A Yellow Bird | K. Rajagopal

A quick post for tonight.

I watched A Yellow Bird with Jessica and I liked it, although I don’t think I will remember it as much as other arthouse films perhaps because there’s simply a lack in action or progressive plot.

A Yellow Bird highlights the marginalisation of minorities in Singapore, especially those we do not usually think about. Rajagopal had characters that were illegal immigrants, ex-convicts, poor (Indian) people, the Mainland Chinese and sex workers all in one film. Despite being seemingly ambitious, I felt that he did a good job in linking all these into a coherent story, albeit with no start and no end.

His artistic choices are really interesting and in particular, I liked the idea of using water and land for symbolism. He associated water to hope and somehow somewhy I think it is universal that water symbolically heals. I also liked how Rajagopal pays attention to how light and sound are used to heighten the audience’s awareness of the main character’s environment and metaphorical situation.

I was really impressed by Huang Lu’s acting and professionalism in creating her character. Rajagopal said that there was quite a bit of improvisation for her and Sivakumar Palakrishnan, who stars as the main character and they ended up making the scene beautiful, naked (metaphorically… and literally) and raw.

Ultimately, there was anxiety and loneliness in the film amongst all characters that one could identify with themselves or at least empathise with. In the film, we are only presented the reality of the world through Siva’s eyes and hence his actions, his behaviours and antics. However, as the audience, we are also aware of the implications of his actions on others around him.

Maybe, one of the takeaways of the film that Rajagopal wanted his audience to take away is for us to pay more attention to those around us and not to dismiss these people as stereotypes but more as an individual with their own problems. Perhaps, it is just to acknowledge the human frailty and see the more emotional, less rational fragment of the mind react when one is pushed out of their own comfort zones.

Singapore Biennale 2017

This is just a post to sum up on my experience of the Biennale. I went for the biennale twice, once when it first opened and the second time on the last day before the uninstallation.

The first time I went, I hated it. It was public unfriendly. The programme book was so thick. The works in 8Q were incredibly dry. The whole idea of dividing the exhibition into different subsections only served to upset me even more, being a fragmented strategy to keep me in the museum to boggle or bore my mind out. Jessica and I were so uninspired I swore to her I will get to the bottom of this and figure out this Biennale.

And so I did. I went back for the tour on the last day and I would say it did help a little bit. I enjoyed the works better because the tour guide was explaining the smaller details and giving a structure on how each artist saw their particular work to be a mirror or the world. For example, there was this work by Eddy Susanto using ink on canvas. From far, it just seemed to be an ordinary painting with Indian/Indonesian influences. But with the guide, we were encouraged to go closer and see the work. We later found out that the outlines are actually in Javanese script, and later the script changes to reflect other parts of the region that the Panji cycle had been circulated.

At the end of my tour, I felt that maybe the biennale was not that bad after all, as bored as I was. My initial questions still remain, who are the target audience of the biennale, what it wanted people to take away from, and how successful do they think they are at bringing their message across?

For one thing, I’m sure people my age are going there to just look at the works on face level and take photographs for their Instagram while Jessica and I break our heads trying to make sense of this exhibition to feed our hungry souls.

With/out | Conceptualised by Loo Zihan

This version of the play was based on Completely With/Out Character, devised by Paddy Chew and staged in 1999. In collaboration with The Necessary Stage, Loo restaged it again this year after his first attempt in 2015 at the M1 Fringe Festival.

I first heard about Loo Zihan when I was back in secondary school when we discussed arts censorship and arts funding, we always end up talking about Josef Tan’s work. This work of Josef’s involved him snipping his pubic hair in front of a live audience that directly led to the ban in doing performance art in 1994. This work was a protest of the media’s coverage of gay issues, titled Brother Cane. So Zihan restaged this in 2012.

Back to With/out, which I caught the previous night starring Janice Koh, I was surprised by the last-minute request to arrive half an hour early so the team can give out headphones to us for the show. Wearing the headphones, we entered the studio a little bit disorientated because there were three giant screens in the centre of the space and long blocks for seats at the sides. Everybody went for the seats except Shangbin who chose to be badass (kidding).

The headphones had three different channels; one to focus on Paddy’s version of the play being screened on the first screen, one to focus on Janice’s rendering of the script while she acts it out in real life, and the last is a fusion of both. I was on the last channel because I did not figure out how to toggle the channels, but even if I knew I would still probably be on the third channel. Zihan mentioned that the reason why he opted for this segmentation of audio was because in the 2015 version he had two rooms to do two versions concurrently but he couldn’t find a good space this year hence he went for an alternative choice. But I was painfully distracted, it really tested my skills of focus.

