Tara: I think “Maybe Forever” was very hypnotic, but very elusive. And I couldn’t help but notice there were a lot of walkouts. What have been your responses around the world like to this?
Meg Stuart: I think our work is individually challenging anyway, even for audiences that we do in Europe. And we’re very aware of that. The responses vary, and I think it also matters if people know our work before, and to see this particular performance, how did Meg and Philip come together, there’s another line of questioning going on. Yeah.
It depends also very much… I don’t say we depend on the audience, but you’ll be surprised the circularity, the connection of the audience, even in a piece the circularity isn’t obvious. I think in a sense it does affect us, but we’ve been making our work for a number of years, and it won’t please everyone.
Tara: I’m interested to know how you deal with it. How you deal with, you know, continuing to produce challenging work, and continuing to push audiences.
Meg: One thing about that: I feel very lucky to make work in larger scales, to really work in a certain scale, you’re also working in bigger theatres, there are more people who will come who don’t really know the work and who aren’t up for that challenge.
Philippe: It also took me some time to accept it and to work for it. But there’s still many people who like the work and find it interesting.
In the long run I believe in the live arts beyond primarily or spectacular in a way, and so I don’t really have a choice, I’m to very good at… My brother used to say, “Why don’t you do musical theatre?” I’ll never be able to do it. And on the other hand I can say, “I’m in Singapore.” How many Austrian choreographers will be able to say they’ve been here?
I’ve been getting older, and as I get older, I think I get more generous. I think I’m being as generous as I can. It’s so easy to be disappointed and not like something these days. So in a way, it’s up to all of us, not just the people on stage.
My personal take: it also made me impatient, but I couldn’t just cast it aside because the core idea was actually very clear… it just didn’t contain enough spectacle to please that entertainment-hungry monster in my brain. Don’t know whether to be complimented that Arts Fest is entrusting us with such difficult work or be pissed at the fact that I passed up Emily for this.
I took maybe five or six or seven naps in the middle and after that it wasn’t so bad. Unlike Jeffrey Tan, however, I did not feel the urge to join the dancers on the stage and dance.
Former Arts Fest Worker: I think it was a complete waste of time.
FAFW: They didn’t put in any effort. They hadn’t prepared.
YS: I was kind of expecting that from the brief.
FAFW: But it’s wrong to charge money for that. You have a responsibility to the audience.
YS: We got a chocolate bar.
I’m more generous than FAFW (whom I bumped into in the train on the way to “Maybe Forever”.) Nonetheless, I’ll have to confess that I was feeling kinda premenstrual before this show. One like to thinks Ihe’s generous and supportive and nurturing of all artists, especially indie and experimental Singaporean artists, but dammit, why was I doing this blog, commenting on other people’s artworks when I should be making them myself? Why, YS, why?
(Answer: because it’s easier to criticize than to build. 他妈的…)
So I wasn’t utterly jazzed at the thought of taking a having to write about my six acquaintances talk about their six months’ institutionally sponsored workshopping results. Yet I came out pretty okay at the end of it. Here’s the lineup.
(N.B.: I didn’t watch the earlier preview in April, so I really had no idea what to expect. During the creative retreats and stuff, the three writers and three directors ended up devising five works together rather than three or six. Go fig.)
part the first: THE LIVING ROOM
conceived and developed by Casey Lim with Robin Loon & Open-Studio actors ensemble
Robin, I respect you to death, but I really did not want to hear you using that smug artistic presentation-voice about a hyper-conceptual anti-spectacular multimedia work-in-progress. (Your natural voice, during Q&As, is preferable by far.)
Seems that Casey became intrigued by this idea of watching TV, and memories of watching, and the question: was the act of watching theatrical? Would people pay good money to watch actors enacting the act of watching?
Casey couldn’t be there tonight, but he’d cobbled together a video feed of the actors in workshop: we got to see Karen Tan and Serene Chen and Nelson Chia (methinks, they were tiny) on screen, performing watching: sitting on sofas and white cubes. Sometimes, they began searching for things, or performing little dances. It happened in sync with each other sometimes.
Robin explained that the ultimate product might be a show in which the audience sees the actors watching, then in a later act, the same motions, only with the actors facing away, so that we too can see the TV images that trigger these actions.
Fascinating. In theory. To an extent. After Robin came to a stop I started jabbing my handphone at him, trying to change the channel.
part the second: Paper Tigers
By Bryan Tan
Bryan: I was going to share the synopsis of my play tonight. I came here and realised it’s in the programme booklet.
