gambitch - now available in blue Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.
Friday, August 18, 2006
"You call it a bridge over troubled waters; I prefer to see it as a link that binds two cousins, too often bickering to make them far from close, yet too concerned deep down about each other to be truly estranged."
Thus do I start the notes on what has been a brilliant show, named Second Link after the homes of the two groups of performers, who are basically trying to interpret and present curator's selections of each other's literature. It's a nice show, and it has been run before - which reminds me of how out of touch I have been with the theatre scene until recently. To catch it now can be seen as some sort of make-up.
And it was brilliant, for the most part, because of the way the scene keeps changing from one excerpt to another. Talaq, Mammon Inc., Descendants of the Eunuch Admiral... They were all on show, albeit in samplings. On the other side, there were some great fun things too, like Mark Teh's Daulat, the old tale Sang Kancil, and what is a mostly wildly hilarious Atomic Jaya. To recall the entire production would be difficult, such is the range of little clips that were performed. But it was absolutely beautiful stuff.
Almost makes me want to go grab all the original texts for a read. Even play scripts would do nicely.
Incidentally, I bumped into one of my former colleagues in "the profession". He's presumably a successful enough doctor now, but he also scripted another show which I sadly had no time to watch. But I had time to wish him well, and he did the same.
So I spent the day doing, well, not very much in terms of productive work. But it was quite a fun day. And I like it for that, because I don't have enough fun days that are work-free, and too many fun days that are about work. Yes, yes, I have some un-fun days too. But that's not the point.
Anyway, the day started on a rather awkward note as I woke up later than planned, and was marginally late for this work-related thing I was supposed to attend. That's what happens when I let my body clock, not the mechanical one, decide when to wake up. But that's fine, because I slept well for the most part, and the only complaint I would have is that it was relatively dream-free. I like dreams, particularly the deliciously sweet ones or the creative ones. But I guess I had to do without one.
So then there was the work, which culminated in an invitation to play in a charity football match. I don't know why I got the invitation, because I don't play that well. I really don't. And it's a full-field affair, not a neighbourhood kickabout in much more limited spaces. But I've got the option to refuse, and more importantly, I've got the time to consider. So that's fine. Meanwhile, a very pleasant chat over lunch, in which we examine the intricacies involved in filing transportation claims when working for different news agencies. That was funny!
About an hour later, I was eating again, mostly because I didn't really eat that much back at the lunch. I preferred to be polite despite being hungry... so I decided to eat again, this time with my regular field-work partner. We did that while analyzing the newspapers, and then we decided to check out some stuff at the library. He was going through the football books, while I had my eyes on computer game graphics and a very nice guide on copyediting. This was, sadly, not the day to borrow the book, but I am sure I will want to come back for it one day. So I switched my attention to yet another book on contract bridge - which I haven't played in a while.
Of course, checking out the library was fun enough, but then we just had to go shopping! What two grown men are doing going shopping in the middle of a Monday afternoon is anyone's guess, but it was a joy at the mall looking at shoes and ties and shirts and even some nice French berets. There was even time to check out kitchen stuff, as well as take a stop at this corner that sold lots of very nice little gifts. Then the partner decided to have a bit of a joke at my expense. Yes, I know, I am eight! So you know what to get for my next birthday gift, don't you?
And then, on to the bookstore we went, and we came across this really hilarious book of lists about English football. We practically managed to read it cover to cover, and it was a laugh, to put it mildly. We went through several other shelves too, and somewhere along the way there was a bit of comment about how Japanese photobook models seem to just keep on having rather ridiculous figures. Must be something they ate, I guess.
We even found time to go somewhere else on foot - and it was a fair bit of walking, I might add - and say hi to another friend of mine who happened to be performing that evening. Oh, but before that, a stopover at this really lovely colonial building that houses several nice-looking restaurants, bars and grills, not to mention a very classy theatre hall that happened to have no performance this evening. A great stroll we had, as we took in the atmosphere. How many people actually do this? Just walking about?
Well, then we visited my friend, and then we walked on some more to check out some more stuff in another mall. Yes, it's really shopping day for us. We saw plenty of nice things, including a couple of cute toys for decorating the office desk if we ever owned one ourselves, and this absolutely great-looking cushion! Ah, the things that can inspire happiness...
And now? I'm home, and maybe I should go to sleep or something. I might as well; nothing beats sleeping in a happy mood! gambitch [
Sunday, August 13, 2006
So, time for more theatre, and this time I went to watch this play with a really long title which I will simply abbreviate to The Campaign. It's basically something a little on the politically-charged side, though not very much so, and there's much play on a whole lot of hide-and-seek. Much of it revolves around the fact that the play title carries the initials of a very prominent local politician, so much so that the initials are firmly associated with him.