Zihan hoped that by screening both at the same time, the audience would have the freedom to toggle their channels and pay attention to whatever they wished. Shangbin and I agreed that we wanted to pay attention to both so it was quite unfair and unkind trying to split our head into twos to focus on both. I ended up zoning out on Janice because Paddy’s version was so engaging. I’m personally not into sobby stuff, which was the characterisation Janice decided to go with for the night. Paddy, however, was a classic and such a powerful character to watch. After all, to quote, it was a “docu-drama” featuring his real life, his aspirations, fears and struggles. But I later tried to balance both because I paid money to watch Janice in real life, not a screening of an old staging.

I was truthfully, unable to appreciate Janice’s rendering because everybody was crowding around her, around me, and the theatre experience was almost detached and emotionless when her character was “absorbed by other people” before it even reached me. Instead of having everyone sitting in their seats, some chose to stand around her, some chose to sit, some did not even pay attention to her at all, focusing on Paddy.  It was on hindsight and upon her sharing that she was performing in silence while we all had the headphones, she had to discipline herself to carry through her actions despite the lack of audience feedback and other distractions such as shuffling of feets and others laughing at Paddy while she does a sad sobby part. She is definitely a very strong actress and I would not deny her efforts any bit.

On the issue of HIV and AIDS, Janice ended off with a memorial for Paddy by inviting the audience to light a candle for Paddy. As I watched people waddle to the table to light their candle, I ended up being cynical and questioned their intentions as they did so. Lighting a candle in remembrance for Paddy is one thing, doing something in thought of him is another thing. To light a candle today because it was part of a play, because it seemed fun, because you feel like you are part of the group who watched and to forget about Paddy’s fight and mission to reduce the stigma of AIDS, to not do your part in sharing Paddy’s vision and attitude towards life, I think this action is nothing more than empty.

I was very honoured to have a chance to watch Paddy in his autobiographical play albeit from a screening because it really felt like he was there and he was sharing his message. Sometimes, people make bad decisions out of goodness. Sometimes, the people who say they care, don’t, and those who do, will make their efforts felt. Sometimes, feeling bitter and angry about other’s privileges while you are stripped of your own is not justified. Sometimes, life is short and you have a choice to make a difference in one person’s life, many people’s life or none at all. Most importantly, to treasure what we have each day and be thankful in actions and words before it is too late.

Fundamentally Happy | Nine Years Theatre

Watched Fundamentally Happy yesterday and hmmm…. there were things I liked and things that I did not like. 

For one, Clarence and I were excited to see how the story unfolds since this topic of paedophilia is a touchy one. It was only watching the show that I found out it involved rape and molestation. This definitely made it a really difficult play to put across since there has to be awareness of boundaries that may be touchy. 

The first thing that catches your eye (my eye) is the stage. BRILLIANCE!! It was so beautiful and realistic. It reminded me of Pangdemonium’s set for Falling. Antique sofas, antique curtains and even the design for the wall/backdrop was considered. My favourite was definitely the “rain”, which I assume they used some sort of fish tank kind of method to simulate rain outside the “windows”. We could see through the windows and it was “raining” outside, with the intensity changing with the scenes. This is probably the first play I watched with the use of (natural) sound being so poignant and integrated into the rest of the play. The raindrops at one point created a slow drip drip drip soundscape which added onto the tension created and I just loved that moment. 

On hindsight, the use of the radio in my own personal opinion was bad. I have no idea what it was meant to do for the audience and it just made everything more fragmented.

It was really aesthetically pleasing with an almost functioning living room on stage. Lights and radio sounds could be controlled from both the stage and the control room, which I thought was helped to keep the acting flexible and real.

Acting wise… I would say that the actors took quite a long time to settle down proper into their characters though. Both stumbled over their lines a little bit and the chemistry was weird. Then everything else became weird (perhaps its how the script is written) when things later did not make logical sense and emotionally  it did not match up also, like how Habiba forgives then don’t forgive then Eric forgives and uncle is caught and Habiba’s leaving… There were so many knots tied and left untied, it was quite confusing and unconvincing somewhat at the end of it all. But I wouldn’t disregard both the actors’ efforts to do this play in Chinese and sometimes Malay/Cantonese. There were parts that I could believe Timothy Wan was really hurting, and I liked how Lok Meng Chue worked her laughter into her character to show openness and sometimes to hide her pain. But maybe when we put it all together, some things don’t click while some clicked only after a bit. It was quite obvious also that they were sometimes struggling to get the words right and staging even before putting in their emotions. 

