Inspirations in Intimate Detail

Published on 30 July 2017

This year’s M1 Chinese Theatre Festival allows you to get up close and personal with the performers and performances in more ways than one

By Jo Tan

While its large scale productions (such as this year’s restaging of Lao Jiu the Musical with over twenty cast members and sold-out houses at the Drama Centre Theatre) often get more media mileage, the fact is that The Theatre Practice also cherishes its quiet, intimate offerings, which include those staged in courtyards, classrooms, or other corners, for audiences numbering fewer than 50.

Since 2011, it has also presented the annual M1 Chinese Theatre Festival, focusing on theatre from all over the world – but only those pieces that can be easily staged in the small confines of a black box theatre, where the limited audience members can get up close and personal with every emotion and expression of the performers. This year, however, the intimacy is more than physical – the festival offers a deeply personal glimpse into hidden sides of the artists and society.

The lineup of performances include The Seven Silences: Anger, presenting social minorities personified in a prostitute, a jobless man, a thief and a cleaner, depicted at their most destitute. Meanwhile, the starting point of Blank Run (Singapore) – a one-woman performance by Gloria Ang – was Ang’s own experience of sexual assault, later woven together with other real stories of women who have approached the Sexual Assault Care Centre for assistance. “I do not play myself in Blank Run – We constructed an entirely new narrative and character (around the many voices we heard). But even while being able to hide behind the character onstage, the decision to come forward has not been easy. I have been deeply humbled by the people who have chosen to share the most vulnerable sides of themselves, and who gave me the courage to perform in Blank Run.”

Even tots are not talked down to: The child-targeted performances in the festival also share generously and truthfully about personal issues likely to affect all of them in their present or later lives. The Little Child (another Taiwanese production), exploring death and illness through the use of puppets, was inspired by the director’s own childhood experience of witnessing his father reduced to what he called a seemingly lifeless lump after a brain hemorrhage. Meanwhile, The Wee Question Mark and the Nameless (Singapore) deals with how we are quick to neatly label and pigeonhole people. One of the show’s stars, Windson Liong, feels an undeniable personal connection to the play’s message, saying, “I really connect with the idea that we are all multi-layered, complex beings. Different people see different sides of us, but each side doesn’t define what we can be. As an actor, it’s easy to get pigeonholed – for me, I’m often cast as young nerdy characters. But I also have gotten cast as everything from a talking paintbrush to a glow-in-the-dark fish.”

If that’s all not intimate enough for you, there are also free events where you get to meet various artists – including Theatre Practice artistic director Kuo Jian Hong herself – in person to discuss various issues, including the intense creation process behind the visceral Blank Run.

So if you’re tired of razzle-dazzle and crave experiences which are generous and honest, get up close and personal with the artists of The M1 Chinese Theatre Festival 2017, running till 27 Aug. Tickets and details here.

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