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  • Shannen Tan

2018: What I have Watched

2018 has been a thought-provoking year for me as a theatre practitioner.

This year, I was part of the performance making track of a wonderful programme called Points of View. That really opened up a lot of critical questions - questions we need to ask ourselves but may not necessarily had time to sit down to think about - i.e. What are the keywords that you feel for in your glossary as an artist? What are questions that you will evade as a performance maker? What is the gift that you want to give to the audience?" There were so much reflections and discussions that were made, between ourselves and also with artists as part of SIFA 2018 which expanded the conversation to talk about asking the right questions in your community ("if you want to tell a story, the best you can tell is about yourself and your community. If it is a good story that matters to you, most of the time it will connect and relate to other audiences"), to artistic practices in other countries ("how do we create a cosmos; between artist and critic, between differing artists' philosophies of art and between our contrary selves?") to acknowledging that it okay to be constantly changing ("sometimes when you ask an artist what the work mean, they don't know at that point of time what they are responding to instinctively").

I spent a lot of time attending other events such as discussions on proposed centre for arts freelancers, focus groups on Arts Plan, C42 Year in Review and plenty of Producers' Socials - those certainly taught me perspective-taking and the growing pains of wearing different hats. I also did a puppetry workshop with Beng Tian of The Finger Players and through the artistry and the discipline of this craft, as well as the time spent with her, I saw that the vast potentialities of theatre and what it teaches you has positive implications in your day-to-day - how a simple act of sawing wood becomes a listening moment that requires presence.

This year, I acted, directed, mentored, watched, taught, spoke, discussed, provoked, questioned but more importantly, I listened and reflected and I felt like I changed - an almost imperceptible shift but a change nevertheless. What that is, I don't know for sure, but perhaps it has an influence on what I'm interested in and thereby what I have been watching this year as compared to what I have watched in 2017.

50 shows this year! As always, I'm thankful for those who have #blessed me with free tickets/comms.

One outstanding show for me this year are TAHA by Amer Hlehel - a beautiful and tender monodrama about Palestinian people with a bare set - a bench and a yellow square - that solely relied on the simple yet powerful motivation about wanting to share a story truthfully and earnestly with audiences. Bare, pared down, and free of any pretenses. I was thoroughly moved. I remembered Amer said that theatre is primitive; it is a collective experience with an individual imagination. The actor's mission is to be a foil of which audience can build their own story via their imagination. If a film shows a group of doves, everyone sees the same. But if an actor sees those doves, the audiences all see differently. In cinema, they feed you. In theatre, you take it, eat it and then think about it. It was a good reminder that big production budgets need not be an obstacle to wonderful theatre. After all, we know of productions that use a lot of spectacle as smoke and mirrors to disguise the fundamental flaws of what is important - the story. TAHA was masterful, bold with purpose, but also inviting and warm, to let the world discover again that Palestinians are fellow humans and not mere headlines in the news.

Another outstanding show for me this year is Cerita Cinta by akulah BIMBO sakti. Although this 70 minute production made the audiences uncomfortable - you can plainly see fellow audiences' reactions around you cowering, tense, tearing, even the singer looks distraught - it was one of the most exciting work I've seen this year. Effendy seems to have calculated all the right moves to sharpen the edges of this restaging: the smell of assam pedas, the blinking red light in the distance, the subtle nasi kangkang reference, the actions that toe the line between love and violence etc. and all of it builds to create this Pinteresque sense of threat throughout that leaves you trapped and suffocated in the characters' reality. The set, also by Effendy, smartly bled into the audience which captures us in the space. I never thought the smell of assam on rice could be conditioned to dangle over you with a looming sense of danger. It was a confrontational production. One that necessitates you to think about your own inertia as a third-party, especially in situations where you witness violence, in any form, happen to someone else that you may or may not know in an increasingly emotionally disconnected world. Theatre is a safe space but the real world is not, which is why Cerita Cinta, though originally staged in 1995, still remains a relevant production in this day and age.

  1. Open Waters by Tan Shou Chen & Jaturachai Srichanwanpen

  2. Attempts: Singapore by Rei Poh (M1 Fringe Festival)

  3. The Immortal Sole by Edith Podesta (M1 Fringe Festival)

  4. 1000 Millennials Crying by Kenneth Chia and Mitchell Fang (M1 Fringe Festival Fresh Fringe)

  5. Cool Shorts by LASALLE Diploma Performance students

  6. Cut Kafka! by Nine Years Theatre and T.H.E. Dance Company

  7. Hana by NUS Theatre Studies

  8. The City Remembers by NUS Stage

  9. Four Horse Road by The Theatre Practice

  10. Urinetown the Musical by LASELLE Musical Theatre

  11. 1984 by George Orwell (SIFA 2018)

  12. Leda and the Rage by Edith Podesta

  13. Octavia E Butler's Parable of the Sower by Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon (SIFA 2018)

  14. TAHA by Amer Hlehel (SIFA 2018)

  15. OCD Love by L-E-D Dance Company (SIFA 2018)

  16. 06-00 by Ground Zero (SIFA 2018)

  17. The Blues Project by Dorrance Dance with Toshi Reagon and BIG Lovely (SIFA 2018)

  18. Nico Muhly Speaks Volumes by Nico Muhly (SIFA 2018)

  19. Shakespeare in the Park: Julius Ceaser by SRT

  20. The Moon is Less Bright by The Second Breakfast Company

  21. Pretty Butch Dramatized Reading by Tan Liting

  22. The Vault: Emily of Emerald Hill by Eugene, Shu Yu and Brenda

  23. Press Gang by Tan Tarn How (Singapore Theatre Festival 2018)

  24. An Actress Prepares by Siti K / Alfian Sa'at (Singapore Theatre Festival)

  25. Dead was the body till I taught it how to move by Bhumi Collective

  26. Make a Stand by Project Tandem

  27. The Vault: Pistachios' and Whipped Cream by A Yagnya

  28. 13.13.13. by TheatreWorks

  29. Taste of Water by Bound Theatre

  30. Late Night Texting by Centre 42

  31. Tiger of Malaya by Teater Ekamatra

  32. The Golden Record 2.0 by NUS Stage

  33. Pinter Triple Bill by Effendy and LASALLE BA Acting

  34. Watching by Toy Factory Productions

  35. Peter and the Starcatcher by Pangdemonium

  36. Until the Lions by Akram Khan

  37. A Short Story about Geometry by Heman Chong

  38. Temple by Cake Theatrical Productions

  39. Bulan Madu: Double Bill by Teater Ekamatra

  40. Provenance by Autopoetics

  41. Cerita Cinta by akulah BIMBO sakti

  42. Reunification of Two Koreas by TheatreWorks

  43. Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap X by How Drama

  44. The Old Woman and the Ox by The Second Breakfast Company

  45. Charlie by Bhumi Collective

  46. Heroes and Victims by LASALLE Diploma Performance Students

  47. Requiem for a Change by David Glass and LASALLE BA Acting

  48. Love Mystic - A Sufi Musical Journey by The Anuraag Collective (Esplanade: Kalaa Utsavam Indian Festival of the Arts)

  49. A Singapore Carol by Wild Rice

  50. Projek Suitcase by Teater Ekamatra

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