Do you prefer to watch a theatre performance in a big hall, a studio theatre (a.k.a Black Box Theatre), or an unorthodox performance space (for example, in a park, a hotel room or a historical site)?
I personally prefer a studio theatre or an unorthodox theatrical space, because as compared to a proscenium stage in a big theatre, these performance spaces are more flexible in the arrangement of the stage and audience seats, thus allowing more experimental explorations in theatre-making; the intimacy of these spaces also allows one to feel the energy flow full-on. The greatest difference between theatre and television or movies is exactly the "live" element, just like the difference between listening to a music recording and watching a concert "live" – the tone of a record may be refined to perfection, but the ambience of a live concert is impossible to recreate even on a high definition video recordings.
Drama Box's performance Project Mending Sky: Us in September is going to be presented at a place that one wouldn't imagine a performance could be held – the now defunct Bukit Timah Railway Station. How will the "live" element of this production be like? Space undeniably plays an essential role in theatre; the Artistic Director of Drama Box, Kok Heng Leun, has spoken of the concept of a "five-dimensional theatre" in a Chinese article (its title can be directly translated as Excavating Memories and Unlocking Imagination in Singapore Chinese Theatre). Besides the conventional three-dimensions of space, the other two dimensions are as mentioned in the title: memories and imagination. From theatrical space to societal space, memories and imagination have an effect on our cognition of different places – places are no longer just a geographical coordinates, but they bear our memories and imagination, which in turn weave into our sense of existence. In that case, how can we be more active in intervening with societal space, to improve our lives?
Following this train of thought, the editorial team decided to explore the relationship between us citizens and the public space, in this issue. As citizens of Singapore, how do we fulfil our responsibilities as citizens? What are the responsibilities of a citizen? Is it just paying taxes? Are these responsibilities conferred to us from the government top-down? Or do we, as citizens, have the responsibilities, power and right to decide? To intervene with the public space and improve our society?
Of course, such an intervention is not necessarily restricted to the narrow definition of politics – for instance, isn't Drama Box's Project Mending Sky series an intervention into the public sphere, with its focus on environmental issues? And the means of intervention is not only restricted to theatre, or to strikes and violent protests. Let's take online petitions as an example. What other means can better facilitate dialogue? Activists and artists are often portrayed and stereotyped by the state apparatus as a group that disrupts public order, but they usually play the role of a good citizen (read: active) in the ideal of a democratic civic society.
For this issue's Main Feature, the editorial team interviewed Kok Heng Leun, on Drama Box's community theatre works and their theatre visions. In Guest Columns, we are honoured to have Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), to talk about the challenges faced by local activist groups in the age of the new media; and young Singaporean multidisciplinary artist Loo Zihan to aptly employ the metaphor of casting stones into the sea to describe his artistic practices. In Theatre A-B-C, we are introducing three theatre groups around the world that intervene with their local societies through their craft. In Grapevine, we pay a visit to Drama Box's office to take a look at their staffs' green practices. The finale of this issue is an Exclusive interview of internationally acclaimed movie director Tsai Ming-liang, who also has a background in theatre.
This September also marks 10 years since the passing of local theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun. As a public intellectual and an arts activist, Kuo Pao Kun made many positive contributions, including the founding of Singapore's first independent and community-run arts centre "The Substation", and for which he conceived the Raw Theatre seasons that propelled the development of local experimental theatre. I shall end with his famous quote from the Raw Theatre seasons, to serve as a reminder:
|Eng Hao is a post-graduate student from NTU Chinese Division and a member of Drama Box's youth wing ARTivate. He is also a freelance writer who does editing, researching and translating.
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