“It’s a play I’ve wanted to do for years.”
Huzir and Claire, Checkpoint Theatre has had a long and fruitful history with SIFA. Displaced Persons’ Welcome Dinner is the fifth time the company will present its work on the Festival stage. What does SIFA mean to you?
Huzir: I’ve always seen it as a chance for Singapore companies to do their best work because you’re measured against the best in the international arts scene. It gives you the resources and prompts you to rise to that challenge which is really exciting for artists. Our 2002 production Occupation actually led to the birth of Checkpoint Theatre.
Claire: The last work we presented at SIFA was The Last Bull: A Life In Flamenco. That was a point in my artistic career where I was very interested in working with another discipline. With every production at SIFA, I’ve had this wonderful opportunity to push myself artistically in the creative process.
Checkpoint Theatre’s plays often take a searing and incisive look at contemporary issues. How did the play Displaced Persons’ Welcome Dinner come about?
Huzir: It’s a play I’ve wanted to do for years. One of the themes I look at as a writer is how good people are let down by institutions. Displaced Persons’ Welcome Dinner takes a look at the humanitarian aid industry. It looks at how power plays, trauma and politics affect good people struggling to do their jobs in very difficult situations.
When we formally started on it, I did thousands of pages of reading from publicly available sources, and also interviews with aid workers who shared with me some very candid experiences.
What did you learn about the humanitarian aid world?
Claire: The humanitarian aid world is something we don’t really know much about, even though we often hear the words ‘refugees’ or ‘humanitarian crisis’. Dramatically, it’s an interesting place and context to examine the human condition. It’s about the difficult choices that we make as individuals, whether personally or professionally, when considering the greater good and working in such a high stakes situation.
Huzir: The refugee crisis is not just an issue concerning refugees, but it’s also an issue of how organisations and institutions respond. I think it’s important for us to take a look at how we can make our institutions better, whatever our organisation or field of endeavour. How can we improve the lives of people that take care of those who are most in need?
You’ve both described the play as “gripping”, “powerful” and “profound.” What does it take to bring this world to life?
Claire: Whenever I develop a new work, I ask myself: How do I stretch myself and my collaborators to bring the work to a new level? How can we draw the audience in, in a powerful and new way? Every time I bring a play from words on the page to life inside the bodies of the actors, I ask: What is the performance vocabulary of this world?
I’ve had the opportunity to really invest in this process of exploring the full range and potential of the vocal speaking voice of the actors, layered with the vocal singing voice and physical vocabulary. It has been a very open and porous process where we challenge each other and find ways to tap into the potential of every actor.
Huzir: It’s really exciting for me to see Claire bring my text to life - the physical exploration and vocal explorations that she’s doing with the performers, the way she’s working with our music directors and composers, gif., is tremendously exciting to watch and adds a really wonderful layer to my text.
Huzir Sulaiman is the playwright of Displaced Person’s Welcome Dinner. He tells stories that allow people to access complex ideas in simple, personal, human ways. Huzir is also the co-founder and Joint Artistic Director of Checkpoint Theatre.
Singaporean director, actress and filmmaker Claire Wong is the director of Displaced Persons’ Welcome Dinner. She is also the Joint Artistic Director of Checkpoint Theatre.
Don't miss Displaced Persons' Welcome Dinner by Checkpoint Theatre taking place from 24 - 26 May, Fri - Sun at Victoria Theatre.