- Shannen Tan
Behind the Scenes of Caught by Singapore Repertory Theatre
This is one of my favourite photos of our month-long production of Caught by my new amazing friend, Jon Cancio - check him at his photography website here. I think it really captured the essence of the show - very layered, not what it seems and more than it meets the eye.
The whole month of Caught was kind of a whirlwind to be honest and this is my very first time (and hopefully not the last) doing such a long production where there was a show everyday (except 1 weekday) and double shows on weekends. I still remembered very innocuously briefed to come down for an audition dressed in our party-best. I went up to the room and met director Ed Iskandar - whom I never knew I would get to meet in person after I read about him and his collective Exit, pursued by a Bear in The Theatre of The Unimpressed by Jordan Tannahill! I shook his hand and blurted out - Omg! I read about you in a book which led to quite a nice fun chat which I paused to ask - Oh sorry, got carried away, please let me know how you would like to conduct the interview. To which he replied, this is the interview. Oh!
This then led to a wave of callbacks where we had several challenges such as introduce ourselves for our lives (ala RuPaul's drag race). The task was deceptively simple (as with everything in Caught now that I think about in hindsight): Introduce yourself and make in interesting enough in 90s that I want to talk to you. And then twist! Introduce the person beside you (were you listening just now?) and make me interested in talking to him/her. It was harder than expected but Ed assured us it is actually rather hard. He had done this in America and even Hollywood actors and actresses struggled with this challenge of talking about themselves well. Oof.
Awaiting your arrival a la private Beach resort
Thankfully, I somehow made the cut to be with this wonderful bunch and after 6 days of condensed host training that was meant to be 2 months long, we got to be in this mysterious socially-immersive theatre experience slash art installation at Miaja Gallery. It was anchored by this art exhibition called Dissonance and this is one of my favourite pieces which I talked about a lot:
It's a fish! In a bowl! But is it really? It's not actually - This art piece is by Joanne Villani who has painstakingly created a technique that fools your perception. It's layers and layers of resin which has been painted into and it stacks up to give it this 3D optical illusion. It's also quite affordable in the 1k to 2k range so a bunch of people snapped some pieces up! Annie and I are the top art sellers and we are very, very pleased with ourselves for no good reason whatsoever.
This is us resting up for our power talking on art.
I am also preferential to this beautiful concrete hole that has developed over time as the production trodded along with almost packed houses every night. Can I just say that the power of word-of-mouth is insane. I've met people who came back 2-3 times or have never watched theatre before. I guess it's truly a groundbreaking experience.
As Ed explained before, the thing about immersive experiences that make people come back more than once is because of the connection and the communal experience you may not get in your day-to-day. Think about straight plays - people don't come back just for the text or narrative itself. Hence, the name of the game is hospitality - giving an authentic experience to your group like a theatre of one or two or maybe ten. Apparently, in LA when Caught happened, there was a group that came back 17 times!
The production really peels like an onion, scene after scene, getting into its core. Even after watching so many times, I doubt any of us can truly say we understand the piece.
At the end of the day, the initial premise and curiosity that brought guests here: Who is Lin Bo - the dissident artist? just fades away into you just having a good time. Whether you figure out if he is real or not real - how does that change your experience? Which is such a paradigm shift for not just me but for the audiences alike who have been conditioned to be very "results-oriented".
The caveat of this play was that it was initially meant for a predominantly American audience so staging it here with the same content and format was a real experiment. Some people took to it and loved it while others were shunning the "aggressive hospitality" and did not want to engage. To be honest, I thought more Singaporeans wouldn't want to socially engage with random people and I was happily proven wrong. One of my favourite memories that happened during Caught was this typical Singaporean mother and her daughter who stayed around in the Lounge of No Lies. The mother had no airs and spoke in a Singlish accent and was very engaged with the production even thought she admittedly didn't understand some parts. But she held a curiosity and asked a lot of questions to the actors and directors. At the end, she earnestly thanked Ed and said, "Please do more of this. You help us open up!" and before she left, she hugged (!!!) me and said "Thank you for doing a great thing. You are very good." which means a lot to my Asian self considering how unexpected and rare this occurrence was. Aunty approval!!!
I think this experience betrayed my own assumptions and biases which made me go woah and take a step back to reflect on them. Somehow, I feel like I changed throughout the process? After Caught ended, I find myself talking to random people at cafes or lifts or meeting new people and striking up a conversation. It's kinda nice, you should try it. I guess this is what they mean by the Caught experience stays with you forever.
Ever thankful to this group of people who ended up being my second family on set - taking care of each other via food-runs, coffee-runs, drive-homes, meet-up sesh, karaoke sesh, curbside hangouts, shaving Taran's hair off before NS and all round goofy people having a fun time.
Special shout-out to Serene who was ON FIRE every night and even after tiring performances she would drive us to eat bak-kut-teh/hokkien mee for supper before sending me home (you are a superwoman) and she would always catch me in the toilet at the same time and scream my name no matter how fast I run down the stairs to go and pee.