Preview + Interview: Nine Questions with Nine Years Theatre
Local Life! Theatre Award-winning mandarin theatre company Nine Years Theatre will be staging a production of Taiwanese play Red Sky this October! We’re very excited for its Singaporean premiere, and will definitely be going down to catch it. Check out this exclusive interview as we pose nine questions to Nine Years Theatre artistic director Nelson Chia:
(B denotes bakchormeeboy, and N denotes Nelson Chia’s answers)
B: What is the plot of Red Sky, and why did you decide to produce it for this season?
N: The story of Red Sky unfolds on eight seniors in a home for the aged. As we see them go through their daily lives – eating, taking medication, passing time, conversing etc. – we see what it means to grow old. We have decided to stage Red Sky partly because it provides a chance for us to gather eight of our Mandarin theatre veterans on stage, and mostly because it is a poetic play that is both poignant and filled with humour about life.
B: How will Red Sky appeal to members of the audience who are much younger than the characters, who are mostly senior citizens?
N: It will appeal to younger audience members because they will be able to recognize these senior characters in their lives, not to mention the sentiments that come with living or interacting with old people. This is a play that is close to our lives and the issues presented are very much universal. Also, we have young characters in the play played by younger members of our NYT Ensemble!
B: What’s a line or scene that stands out from Red Sky for you?
N: There’s a moment in the play where one of the seniors is supposed to perform at an event and she ends up “performing” and expressing how alive she is at that moment! That moment to me is simple yet meaningful – that just being alive is such a feat.
B: Could the advisory 16 rating be a blessing in disguise, as controversy tends to attract more attention?
N: Well, on the contrary, what I have been telling people is that there is hardly any controversy in the play to warrant an advisory, which according to the explanation given by MDA, is due to a line of course language and mention of molestation in one scene of the play. I am grateful that MDA took the time to explain their decision and I still encourage everyone to come and watch the play, so that they may decide for themselves if the advisory was in fact necessary.
B: This is the first play Nine Years Theatre is doing that was originally performed in Mandarin, compared to the translated works you’ve been doing in the past. Is there a reason why you’re not doing a non-Mandarin piece this time around?
N: No particular reason. We have always wanted to do plays originally written in the Chinese language. In fact, Nine Years Theatre is still a very young company and I think the audience can expect to see us trying more different kinds of plays over the next few years.
B: What is the rehearsal process like?
N: The rehearsal process starts with a couple of sessions where our actors gather to read the script. Then when intensive rehearsals begin, we usually kick off with a phase where we try to find a structure to the play, followed by a second phase where we go into the details of everything, from lines and acting to rhythm and design. The last phase consists of full runs to achieve a consistent flow for the entire play. So far, rehearsals have been smooth and always filled with creativity and laughter and everyday, I’m looking forward to working with the actors.
B: How do you see the themes of Red Sky reflected in our own local context?
N: I think the strength of Red Sky is that its themes go beyond any local context. As such, I’m not really concerned with how they are reflected in our local context, I think audience members will be able to relate very well if we just tell the story.
B: Have you seen any performances of Red Sky yourself, and how does your production differ from others?
N: I have only seen video recordings of the original production by Taiwanese director/playwright Stan Lai’s company, Performance Workshop. In the original production, there is a sense of time passing; in our version there is a sense of time stopping, so that we may conjure up a space that allows us to observe all that is entailed in the last phase of all our lives.
B: How do you think the Chinese theatre landscape has changed since Nine Years’ first production in 2012? What’s the next project or production for Nine Years Theatre?
N: I would like to think that since Nine Years Theatre’s advent in 2012, we have managed to encourage the return of a lot of older audience members who have not attended any theatre performance for a long time, while attracting new, younger audience members with our reimaginations and translations of the classics. I am not sure if that is a significant change but with one more company on the scene, we are seeing more works on stage and more audience engagement. In 2017, we will be staging Haresh Sharma’s Fundamentally Happy in Mandarin as part of the Esplanade’s Studios Season. Also, we will have a new commission during the Singapore International Festival of Arts next year – an adaptation of local Cultural Medallion writer Yeng Pway Ngon’s novel, Art Studio, so watch out for these two productions!
Red Sky plays at the KC Arts Centre from 20-23 October in Mandarin with English surtitles. Tickets available from SISTIC