P/W Day 2: Both Sides of the Story

posted 5 May 2018, 12:09 by gwen@centre42.sg
Participants of the POV Performance Writing (P/W) track began the second workshop by jotting down their thoughts on Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower.

Day 2 Activities:

- P/W Workshop 2

- Dialogue with SIFA Artist: Eric Ting, director of Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower

- SIFA Performance: 0600

Roughly 14 hours after the P/W participants finished watching Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, they were once again gathered at Centre 42 for the second day of POV 2018. While yesterday’s workshop was more about the though process that takes place before a reviewer puts fingers to keyboard, today’s session plunged straight into the content of a potential review.

To begin, Lim How Ngean gave the participants 10 minutes to jot down their thoughts, feelings, observations, comments, or questions about last night’s performance. He then invited them to read out their first sentence.

“Great uplifting music that seems to be inspired from different genres that cannot be definitively categorised,” said Ke Weiliang.

“I noticed that the house lights were on through most of the first part of the production,” said Akanksha Raja, putting yesterday’s discussion of what constitutes as an observation into practice.

Interestingly, when Lim asked them to read out their second sentences, they often ended up being more critical. For instance, Ke felt like the work “was let down by poor storytelling”, while Raja mentioned that she “couldn’t hear a lot of the words that were being sung”. Other participants touched on issues such as ineffective stage blocking and how it was a difficult piece to follow for audience members who hadn’t read Octavia Butler’s novel. Lim also questioned why Parable of the Sower was marketed as a theatrical performance in the first place.

Later on in the workshop, Lim set the group another challenge. This time, they had to list five points that they would make if they were to write a review of the performance. The participants' responses ranged from the show’s choreography and technical elements, to whether it could have just been a concert inspired by Butler’s novel. On that last point, however, Lim cautioned that writers need to take care not to come across as an “aspiring director” by suggesting what the artists should’ve, would’ve, or could’ve done differently. As an alternative, another participant suggested that it could perhaps be rephrased as “I felt like I was watching a concert of songs inspired by [Butler’s] Parable of the Sower”, which would be more rooted in the (re)viewer’s personal experience.

As a post-workshop assignment, participants were asked to look back at the five points they had written, and to identify in broader terms what their points are about - for example, whether they were related to the dramaturgy, staging, narrative, theme, or other elements of the larger framework.

After the session, Casidhe Ng commented that “I think [the workshop] was great as an extension of How Ngean's point [yesterday] to not simply work off quick judgments. It really helped to sharpen our points. But what I found most useful was when How Ngean [asked us] to pinpoint three key ideas, which allowed me to better understand what I was really trying to examine.”

But while the workshop gave participants the space to examine the production from an audience or reviewer’s perspective, there is, of course, always another side to the story. And so, with all these thoughts and ideas still fresh in the participants’ mind, everyone then headed to the SIFA Festival House at The Arts House. Here, we reunited with the P/M participants to engage in a POV-exclusive dialogue session with Eric Ting, the director of Parable of the Sower.

POV participants had the chance to meet and chat with Eric Ting, director of Parable of the Sower.

Over the course of two hours, Ting generously shared his experience of working on the production with its creators, Toshi Reagon and her mother Bernice Johnson Reagon, and he also provided more context for Butler’s novel and this adaptation. For instance, he explained that in America, playwrights are usually at the top of the hierarchy in a production, so his role is to be a collaborator to help Toshi realise her ideas. He revealed that Toshi had intended for the work to be an opera - and indeed, an early version featured a rock concert in the second half – but she is still experimenting with different performance and narrative styles.

It was also interesting to hear him discuss specific staging elements in the piece. He mentioned with a laugh, for example, that the brightness of the house lights during Part One of the show would be determined by how self-conscious he reckoned the audience would be, and that the ideal setting for the work would be a thrust stage (with the audience sitting on three sides).

These nuggets of additional information were helpful in giving the P/W participants other possible angles from which to consider the issues that were discussed in the workshop earlier.

“I think [the talk] provided more context for our discussion,” said Lim Si Qi, adding that she now understood why so much of the direction seemed to be driven by the music.

“I'm glad to find out it was built around a different staging style,” said Ng. “All the unsatisfactory staging choices [we discussed] definitely make [more] sense now.”

After the talk, the P/W participants headed to the National Gallery of Singapore at various time slots to attend 0600 by local theatre group Ground Z-0. While they have so far not been tasked to write about this, Ng shared that “my knee jerk response to 0600 was that it seemed heavy-handed, but well-meaning. Safari's monologue was wonderful though, definitely thought it was the highlight of the piece.”

Tomorrow will be another full day of artist talk, workshop, and performance – look out for our next blog post!