POV Days 7 & 8: Their Points of View

posted 11 May 2018, 21:45 by Daniel Teo   [ updated 11 May 2018, 23:57 ]
POV Group Seminar
A light moment during the group seminar.
Day 7 Activities:
- Group Seminar
- Dialogue with Tobias Veit 
- Dinner party

Day 8 Activities:
- Group Seminar/Closing Dialogues
- In Conversation with Thomas Ostermeier
- SIFA Performance: An Enemy of the People

After almost one week on their two separate tracks, it was time for the 30 young performance writers and makers to congregate and consolidate their shared experiences in the Points of View (POV) programme and Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), and to distill and reflect on the lessons they had learnt along the way.

More importantly, the group seminar was an opportunity for the participants to exercise a criticality that had been honed over the past six days, as well as a generosity to consider multiple perspectives on the same issue.

In the Centre 42 Black Box, the POV participants were first tasked to discuss, in smaller breakout groups, the SIFA performances that had watched in terms of performance and programming.

Reconvening, the groups shared their discussion points, which largely fall into two main areas of concern – about what makes a ‘good’ work and how a work is framed.

POV Group Seminar
"Welcome back to the Big Circle," facilitator Charlene Rajendran said.

Markers of a Good Performance

With the many SIFA shows the participants had watched, the first area of concern for them was what constituted a ‘good’ performance.

Casidhe Ng’s group, in comparing TAHA with 1984, wondered whether it was about the connection between the stage and spectator. Ng shared, “TAHA is a stripped down, a one-man monologue. The simplicity of the performance seemed in opposition to a work like 1984 that just seemed to have a lot of unnecessary elements that were somewhat distancing, as opposed to going back to the relationship between the theatrical and the performer.”

Likewise, Sabrina Ng’s group talked about the two dance performances they had seen – OCD Love and The Blues Project – and how the latter was more accessible than the former. She said, “They’re both dance performances. How different were the responses? For OCD Love, [we] came out and said, “I don’t know how to see this. I’m not a dance person.” Versus The Blues Project when [we] went, “That made me feel great – I was so energetic and happy!”

Desmond Soh reported that his group had touched on leaving room for audience interpretation. They had discussed 0600, specifically their dissatisfaction with how the work had handled the topic of capital punishment: "If you come across a performance that is very heavy-handed in its message to you, what do you do about it? Maybe it allows for very little interpretation of things. Maybe you feel like you're not allowed to interpret the artwork. That's a very tricky part for the audience. And for, obviously, the performance maker."

For Tan Liting and her group, these discussion points raised concerns in creating work: “The larger question we started thinking about was – is there a set of rules or basics of performance that we all adhere too? For example, is there something about tempo that we expect? Do we expect the tempo to constantly change to keep us engaged? Is there a set of checkboxes you can tick?

Facilitator Lim How Ngean cautioned the participants about having set guidelines for making performances: “There is always that danger that when you tick boxes then it becomes this standard, this quantitative standard. But here the checking of boxes then relies actually on a very qualitative way of dealing with it.”

Framing Performances

The POV participants also considered how the categorisation of a performance can affect audience experience, especially how the audience make come to understand and view the work. Over the six days, they had been exposed to a wide range of performances with labels like “music, “dance”, “site-specific” and so on.

Sharing on behalf of his group, Desmond Soh said, “When we say it's a dance piece or a theatre piece or a site-specific piece, all these classifications will inform the audiences in some way – which is not a bad thing. But the question comes in when we are only limited to a certain reading before the performance even starts.”

A performance cited  to illustrate how labelling a work might affect how it is experienced was Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Within the SIFA programmes, the work had been listed under the category “Music”. However, Parable was adapted from a novel, implying a strong narrative element, and, as the participants pointed out, the word “parable” in the title suggested some sort of storytelling.

But in the participant’s dialogue with director Eric Ting, Ting shared that Parable had previously existed as a concert of songs. Its next incarnation was in its current form, intended to be an opera.

The participants felt the narrative and theatrical elements of Parable were unsatisfying, and overshadowed by the music. But they were also wary of these many labels used to try and label the work, described in the SIFA programme as “genre-defying”.

Soh concluded with a learning point: “How do you try to articulate what is your form or your art to other people? Because when you guide the audience with a label, you're also limiting the interpretation of the work."