I want to digress at this point and mention that we live in a very acronym-driven society. So many things are contracted into acronyms basically because it's easy to remember and utter, and the consequence of this on the brain is that the association of acronyms, over time, gives these acronyms as strong an identity as is already owned by the object they're supposed to acronym. For example, in the USA (a brilliant example of an acronym), when you say IRS, you know straight away it's a reference to the Internal Revenue Service, and when you say GWB, you simply know the reference is to George W. Bush.
The flip side to this is that no one in America would think of JFK as acronym for, say, John Faulkner King. You expect JFK to refer to John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Same thing happens elsewhere in the world, so when you throw in an acronym here for a play title, the audience naturally expects it to refer to something. Imagine the sheer disappointment that then comes when you realize that the acronym really stood for someone else.
And that seems to be at first the problem with the whole trick. Inside mere minutes of the play's start, we realize we're taken for a huge ride. And that might turn off more than a few people who may have stepped into the hall expecting to see a direct criticism of government censorship and the fact that we're not supposed to directly engage in party politics in such an open forum that is supposed to be apolitical.
In a way, though, that's the whole point of the trick. The play title and the early unravelling of the trick makes a statement about these preconceived notions we carry. We aren't politically ignorant, at least not totally. What describes us better is that we are too simple in accepting these acronyms to take over and making us think these acronyms are one and the same as the things they're supposed to acronym, without opening ourselves to the possibility that the same acronym could stand for something else.
That's why the continued reference to "the other guy" triggered me into sniggering so much. The effort in disambiguating the ambiguous could well have been saved if, in the first place, the ambiguity of the acronym was avoided. But no, we're lazy and loves acronyms that way, without realizing the ambiguities and confusion they can create. We conveniently assume that the context in which those acronyms were created initially will stay for eternity, until we suddenly realize that might not be so true.
But it's not just about disambiguation. When acronyms are attached to personalities who seem to represent so much more, even the acronyms themselves then become tainted, and persuading people into believing that the alternative interpretation of the acronym is not similarly tainted, and that it is safe to utter the acronym in a different context, becomes nigh-on impossible. The neat quip referencing Asian blogger Mr. Brown was one case, when Miss Brown, who was initially altogether welcoming to the male lead's request to go on air to promote his cause, suddenly changed face and chased him out once she heard the 'forbidden' acronym, even though it stood for someone other than "the usual guy".
The whole first half of the play was about this whole disambiguation business and seeing the reactions from the ground when it comes to dealing with this political spectre, despite the rather apolitical reality about the acronym. In the second half, however, the scene totally changes, and now it's about reactions inside the establishment, behind the great veneers of the civil service, the police force, the arts elites, the journalism world, and things like that. In a world where image is everything, and there's a huge desire to show a more evolved, astute image of being less authoritarian and more sensitive - even if it's not actually true - confusion and contradiction abounds.
In the end, everything appears to resolve nicely. The cynic in me would suggest it has to, otherwise the authorities wouldn't pass the play for public performance. But passing a play is more complex than just making sure the last page, which could be the only thing the censors read, looks good. The seemingly nice ending, complete with decor and fireworks, is a facade meant for the fools who probably didn't know better and missed most of the things that happened behind the scenes (i.e. about 90% of the play). The reality behind the opaque curtain is quite another sight.
If you've noticed that I seem to be talking all about the message of the play, without delving into details about characterization and technical setups, that's deliberate. This was one of those plays where the message and the reverbrations it creates in the head is the real centre of the show. In very sharp contrast, the characters are less important. Acted out well, the characters might either help to tell the story without drawing too much attention to themselves; acted out badly, they might spoil the experience somewhat.
Oddly enough, the two lead roles fell into these extremes. It wouldn't surprise me if the male lead character seemed rather too lame and forgettable, though it might say something about the lame forgettability of wannabe civil activists who are still in university. Maybe that's the age in me speaking, having seen it before. But the execution of the role might leave the poor actor taking quite a bit of a slam. His reading of the lines, for example, had a certain monotone to it that got quickly recognizable and boring.
The female lead, who only came to the fore in the second act (by which time the male lead has conveniently disappeared), was a whole different classification. She just seemed to get the story going perfectly nicely, and while her acting was very good, it was more about the play than her own credentials (which already are quite stellar). Quite how these two polar opposites in terms of the acting that was put into them could coexist in the same play is baffling, but then that could well be the whole point. People could wish the male lead was written or cast better, but what if it was? Would the play be better? Or would the jarring notes from the dissonance go missing, thereby bringing forward one fewer message?
It wasn't the greatest of plays, in summary. It definitely wasn't one of the easiest to understand. But The Campaign leaves us with the potential to chew on and ponder several very interesting issues about ourselves, some of which we normally never really notice - like those bloody acronyms. And while a lot of the commentary I'm writing here are my own extrapolations of the play, rather than coming directly from the play itself, should we really be expecting everything to be delivered to us on a silver platter?
It's been a fun play, all said. Not the strongest of impressions - the mostly blank stage didn't help - but a decent one nonetheless. Here's to getting some more of the good stuff. gambitch [