SINGAPORE - At a studio in the Esplanade - Theatres On The Bay, 40-odd performers warm up for rehearsal, beating their palms on their thighs and stamping rhythmically on the floor.
Indonesian director Garin Nugroho smiles as he watches his cast ignore the dozens of drums laid out to the sides of the room.
"Everybody is a drummer," he says. "When you are born, you become a drummer."
Garin, 58, is the storied film-maker whose silent film Setan Jawa, set to live gamelan music, sold out at the 2017 edition of the Esplanade's annual Malay arts festival Pesta Raya.
He is now directing the Esplanade's first large-scale theatre commission for Pesta Raya, Fatih - The Prince & The Drum, which will be performed on June 29 at the Esplanade Theatre.
Fatih is a celebration of percussion instruments from around South-east Asia. Around 40 performers will be on stage, playing instruments from hand-drums to a giant bedok, similar to the drum used in mosques for the call to prayer.
Five musicians in the pit will play other instruments such as flutes, violins, bass guitar and mandolin, but percussion is the key theme of the score. Drums represent different warring kingdoms, supernatural forces and the coming-of-age of the hero.
Fatih also incorporates dialogue and pantun (a Malay poetic form) alongside sequences of dance and martial arts.
Nothing like this has been attempted before in Singapore, or the world, according to Garin and co-creator Riduan Zalani, 34, a well-known Singaporean percussionist who founded local Malayan drum ensemble NADI Singapura.
Riduan says of the performers: "They are drummers but they have to be actors first. They have lines, they have movements, and they have to listen to the music. The technical size is crazy."
Another challenge, adds Garin, is that drums are usually used to keep time, or as a "beat", rather than the focus of the music.
"It's an orchestra of drums and we have to learn about this orchestra."
The cast includes 35 members of NADI Singapura, six professionals from the well-known Nan Jombang Company of Indonesia, and another six actors.
Garin was surprised to learn that the Singaporean performers were mostly volunteer musicians who came to rehearsals after their day jobs. He has been impressed by their dedication, which included training in the body-centred Suzuki Method of Acting.
Fatih has been four years in the making.
Riduan wrote the music and the story. His concept has been fleshed out by playwright Zulfadli Rashid, whose tongue-in-cheek musical Alkesah, for last year's Pesta Raya, was nominated for Best Original Script at this year's The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards.
It took this long to get the performers together and ready for the production. Riduan also had to figure out how to recreate the different drums he wanted to incorporate into Fatih. Some, such as the bedok drum, for example, are traditionally too heavy to be moved around and had to be made of special materials for this show.
Then there was the challenge of figuring out how to move with drums that are meant to be played while seated.
BOOK IT / FATIH - THE PRINCE & THE DRUM
WHERE: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive
WHEN: June 29, 8pm
ADMISSION: $25 to $70 from the Esplanade Box Office or esplanade.com, or from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)
Riduan says: "One of the reasons why we decided to do this was that we want to ensure that the traditional Malay drums, the rhythms, the music, the sounds, lives outside of the traditional setting.
"We hope for it to grow and one of the biggest steps is this production."
Pesta Raya is sponsored by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) under the SPH Gift of Music series.