Interview with Speak Cryptic, creator of The Tribe

Ng Yi-Sheng

June 10, 2016

One of the highlights of Club Malam (7-9 July, Old Kallang Airport) will be The Tribe—an interactive performance devised by Singaporean artist Speak Cryptic, aka Farizwan Fajari. 

I finally managed to grab an interview with him (I made the dumb-ass decision to hold it at a café at 4pm although it's Ramadan, but he was cool). A bit of background: he's known for his graffiti-inspired work (we had a long discussion about this and whether you can be a graffiti artist if you actually have permission to make your art), but he's also a bass player for the band I Am David Sparkle. Check out his artwork at his webpage and his Instagram if you're curious to see more.

NYS: Is this the first time you’re staging a performance?

SC: Yes, it’s the first time! I’ve never done anything like this before in my life. I’m a bit nervous. A bit excited, but mostly nervous.

NYS: Tell us about the concept of The Tribe.

SC: I think Speak Cryptic has been around since 2005. So since 2005, the main subject in my drawings has always been my figures, my characters. Within the first three, four years it evolved and it evolved, and in the fifth, sixth years it became something else.

So I think in the seventh year of Speak Cryptic being in existence, there was a conversation I had with my friend, and it went along the lines of, “Wouldn’t it be funny if my drawings just came to life?” Because up to that point of time the look of my drawings had been the same, it was really constant. So people who were familiar with my world were familiar with my characters. They were familiar with their clothes and how they would stand, how they looked.

And then the conversation steered to what would happen if they were actually alive, and if they would hang out with us, and if they did, how would they be like, how would they act, how would they walk. So the idea really started from that one conversation I had with my friend. The idea in itself, it never left. I became interested in them physicalising the characters that I had in my head.

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NYS: How did this get programmed as part of Club Malam, then?

SC: What happened was, in early 2015 I was involved in Singapore Inside/Out. It was great, because I was able to meet people and artists from different disciplines, and I think one of the groups of people I’d never had the pleasure to meet was from the theatre side. I knew Rizman [Putra], but I think that was my only contact.

Singapore Inside/Out introduced me to a few great people who were practising theatre, one of them being KK Nizam, who was the actor who performed as me in the actors’ tour. So him and me, we started hanging out a lot more.

I think it was in Beijing where I talked to him a bit more about this idea I had about making my characters come to life. So KK and me talked a lot more in Beijing, in London, and in New York, and each time we met it would be like, two, three hours over coffee, talking about, “Wouldn’t it be great, wouldn’t it be nice if this happened.”  So KK Nizam was my first real collaborator in this sense, because he was already on board—“Let’s do this, I don’t know how, but let’s do it.”

It wasn’t until the end of the New York leg that Noorlinah [Mohamed] came up to me.She was looking at one of my drawings and she said, “Eh, what do you plan to do with these people?” And I basically told her my idea, she was like, “Yeah, that’s interesting. I may have something for you. Would you be interested?”

And at that moment in time, it felt like it was a huge coincidence. What’s that long word, like serendipity? A part of me was like, “Is this thing ready to take shape?” But I thought about fact that I’d talked to KK about this for almost a year, and Noorlinah just so happened to give me the platform. So I was like, “Yeah, we should do it.” It was meant to be, or something.

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NYS: How many people are involved in your show?

SC: I think we are gonna reach almost 100 people by showtime! Because we have like 80-plus performers, but we also have another group of people who will be making stuff, who will be engaging with the audience and making things with them. And I will also have another Tribe member who will be a roving artist, archiving the happenings on her drawing pad. So I think, including everyone, including everything else, we will probably reach close to 100 people.

NYS: This is your first performance and you’re working with 100 people?

SC: I’ve never done this before! So I feel I’m so grateful to have Noorlinah and KK and this team of facilitators behind me, because without them I’d really be a fish out of water. Again, that’s why I’m a bit nervous.

NYS: At least the setting of Kallang Airport means the audience has the freedom to come and go. Or is that a bad thing? Does that mean they’ll be distracted?

SC: I think that’s got be a given. But one of the main challenges is, how can we not be distracted by their distractions? How can we still be in the character, still be in the Tribe when no one is paying attention? I think that’s the telling point: if a Tribe member is still a Tribe member when no one’s watching. For me, that’s more important than anything else. So I’ve been very concerned about that, so I kind of keep reminding people, and keep pushing: “When you are in this space, between 7 to 11, you are a Tribe member.”

But it think what’s interesting, and what helps, is every one of them has different traits and different characteristics that I feel are still very Tribal. You know, like I can still see them on my drawings, even if they haven’t introduced themselves, like, “Hey, I’m from the Tribe.”

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Also I feel there’s something really strange, because when we had the open call, I was assuming that there would be a time when I would say, “I don’t think this person can be part of the Tribe, I don’t think this person has it.” But everyone who turned up had potential to be a Tribe member. It became so coincidental that I actually asked Noorlinah, “Did you have a casting call before this?” And she said, “No, they really turned up like that.” This is brilliant. I feel strange, but really nice. It made the job easier.

NYS: What are rehearsals like?

SC: They weren’t wearing the masks the first few weeks, because I just wanted them to concentrate on just being the Tribe. The first few sessions, we were just really talking about where they come from and how they act.

It was really based on this idea of having this “awkward confidence”. That’s what I feel the Tribe is: they are really socially awkward, but they are confident in their own skin. And then we were using that idea and trying to create a physical vocabulary based on this idea of awkward confidence. The first few sessions were really just breaking that down: so we were exploring the ways of walking, the ways of being still, the ways of sitting, how their hands would rest on their laps, before really giving them the happenings—this is what you’re going to be doing with this vocabulary.

So that’s how the rehearsals were structured. Now we’re at this stage of really just fine-tuning everything, fine-tuning the little nuances that we can still improve on. Because it’s only natural for someone to break out of character sometimes. We’re just building the stamina, I feel. Just three, four hours, staying in character.

NYS: By the way, Rizman and Safuan said that the Tribe are playing the fans of their band—is that right?

SC: In the world of the Tribe, their favourite band of all time is NADA, because that’s only appropriat,e and I’m a huge fan of the band as well. But the Tribe are fanatics lah. So even if they don’t like it, they have to like it lah.

NYS: Are they fans from a different era, since NADA’s supposed to be a band from the ‘60s to the ‘80s?

SC: They are a contemporary tribe lah. Their reactions and how they dance are still contemporary, meaning there won’t be any traditional dancers. It’ll still be a party.

NYS: Who are the performers, by the way? Are they just students in their 20s?

SC: The participants, their ages are from 18 till around... the oldest I have is around 64 or 65, I think. She’s around that age. And all of them have various skills. Like there are some who are theatre students, there are some who have been involved in other productions produced by The OPEN, and then there are some who just saw it and wanted to be part of it, and there were some who were familiar with my work and just wanted to be there. So it’s a wide range of people. And right now everyone is just getting along really well.

It’s almost a family of sorts. It’s my hope that we can still be friends after this one.

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  • 2016