It’s an invitation to enter somebody’s home. And in the home, their space, a space that they’ve created, as shelter, as comfort, and also as an expression of self, we watch this same person perform a show that they’ve created about themselves. It’s a tantalising offer of intimacy, and as a piece of festival programming, a kind of “I see your community arts in the heartlands and I raise you actual people’s actual homes” authenticity one upmanship. It’s all quite delicious.
Thus I find myself in the middle of Tampines at 11am on a Saturday waiting for the start of Zullette’s Yarn, happening in one of the flats in the area, killing a bit of time, neighbourhood uncles suspiciously looking at me as they jog past, stopping to ask if I’ve just moved in, and which block. Is this what they call the mythical kampung spirit?
I eventually make my way to the meeting point, a provision shop in the void deck of an HDB block, my ticket is checked, I’m signed in and I hang around, meeting groups of people as they too arrive for the show. It’s all a little bit awkward, but eventually, we’re greeted by Oniatta Effendi who mentored this performance, and then, the show starts, in the void deck, with Mohamed Adi, one of the performers of the show. He leads us up to his home, we follow.
In the flat, we’re ushered into the living room, in which an installation of twine with index cards clipped on crisscrosses the space, we sit on sofas and the floor, we’re greeted again, by Adi’s sister, and the show begins. And after a sort of introductory scene, we get to the meat of the show, Adi and his mother Nur’aisha sit and ask each other questions, and we learn about the two of them, the flat we’re in and so on. What emerges is a sketch of a family, the challenges its faced, and perhaps too, a sense of the dynamics of how this family operates.
Later that day, I go to Eunos to see Hamidah Abdul Karim perform Harumnya Si Bunga Rampai (The Fragrance of Flower Potpourri) and the day after, I walk from my home to a block in Woodlands to watch Laura Schuster perform Lemons Lemonade. Both these shows are structured as solo performances and both centre much more on the individual performer and her finding her place and way in the world. Both these shows also offer mini tours of the homes, which was fun to see.
Hamidah performs her show as a kind of presentation about her interests and her family, who incidentally are seated, dressed to receive guests, composed like a family portrait, both as witnesses to her performance and also as living props, her daughters, on hand to acknowledge when they were referred to, simultaneously supportive and charmingly embarrassed, Hamidah is a proud mother and she’s not afraid to let us know.
Laura’s show, Lemons Lemonade, the next day was also structured as a kind of presentation and a home tour (it ended with us piled into her bedroom). In books (a library takes up two rooms), photos, objects and décor, we move from spaces that speak to her life in Indonesia, to her life in Singapore, to her interests in theatre and her sense of family and self. All this built into an engaging presentation with fun moments of interaction and audience activity — some folks got involved in a bit of a play reading.
I saw three of 30 shows offered as part of Open Homes and by some bizarre stroke of luck, all three involved teachers, whether in schools or in the home, and all three seemed to take small detours into discussing real estate, the flats we were in, what they cost, where people moved from and to, this sense of a desire to plant roots, to invest materially and psychically in home and the realities of expat packages and en-bloc sales.
Early in her performance, Laura asked us to think of and share with the next audience member where we think our homes are, and I think of that question in relation to my experience a couple of weeks before, on a Sunday at O.P.E.N. Kitchens. The conceit of O.P.E.N. Kitchens being that we would enter a kitchen of a home cook, and learn about them through the food they would prepare with us.
I went to two, the first in a flat in Yishun, for “No Boundaries, No Judgement” by Jeffrey Yeo and then to a Geylang shophouse, rented by SIFA for “We Sing the Same Tune” by Oniatta Effendi and Nizam Ismail.
So here, we had the literal home kitchen and then a couple cooking in not their kitchen, but with their recipes and stories, and so, in that sense, we entered their kitchen. In someone’s literal home, we saw his passion for cooking, fueled by experience and the internet, so much of his home was given over to this very impressive industrial equipment be-decked kitchen. And in a temporary space, a couple, sang and told some surprisingly intimate stories of divorce and marriage, of courtship, and weathering storms together. We typically speak of how a home is not just a house, but perhaps too, that a home isn’t necessarily even a space, it can be evoked through action and care.
I think again to Hamidah’s revelation early in her performance, that this would be the last year in the flat she calls home, her estate is up for en bloc sale. Of how her family had felt at home when they first looked at the flat, and of how they’ve sunk their roots in the neighbourhood. I wonder about what moving would mean, and how long before their sense of home would return. I think too of the uncle who asked if I had just moved to Tampines and if so, which block, and I hadn’t, I was just killing time.