Otherwise, this topic I would say is very fresh in the scene for now, where we kind of want to just stick to happy musicals and feel good shows. It plants an uncomfortable seed to think about as we move along. 

Those Who Can’t, Teach | The Necessary Stage

Watched Those Who Can’t, Teach on 17 March and really wanted to pen down my thoughts straight after but it never seems to work out. 

The first time I watched it it was at NTU by the WKW kids last year (or year before..) and I left with such a good impression that when TNS decided to stage it I was so super excited, especially knowing that the cast is really strong. After watching it, I wouldn’t say I was disappointed but more like… WKW was really good. Nevertheless, TNS did a great job too! I left with a good laugh and I think it was pretty worth the price (it was quite expensive actually). 

As usual, I enjoyed Siti K’s acting a lot. She’s really versatile and knows what makes people laugh. I was plesantly surprised by Joshua Lim’s acting because he managed to charm me halfway through the show with that gaze he gave Siti. More professionally, of course, one can tell he puts in a lot of effort to do his best, as seen from Those and Starring Hitler. The others were good also, but I don’t have much to say. Ghafir Akbar’s rendering of the old Malay teacher was hilarious though. 

Wong Chee Wai’s set was pretty amazing as usual (I’m a HUGE fan). I liked the elevated stage that not only had utilitarian purposes but actually looks aesthetic too. Otherwise, it was simple, which doesn’t leave any more room for me to be impressed. Oh, I did find the random school badges and banners what not coming down from the flybars a little bit unnecessary. 

Last but not least, I loved the choice of using local songs as their playlist!!! The song choices were good and I thought it was a good way to expose audience to local music 🙂 

OH! Open House – Holland Village

I went as a tour guide on the 4 and 5 of March so this is finally recent!! On hindsight I enjoyed it, but preparing for it was a heck load of work and a lot of jitters I swear. For one thing, I was never great at public speaking because I know my written English standard isn’t great and my spoken English is a lot worse. The other was that we had to study content to share and that was like school. I had just submitted my assignment two days before the open house and then it was studying for this already. Everything was so rushed and I just wanted to give my best for the paying guests, so I definitely felt stressed compared to the other guides who seemed pretty chill about it.

One thing that I really liked about OH! was that the artists were so nice! They were so enthusiastic in sharing about their works with visitors and some stayed really long to interact with them even though they did not have to. As such, I was better able to understand their works and also their personalities. They are so humble and thankful towards the visitors, the volunteers and the management team. I got to meet Anthony Chin and Yen Phang, who were both really friendly and warm. I was especially inspired by how Chin knew so much about Holland Village, which probably meant he did indepth research before he did his artwork. His artwork is super poetic and I really like it.

Another thing I liked about OH! was that the volunteers are all pretty friendly despite coming from all over Singapore and from across all ages. I managed to interact with an alumnus of NAFA’s Arts Management, one guy from NAC, one teacher in TP, one girl working in NGS and made friends with a girl who graduated from NP and is going to be my junior next year. This interests me a lot because I feel like I’m finally looking at the people who I can get inspired by or be inspired with. Usually art events attract volunteers from a certain age group from the usual demographics – arts students from poly, NAFA or Lasalle. In OH!, I see adults and expats, which is a group I don’t interact with often, and as such I got to hear different perspectives and ask questions to people with jobs I’m interested in.

Lastly, I have always liked the concept of how we put art in houses and really bring art to the community. The works are exactly the type that I like – installations, interactive sculptures and attention grabbing. There is so MUCH work involved though, even just as a volunteer remembering facts about Holland Village, directions, the artwork, other adhoc things. Imagine the things that the management handles, to even source for all these information, liaise with vendors, the artists, residents, sponsors what not and relay all the information to the volunteers. So I think OH! is a job well done and they deserve support from the public to just go see what they do.

Learning about Holland Village was quite fun, and through bring a tour guide I had to trust myself and believe that I can somewhat deliver a good tour while facing my fears of angmors and small talk. It is always nice to be reminded that the kindness of strangers can go a long way, when they are happy with their tour and are grateful that you made an effort in personalising your tour for them.  

With that said, it would take me plenty of courage to do this again haha. We’ll see how it goes.

Little India Art Walk 2017

This happened in January with the Singapore Art Week but I only had like an hour there because of Art Stage and other commitments. As such, I only managed to catch the painted murals which I found out would be permanent afterwards. Nothing really caught my eye, I got pretty lost trying to find the artworks since it really wasn’t centralized and the website did not say where to go for information. 

