting.
Something interesting here from my point of view: We are strong in the virtual world for stats which we’re weak at in the real world.
- Dylan, being a programmer and a gamer, wouldn’t be someone who had a lot of muscles.
- Reina, having lost the use of her legs, wishes that she could have the strength that she had when she was an MMA fighter.
- Kenny isn’t very mobile in real life so he has the highest Dexterity.
- Amy isn’t very smart in real life so she got more Wisdom in the game.
Early in the game, my level would be the highest since I’ve been working on it a bit more. I did not start off on “god mode” since I wanted to test out the character development with the beta testers. Reina had already received her set so she could play it whenever she wanted but she’ll need me to get the system started (so we actually developed a closer relationship with each other because the rest only played it once per week).
After the dinner date, however, Dylan does not play the game that much and only sent Louis to meet with the beta testers for their weekly game schedule. So when Dylan finally logs on after Louis had given up, Reina had already levelled up her character far above the rest. That’s why she could beat me to death in a few hits even though I should technically be high on VIT stats (meaning, I could have taken a lot of hits).
Also, in order for people to take each quest seriously, everyone only had 1 life per quest. If they complete the quest, they get bonus experience and gold. If they die, they don’t lose experience but they also won’t retain any experience, gold or items gained during the quest. They also won’t be able to rejoin the party until the quest is completed. Which is why Louis is the weakest on the team, he isn’t a gamer in the first place and kept dying.
A key difference between of all the drama productions is the redemptive saving value. There always has to be a message of love, hope and all that good stuff. For this drama production, it was hope.
Even though Dylan has been trying to redeem himself through works in the entire drama, he was holding on to the hope that he could make up for his mistakes to Reina. It was only at the end when he found forgiveness from Reina, that he could find true redemption.
Dylan finally came out of the gaming world and accepted living a real life. Likewise for Reina who finally decided to continue her physiotherapy. It might take a while, but he is starting to be honest with himself and others around him.
In an earlier version of the story, Dylan had confessed his crimes, sold everything and participated in the clinical trial in the hopes that Reina would walk again. This was a little too good to be true and we had some issues with it. Inherently, it’s hard to believe someone would go that far to redeem himself. Which is why it doesn’t make sense for people to believe that Christ was born not to save Himself but to save us.
We struggled for a while to create a suitable ending until we finally settled on the bittersweet ending proposed by Sheila. Without her suggestion, I think we might have gone for the “sacrificial Dylan” ending. So thanks, Sheila!
Praying for Strength, Focus and Souls
While we got ready for the show, it was so tiring for everyone. I’m thankful that for this drama production, I could focus on acting. I didn’t have to sing, I didn’t have to dance, I didn’t have any stunts.
Sarah, who acted as Reina, was part of The Glamourettes and she was actively preparing for her television reality competition show – The Dance Floor.
Her schedule was so insanely tight and strained that we were all praying for her constantly.
We also had the privilege of having Ryan choreograph all the dances and the stunts. Not only was he one of the judges on The Dance Floor, he was also involved in the stunts himself.
For myself, again, I didn’t have to do any of those – truly, every joint supplies (Eph 4:16). The only dance I did was the first dance scene after I pronounced Joseph and Mary as husband and wife. I wasn’t required to dance but I just followed the final few steps anyway.
Since it was the first time for me being the lead role, I had a lot of mental strain. I became really tired even – this adding on to the fact that I’m a natural owl and call time was really early. I remember being so strained, even though I had a quick power nap to recover energy, I was still absolutely drained.
So I went to one of the dressing rooms behind the stage, one that wasn’t being used and I closed myself in. I just sat there and quietly prayed, asking for strength from God to help me do this role. It was bigger than I am and it was all for His purpose that we’re doing this.
It was a rather surreal moment because the echoes of the church’s praise and worship could still be heard and there I was, alone in the room gathering strength from God. I went to one of the full length mirrors and stood very close. Close enough yet far enough to “see” myself. The feeling was that I was looking at myself from my spirit man. I wasn’t looking at a reflection, my spirit man was looking at me and telling me that I can do this. That I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Just a short moment of quietness where the world around me became silent. I was filled with strength. This wasn’t just a role for a simple drama. This was a drama production to open the hearts of people so they are ready to receive the Word of God. It wasn’t about us, it’s about Him.
And after that, I walked out of that room. Went towards the stage and got myself ready for the show.
After the show, I had many friends tell me that they really enjoyed this year’s drama and privately messaged me that I did well; I even received a kind note from someone who went out of her way to tell me what she thought.
The story was interesting and the concept was daring. So kudos to the scriptwriter! We couldn’t pull off everything she envisioned because it just wasn’t technically possible – however, it takes a little bit of crazy for a good story!
- Thanks for the support from all the backstage crew (Wee Lee, Gabriel, Stalin, the cool black sword prop belongs to Shuzhen),
- my amazing dressers (they had to find me since I get confused where to go for all the costume changes),
- the costume ministry people (Grace, Bevan, Winnie, Lyon, Emi, Louisa, Irene, Jingyee),
- all the supporting actors (Sarah, Paul, Veracia, Brannon, Chloe, Karthik, Daniel Chong, Daniel Ang, Alan, Ailin, Maxceline, Janet, Krystle, Cris, Ice, Kezia, Madeline, Rosalind, Ivan, Solomon, Peishi, Priscilla, Shawn, Ernest, Felicia, Melvin, Natalie, Youko),
- our stage managers (Eliz, Tony, Eunice, Jason),
- the awesome Dance Ministry people,
- our Roman soldiers (see you guys in Easter!),
- Mark Kwan for writing the songs,
- sound (Doreen, Shuxia, Peishan, Benedict – congrats on the successful proposal!),
- video and lighting people.
If I missed out your name, please drop me a message in the comments I’ll add subtly add you in!
Thank you for reading this far – I do hope I can continue to serve in God’s great work for drama. If you have any questions, feedback or comments, please feel free to leave some words below. I would love to hear from you!