Interview with Ahmad Musta’ain bin Khamis

​Ng Yi-Sheng

August 5, 2015

One of the stranger offerings in this year’s SIFA is PAssionArts’s Open Homes, a series of small productions created by Singaporean non-artists about and within their own homes. 

I’d had some doubts on the idea of giving a People’s Association group equal billing with some of our greatest talents. So I decided to ask one of the co-creators about it: the playwright and educator Ahmad Musta’ain bin Khamis, best-known for his award-winning play Serunding.

YS: Can you tell us a bit about this show?

Ahmad: The concept of Open Homes came from Ong Keng Sen. He mentioned that performances these days do not really need an official performance space like a black box or a proscenium stage. He felt the concept of performance could be something as spontaneous as being invited to someone’s house. 

So the concept of going to someone’s home to hear the stories of the homeowners – what goes on at home – is a performance. It’s pretty much the same as what goes on in a play. What happens to the idea of performance when you are out of a performance space? Are there new performance spaces? 

Keng Sen was interested in seeing how performances can mushroom in places like the heartland. So [director] Jeffrey Tan of course pushed for the idea of PAssionArts, because for SG50, they’re quite excited to do something with the community. He had a tie-in and he started Open Homes.

YS: And how did you get involved?

Ahmad: Jeffrey Tan approached me and said he wanted theatremakers to be co-creators with the homeowners. What makes it interesting is you will not have professional actors in the performances. These are real true blue Singaporeans who are excited about performance and they want to do something with it. 

Not only do we direct them and teach them a little about what performance is like; we also create and help them to generate content, what they want to talk about. Jeffrey calls this a “sharing”. When you bring an artist into the picture, the sharing becomes more creative, in effect a performance, a moment. It can begin in the car park, it could be at the performance spaces of the condominium. (This round we’re looking at landed properties and condominiums; we're not looking at HDBs and flats yet.)

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When I was invited to be part of this project, Jeffrey Tan was around giving us a look about what was going on. He did a background check and already met the people who were interested in it. And we were associated with the families and started brainstorming with them. And eventually we hit on particular themes they wanted to talk about, and then we pieced them together into a performance. 

I’m working with two homes, one in Mountbatten and one in Yio Chu Kang. With the family in Mountbatten, it’s a father-son relationship. (The son you’ll know: Nicholas Tee, from the pioneer batch of SOTA.)

And father-son relationships you rarely see [in Singapore theatre]. There’s a lot about mother-daughter relationships, mother-son relationships, but father-son, not much. And there’s something quite magnetic about the fact that the father’s an academic who used to be into performance in his heyday, and the son is an artist. It makes the performance so rich. 

And then you have the family in Yio Chu Kang where the person’s very introverted when he talks about his daughter, his family, the magic about his space, the children playing, the neighborhhood. It’s a simple story, but it’s an important story. It’s what they want to share. And as artists who come in we let them figure out the stories they want to share. 

That’s my process. And what makes it all the more exciting is that we have stage managers, we have crew, and these are all students from ITE doing production, it’s a course in ITE Central: Performance Production. For every home we will have two stage managers who are already learning what it’s like to be a stage manager and a production manager, and they take rehearsal notes, they’re the ones who do timing, so us artists we focus on the creative. Anything production, stage management, we have two wonderful people to focus on.

And for you, I think you should interview these kids, because they’re in contact with very interesting artists and different homes. So they get a really interesting mix of experience.

YS: Anything else you’d like to add?

Ahmad: The last-minute thing I’d like to mention is every home will have four performances. It will be spread over two days. 

And what makes it exciting is anyone can apply and come! And the politics of going to someone’s house, you have to be respectful: “Am I going to someone’s home to kaypoh and eat-eat-eat?” But there’s very little eating; it’s about going to feast on a story, a performance instead. What do you get out of it? What do they get out of it? 

It’s very exciting. It’s very Post-Empires. 

Why are you laughing? I’m giving you good fodder, okay.

P.S. Jeffrey Tan also adds:  Can you add the call for pre-registration due to limited spaces? Free admission.

I can indeed! Register at  Https://sifa.sg/sifa/show/open-homes/

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  • 2015