gambitch - now available in blue
Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

I haven't done stand-up comedy before, so to actually get my first go at watching it was really great. I sure had my laughs!

Watching Multiple Personality Disorder was actually really enjoyable, so much so that I came pretty close to splitting my sides. The introductory bit where we had things like Chinese pedestrians, comedians who can't do math and Thai footballers falling like willows in the wind was a good warm-up, and when the actual show came along, it just keeps getting better!

It's not quite theatre, so I won't do a real review. But I really have to say that stand-up comedy is the kind of thing where you really have to be there to feel the mood; otherwise, the jokes just don't come off half as good. It's that kind of show.

And to think I thought I was catching the final show. Not quite; turns out response to it was so good, they're running for an extra week! That means I should probably recommend this to a few friends, and then we can all go and have our laughs.

After all, what's better than laughing alone at a stand-up comedy performance? Why, laughing together with friends at a stand-up comedy performance, of course!

gambitch [ 12:11 AM]

Friday, February 02, 2007

And so it starts, with a visit to the old hall, where I was treated to a show entitled Survivor Singapore. The show was primarily the kickoff event for a festival on the theme of art and disability - and by disability the definition covers a very wide range that goes beyond simply physiological impairments. This Singaporean show was aimed at talking about a different kind of disability, but I'll get to the details as we go along.

Basically, the story takes place in a school where there is something of an inquiry going on. But the way the stage is set, it more closely resembles some kind of police interrogation, complete with lock-up and things like that. We wouldn't have guessed that the three characters who were hanging around inside the 'jail cell' were actually students inside their own school. (Well, maybe we would if we were reading the show programme a little more carefully before the show had started.) Certainly this helps in laying a certain kind of seriousness and severity into the mood.

Anyway, as we see soon enough, the three students were really representatives of three student project groups. Students in a certain class were asked to come up with some sort of project about society or the community, under the general banner of "thinking outside the box". So these students came up with three projects that were aimed at making a difference to the way people thought and driving home certain questions and perhaps truths. Then these projects go terribly wrong and lead to some pretty big reactions. Hence the inquiry.

Just what are these projects? One's about maids - also known by the euphemistic description "foreign domestic helpers". I should note that only two of those three words are accurate, the odd one out being the notion of 'helper'. Many maids are overused, a point that we intellectually know but do not practically admit, preferring to see it as a justified act of maximizing the maid as a resource. So the project gets students who sign up to serve in neighbourhood residences as maids for a week.

Enter Enactment One, where this schoolgirl turns up late for her first day at 'work' and is promptly harshly chided by the old woman who is the girl's 'employer'. I might add that the old woman is not particularly rich, lest anyone wonders. She's just the average retiree presumably living alone in her high-rise apartment. Anyway, the old woman wastes no time ordering the schoolgirl around, making her sweep the floor, cook, clean windows, and iron clothes. If any of you are familiar with stories about maids falling to the deaths from high-rise apartments while cleaning the windows' exteriors, or scalding themselves when they accidentally drop a pot of boiling water over the stove, you'll probably not be surprised to see the references.

There are a couple of funny moments in this enactment, the most memorable of which is the way the schoolgirl, in desperation (a state she reaches rather too easily), grabs her mobile phone and calls home for her own maid. In case you're wondering she's asking the maid how to do those chores, you'd be dead wrong. She practically orders the maid to go to where she is and do those chores for her, and do them before doing what she's supposed to do for the schoolgirl's family. That essentially summarizes to the schoolgirl believing her maid's at her beck and call, even though she is disgusted by the idea that this old woman whose apartment she's in is doing exactly the same thing to her.

Eventually, before her own maid can even turn up, the schoolgirl is quickly ordered around again, this time to iron some clothes. Something happens in one of the heated exchanges between her and the old woman, and in a fit of frenzy (well, sorta) the schoolgirl turns the hot iron on the old woman and effectively burns her to death. We've probably heard this sort of story before, where the maid and her employer get into a heated exchange that eventually leads to a fatality. And now we've got one right here, coming from a school project.

The whole idea of the project, presumably, is to awaken students to the fact that being a maid is really tough, and perhaps get the students to realize they should really be more humane in their treatment of maids at home. But then, when students are actually put through the experience of becoming maids for a day, it doesn't take them long to short-circuit and feel so disgusted that they go into a state of whine. Where's the moment where they are supposed to stop and empathize? It basically never happens, and all they know is "This thing sucks! Let me get someone else to do it!". Self-centred? Yeah. Snapping out of it for five seconds? Not a chance.

The second project's about surviving in jungle-type conditions, basically cut off from things to do with civilization, like mobile phones or instant noodles. Think of it as going camping without equipment. The idea of the project is to have some sort of idea what it is like to have to survive in the jungle in the event of something terrible like a nuclear attack - although if any place were really nuked, there'd be a pretty large radioactive radius which is dangerous to all living things. Notwithstanding these quibbles, it's basically about camping in the great outdoors with no equipment and having to learn how to collect water from the rain.

Needless to say, this is another terrible flop because the students are too pampered by the material comforts of having a good bed, water at the turn of a tap, even gadgets that provide portable entertainment aplenty. Teaching them to hunt while keeping it safe against wild animals? No way, man. And so, it's not surprising that this project, once implemented, ends up causing plenty of telephone calls to the school by angry parents who ask how the school could approve such a thing. Yes, we are so pampered.