I’ll give Bryan this: he’s honest about the fact that he’s written nothing so far, and that was refreshing.
Anyway, his idea is for a troupe of Singapore actors to investigate the Beijing opera play “Hai Rui Dismissed from Office” by the historian Wu Han, first performed in November 1965. It’s the play that’s seen as having ignited the Cultural Revolution – one of the darkest periods of Chinese history.
Tough shit, huh? Bryan was also chatting a bunch with Elvira Holmberg, who was one of the founding members of The Necessary Stage in the ‘80s, back when there was no institutional support for the arts at all; they had no resources, but were driven on by the passion, by the belief that art could create social change.
What if, he said, what if a Singapore theatre troupe restaged this piece in a new theatre on the site of a disused Chinese temple? What ghosts might arise? What social change might be fomented?
Through interviews with Kok Heng Leun, he’s also gained some insights into the parallels between Chinese theatre and Singapore Mandarin theatre in the ‘60s.
part the third: Till Death Do Us Part
Jointly created by Oliver Chong and Elvira Holmberg
This one was also difficult. I get the whole concept: really and respect it, I do. But still it made me want to start swinging around my bag and smashing things with impatience.
You see, Ollie and Elvie and intrigued by a quote fro Confucius: “To put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”
So they began interviewing Singaporeans about 1) nation, 2) family, 3) individual identity. Which led to a new development: the idea of performing the interviews raw – even cold readings, which they found effected a strange power over the actors during staged readings. “I feel like I’m a medium,” one of them said. Broken sentences, circular segues, questions deleted so the short replies sound like no sequiturs; lots of Hokkien and Mandarin vocab.
Again, great in theory. They even got an audience volunteer to do one section, followed by Nelson Chia and Karen Tan: by the end you realised they were all overlapping blocks of text from the same long interview.
But it was too bloody LONG. This is why I was developing violent tendencies. I am not a creature of patience.
part the fourth: Taxi! Taxi!/德士! 德士!
By Cheow Boon Seng
This was the most traditional of the pieces, and one of the most joy-inducing. Boon Seng really is such a good playwright, funny and subversive, in touch with both the vernacular roots of Singaporean Mandarin and the atas-atas literary acrolect.
Yeah, it was in Chinese without subtitles. They should’ve warned us!
Just two scenes, performed by Nelson Chia and Judy Ngo as a taxi driver and a juvenile taxi robber/creepy supernatural radio MC. So hilarious. Even Mohan was laughing. Inspired by 1960s newspaper articles about a cabby’s son who robbed eight other cabs consecutively.
Sad thing is, Boon doesn’t know if this’ll develop further. Whatevs; as long as he keeps at the craft.
part the fifth: Keep Clear
By Irfan Kasban, in collaboration with Elvira Holmberg
And to close the night, an interactive event: Irfan distributed pencils, papers and Apollo chocolate bars, then invited us to recall places associated with our childhood. He then made a map of Singapore with masking tape and prepared to investigate memory and space.
Trouble is, he’s only 22 or 23 or 20mygodifeeloldcomparedtothisguy, so he didn’t share these memories we were calling up. National Library? Big Splash? MPH? National Theatre???
Robin Loon took over, and pretty soon Karen, Serene and I were on stage, reconstructing our memories of the S-11 hawker centre in front of the demolished National Library. The seafood soup stall, the Indian rojak stall, the chicken rice stall. Got one stall with purple plates. Last time got ice kacang.
I really enjoyed this one, maybe ‘cos it gave me the chance to get on stage and actually feel like an artist/performer again. I might try and have it re-done at ContraDiction. Still, FAFW (see above) didn’t think he wanted to see this piece develop. It works on its own, but then… So what?
Where do we go from here?
Open Studio’s still in beta mode; ideally it’s going to be a 12-month thing. Pretty clear by now that it shouldn’t be a $10-ticket show; perhaps two bucks or a suggested donation – something to reaffirm the informality of the project and its allowance for incomplete works.
I want to say that in spite of all its flaws it’s a good thing, because it fosters creation and experimentation rather than the more audience-centered lineup of old shows that the Festival’s largely moving towards. But that would be too obvious, no?
No, sometimes the obvious is true. Keep at it. But give us more than a chocolate bar next time. Some tea would be nice.