Let's look at the Festival Guide! #3

Ng Yi-Sheng

May 24, 2015

Let’s finish up our look at the Singaporean offerings at SIFA, shall we?

Open Homes

5, 6, 12, 13 September

This work is honestly a bit of an outlier. It's by PAssionArtsafter all. Is the People’s Association a great artistic institution that deserves homage like Margaret Leng Tan and Santha Bhaskar? I suppose they put up a good show at the National Day Parade and at PAP election rallies…

Snarkiness aside, I can see why Keng Sen curated this. He does believe in the potential of wide social engagement in theatre; he just doesn’t believe in dumbing it down. And he’s getting some pretty cool actors/theatre educators to work with ordinary families to create work - Ebelle Chong, Jalyn Han, Sharda Harrison, Serena Ho, Ian Loy, Elnie S Mashari and Patricia Toh.

So we could end up with something genuinely interesting. Or not. It’s a free programme; no need to get pissed if you don’t like it.

It Won’t Be Long

9-12 September and 18, 19 September

This is described as a “Festival Heart Commission”. What the hell’s that? Something to do with social engagement again. Sounds awfully feel-good and ooey-gooey, but Drama Box has a history of creating taboo-breaking political theatre (primarily in Mandarin, by the way), so there’s a good chance this’ll be decent.

Then again… the subject of the loss of built heritage is kind of overdone by now, isn’t it? The controversy over the destruction of Bukit Brown Cemetery has almost become a cliché in cultural-activist circles.

Regarding the individual works: first off, we’ve got The Lesson, an interactive theatre piece to be performed in Toa Payoh Central, with the premise that a new MRT station is being built and stuff has got to be demolished.

The creator of this work is Li Xie, who’s a pretty kick-ass director-playwright-actor. But all the parts are going to be played by members of the audience, so the level of drama might vary wildly between performances.

Btw, props for staging a work of forum theatre, given that the art form was banned from 1994 to 2003.

As for The Cemetery: this is actually going to be staged in and inspired by Bukit Brown, which possibly neutralises accusations of cliché by confronting the issue head-on. And there’s some pretty legendary talents involved in this: Drama Box’s artistic director Kok Heng Leun, indie rock band The Observatory and playwright Jean Tay. 

There’ll be two separate acts for this: abstract movement at Dawn; verbatim theatre at Dusk, $45 tickets for each. The Lesson, by contrast, is free. So there’ll be shows that are open to everyone and shows open only to the select few with the money, time, energy and interest to catch something at an ungodly hour in a taboo, out-of-the-way performance space.

Yeah, that’s us artists. We wanna be socialist and mainstream; we wanna be elite and niche. We can’t have it both ways. We try to have it both ways.

The Incredible Adventures of the Border Crossers

17, 18, 19 September

Yeah, this is very clearly gonna be weird. Polyglot non-actors singing and dancing amidst an installation in Tanjong Pagar Railway Station recalling international travellers of the past and future, accompanied by the audiovisuals of top-notch Singaporean artists Chris Lee of Asylum, Reckless Ericka, Francis Ng and Brian Gothong Tanplus British sound artist and composer Kaffe Matthews, who’s been here twice for the Flying Circus Project. 

It's Ong Keng Sen's work, of course. And I don’t care if the French liked it when it was staged in the Palais de Tokyo; folks here are going to be scratching their heads so hard there’ll be blood.

Which is a good thing, sometimes, no? Methinks I should interview some of the creators of these works in due course.

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  • 2015