Of course, there's the third project, which really isn't so memorable. It's basically a modern attempt at causing racial riots in a society where racial harmony is so emphasized. An attempt to incite a racial riot from within a community self-help group (by the way, these self-help groups are formed along racial lines - presumably for administrative ease) causes some amount of irritation to the tuition teacher on whom this trick is tried. This one is considerably more harmless because it got defused so easily and no real damage is done.

Nonetheless, this project, like the other two presented before them, came under the school's internal investigation. The principal, forced to look into the matter because of the intensity of the public's reaction, questioned just why the teacher in charge of these students had approved these projects. The totally idealistic teacher, totally buying into the spirit of thinking outside the box and desiring to see projects that make a difference, vigorously defended the students, but of course his wisdom is then questioned by the principal, who was grappling with the question of just where the balance had to be struck.

This of course raises the question: When we are asked to think outside the box, how far outside the box are we allowed to go? What is 'the box'? Where are the walls of 'the box', and where do those walls end? In thinking 'outside the box', are we really that free, or is it implicit that we should not allow our thinking to stray beyond some bigger outer box?

We applaud the students for having the desire to think outside the box. Notwithstanding the outcome of their projects, their creativity is, in itself, laudworthy. But might they have been too unmeasured in considering the manner of their challenges? Should their teacher be blamed for being too eager to back them and promote their creativity, to the extent where he has failed to quietly and patiently provide some guiding influence so that they'd all stay safe?

Which of course also brings forward the question: Just how different is school and real life? The highly protected environment in which students conduct their projects, so cocooned, so sterile, so safe - how different is that from what it is the students are really experiencing once they go home and take off their school uniforms? It's a question worth thinking about.

Unfortunately, this and other questions are not really handled so well throughout the play, whose presentation has a rather simplistic and raw feel to it. This is perhaps best represented by the intermittent scenes where we have some news reporter keeping the 'outside world' updated on what's going on inside the school even as the inquiry progresses. The reporter is represented by this huge portrait with a cut-out hole for the actor to fit his head through. The actor then speaks in this really exaggerated fake tone. If that looks like a caricature, that's probably because it is.

And that's the problem - caricature. In a sense, this show was reduced to too many caricatures that grossly exaggerate and accentuate, to the point where the depictions severely lose their realism. The fact that they look so unreal sharply reduces the credibility of the characters and, by association, the messages they mean to convey. Despite what I suppose is a genuine desire to present the issues of maids, pamperedness and the wallpaper of religious harmony, and perhaps provoke thought on these issues, the decision to throw in entertaining elements through tricks like caricature end up detracting from the issues and making it hard to take the discussion of these issues seriously.

It is in that manner that the show wobbles unrealistically and perhaps predictably to the finale, where it is learnt that the projects have become a national security issue, and the relevant authorities are stepping in to take up the investigations. In other words, it's all blown up beyond the control of the school principal. In total shock, one student begins some small rant that culminates in the pointed statement "We don't have a voice!", which catches on quickly and is chanted repeatedly on stage. So great is the reverbration that it could be felt among the audience, many of whom were actually fairly clever school students themselves (which makes me feel kinda old). I wouldn't be far off if I said that the chanting could easily have spread to the real students.

Seeing the potential of a riot, the principal signals for the sound box to play some slow, steady classical music (I had thought at first it was Handel's Water Music, but Wikipedia suggests I'm wrong). The classical music is gracefully slow, but I must say I never thought a piece of classical music could be so haunting in becoming a tool to silence and suppress the riotous chanting. Perhaps it in some way resonates with the principles of tai-chi: using the soft and unacting to arrest the hard and agitating.

Thus was the show brought towards its denouement, and while the very ending was well-designed, I must say I'm not entirely convinced about how satisfactory it was. Does the show provoke thought, or does it end up throwing its hands up in resignation? I somehow feel a bit more of the latter. Are we so comfortable in the society we live in that we can never be brought to a point of becoming aware at how horrifyingly comfortable we are? Is trying to raise awareness of something like how badly we abuse our maids (and how, from a humanity point of view, it is wrong to do so) so difficult that the only ways we can possibly do it involve doing things that may cause potential harm? Are we reduced to having to do the provocative, even though we know full well that provocative actions may lead to reactions of alarm more than of realization and understanding?

To summarize my answers to the above, I'd say I'm not too sure.

Not that the show was bad though. It was decently done, to be honest, and the acting was decent by and large. But the scripting and some general presentational issues leave weird tastes lingering in the mouth, weird tastes that confuse more than they could provoke real thought.

gambitch [ 12:06 AM]

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

When girls are depressed or upset, they go for retail therapy.

Me? I don't shop much, but I shall go for a theatre binge!

Watch out, world! Here comes gambitch, watching arts performances at a theatre near you!

(Yeah, I know, it's a bit lame. So what?)

gambitch [ 4:52 PM]

Monday, January 29, 2007

Tonight, I shall sing again.

And tonight, as is often the case, you shall not be there.

This time, I shall not invite you. Because I don't know how to.

But there is a song I want you to hear. And this is the song I shall sing.

After what happened last week, it is dawning on me, more and more with every passing day, just how much wrong I have done...

And so, for that, I can only express everything there is I want to express with this song...

Early in the morning
I'd put breakfast at your table
If you'd let me do something
Better than a mere word of apology...

If only you'd let me...

gambitch [ 4:55 PM]

Sunday, January 28, 2007

We've made the final cut.

But it doesn't matter anymore.

Or does it?

Not for me.

Nothing matters more now...

gambitch [ 12:05 AM]


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