How a performance is framed then begged the question – who is responsible for it?

Ethan Chia said, “This question of responsibility – it goes up. Not just to performance makers, but also programmers and festival director, for the audience as a whole and how they receive that work. Why do you we need something to be labelled?  Do we need to consider what it is that [performance makers] need, and then what it is that the audience needs to meet us somewhere in the middle?”

Summing up this thread of discussion, facilitator Lim How Ngean shared what late theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun used to say to his performers backstage before a show opened: “We are giving a gift to the audience. What kind of gift do you want to present to your audience?”

Sharing his observation of the discussions, Irfan Kasban said, “Everyone had a different production they wanted to talk about... that was the beauty of the conversation we had, that we all had different leanings and that’s okay.”

The group seminar was followed immediately by a dialogue with Executive Producer Tobias Viet from Berlin’s Schaubühne theatre company. Schaubühne would be presenting their adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, which the POV participants would attend the next day.

[To find out what happened during the dialogue session, as well as a second session with Enemy of the People director Thomas Ostermeir the next day, check out our An Enemy of the People blog coverage here.]

The POV participants then adjourned to the Centre 42 Courtyard for a night of food, drinks and rich conversation.

Dinner party in Centre 42
The courtyard party at Centre 42.

The group seminar picked up again the next day at the Festival House Living Room. This time round,  the breakout groups were to draw the lens further back and discuss their concerns as performance makers and writers about SIFA as a national festival with an international lineup, as well as the purpose of festivals at large.

East vs. West

At the large group sharing later that afternoon, Iwani Zoe Mawochi led the charge.

“[SIFA] doesn’t feel like an international festival, it feels like a Western festival,” Mawochi claimed. “Where’s South America? Where’s Africa? Where’s the rest of Asia represented in the works here?”

Continuing, she said, “Western as equivalent as high-brow is another problem I have with... We treat [these Western shows] with such reverence and deference that, by implication, everyone Singaporean is beneath that in standard... There are so many talented people here, but it's almost like ‘Western’ is the highest level of attainment.”

“This festival seems like a way for Singaporeans to just consume Western content, versus a festival in which international people would come here and get to see Singaporean things at the forefront.”  

Alfonse Chiu echoed Mawochi’s sentiments: “There is this pervasive sense of cultural insecurity. And the fact that there are these social, economic, political considerations that go into, not just programming, but also the deliberate choice to consume certain works.”

“A lot of this is shaped by a distinct label politics, because Singapore is pretty much Anglophonic. There are certain subscriptions to certain models and certain understandings of what a ‘mainstream’ should constitute.”

0600 was brought up again, because it was  one of the two Singaporean works the POV participants had seen during the programme, and also because they thought the new work fared poorly next to its international counterparts in the SIFA lineup. 

Victoria Chen said, “To see a Singapore work at that standard, and then the other international works programmed at that standard, it leaves an impression on what it means to have a ‘Singapore’ work and an ‘international’ work.”

The discussion then segued into what constituted a ‘Singaporean’ work.

Irfan Kasban offered an alternative view: “I think as Singaporeans we need to get over that – are we Singaporean enough? It’s hindering us because we are from Singapore. And I don’t see the need to differentiate between ‘international’ and 'Singapore', a global city.”

POV Group Seminar
The POV participants putting together their final thoughts in the programme.

Facilitator Charlene Rajendran, while recognising the criticality of the participants’ perspectives, also had to contextualise their view of an east-west, local-international divide in history, and the regional and the international landscape.

“This is not a new frustration,” Rajendran said. “This is a frustration that’s more frustrating because it’s not a new frustration. But there are certain power structures in place to keep a certain kind of mainstream in place... And this is not just local to Singapore. This is a hang-up in many parts of Asia.”

“These are struggles that don’t just emerge from one year, certainly not one person, one committee, or one organisation. These are frustrations that involve all kinds of re-thinking, to be become even aware of what we’re imbibing. Sometimes, you aren’t even aware this is what’s happening to me because it’s so overwhelmingly easy.”

Rajendran advised the participants to not just maintain a critical lens on their work and the context in which it is made, but also to learn as much as they could about what else was happening in the region and around the world.

 “Make the effort to then inform yourself about what else is going on,” she concluded.

POV concludes on Day 9 with a public forum with presentations by the participants.