To be fair, I went around 9pm when all the other events finished. It was very dark so I could not appreciate the artworks well (but the event happens at night, I assumed it was okay whatever time I went). It was hot and crowded with other people not going for the event. I got bombarded by the STB people trying to make me do their surveys and I pitied the first guy so I did his survey, also because I was trying to find my way to the festival and made him tell me afterwards. 

Otherwise, I did not meet anybody else who went to Little India for the sake of the murals and video installations. 

Singapore Contemporary 2017

This is a “on hindsight” post because it is beyond belated. I forgot I attended these events so now that I remember I shall add on.

I went for Singapore Contemporary on the second last day and there were not many interesting artworks left. Perhaps the fair was not catered to those who just wanted to appreciate and view the works without buying. I saw many Chinese paintings which I assume are from the mainland. And there was a stretch of galleries from Australia. Otherwise, the galleries were quite random but not as diverse as Art Stage. It was not as accessible as Art Stage in my opinion, where the works chosen were so (for the lack of a better word) boring to those who do not do art. It was not as colourful, as arresting or as inventive.  

Definitely the choice of venue – Suntec City Convention Hall was less impressive than Marina Bay Sands’ and it resulted in the lack of energy. The ushers hired did not add on to my experience. Some of them talked among themselves and ignored me while attending to this man who looked like he could afford art (compared to me, that is). I understood that these people were paid, whereas in Art Stage, most were volunteers and hence the difference in attitude? I also noticed that the dynamics it attracted was very different, since there was nobody else my age. Most were art-buyers, or adults at least. 

I ended up getting more bored than my sister who doesn’t even like such things.

The nicest thing that happened was this artist from Australia, Emma Hack, talked to everybody going into her gallery (including those who were just curious and not buying) and she shared snippets of her work. She was the lady who painted Gotye in his “Somebody I Used to Know” music video. Her works were one of the most colourful. You can check it out. 

Detention Katong! | DREAM Academy

I watched this on 26 February with Ben!! And I’m glad I watched it with him because if not I will be very confused. To be honest I thought long and hard how to give a review on this that doesn’t hurt anybody so I guess here goes: why?….

??? *inserts benefit of doubt*

I do appreciate the dancing, the singing, and the effort in creating a storyline.. but I am really not sure who the show was catered to and what the audience was supposed to feel. The lyrics were not strong, the breaking into songs out of nowhere was strange, and the message of the story was lost – either lost or there was a problem with the message in the first place.

Bad girls can be good? In the first place they aren’t even all that bad. And then there’s so much going on… yet nothing substantial was happening. All I was waiting for was for the relatively cute boy in St Pats uniform to sing to see if he can get any cuter. He only got to sing one song. And then I was waiting for the show to end.

It just wasn’t my cup of tea, but it might have been for others. To be honest, the singing was not bad although Ben said they were straining their voices. Nobody messed up their choreography, which was applaudable. Nevertheless… I just didn’t like it.  

The Pillowman | Pangdemonium

I seem to procrastinate a whole lot such that there after I cannot really remember details, which does not help much. I watched Pillowman on 24 February and I rate it 9/10!!! Which was really high, because I would give Falling 10/10 and Les Mis 10/10. With that said, I have to put it out there that I’m a sets person and an acting skills person so if both happen to be there and done well, not to mention a brilliant choice of script and cast, the highest rating one would have garnered from me would be an 11/10.

I wouldn’t say I have seen much of the cast other than Adrian Pang from Falling (and Mediacorp…) and Daniel Jenkins from Othello, so I cannot really judge based on that. However, it is undeniable that Jenkins was amazing from start to end and I was so intrigued by the story! The Pillowman is so twisted, it’s horrifying but such an amazing piece of work from McDonagh.

The set of Pangdemonium’s was brilliant as usual. I loved how they managed to create a set behind a set just by turning the whole wall around. It was so quick, ergonomical and still beautiful. I am just – Pangdemonium can take my money – yes they are that good I am sold.

There was so much effort in everything they do! They brought on stage this electrocutor thing.. and that thing freaking SPARKED on stage and made an electrifying sound so that thing was definitely working and can cause pain for real and it was attached to Jenkins. I swore I would have yelped if something screwed up and it switched on while being attached to him. Same went for the gunshot. I know I sound like I kid (I am one) but wow boy am I amazed (and shocked).

I am watching the rest of their season!!! I can’t relay how excited I am and I really should start saving up now haha.