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Running with Strippers 2017: Thou Shall Not by Cake

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Fresh from their production of Being Haresh Sharma, Cake brings back the strange, cult affair that is Running with Strippers. Last seen in 2015 as part of their 10th Anniversary celebrations, Running with Strippers presents Cake at their weirdest, with some new collaborators along for the ride.
Spawned from an extension of their experimental Decimal Points series, Running with Strippers takes the form of a journey into a different world and different time. Cake makes every effort to make the experience completely immersive, not to mention providing great hospitality. Tacking on the title of Thou Shall Not, this year’s edition of Running with Strippers loosely dealt with the idea of censorship and restrictions in art, be it from the self or others, and how one might continue to express one’s art in our own individual ways.
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Gathering at the National Library, attendees were presented with a specially designed tote bag containing a programme booklet, a cassette tape containing a reading by Sean Tobin, and a box of snacks to eat on the way. Loading up onto a bus to take us to a mystery location, the 45-minute bus ride felt like it went by in a flash listening to Tobin’s cassette. Appropriately enough, the cassette contained a reading of an extract from George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, setting the tone for what we were about to witness – a world where nothing was certain and nothing could be trusted, where war was peace and ignorance was strength.
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Pulling up on the 7th floor of a certain industrial building in Singapore, we were far out enough that we no longer received local telcom networks on our handphones, and it truly felt like we had stepped into a foreign land. Welcoming us with drinks, we gathered around a complicated raised walkway where the first performance of the night was to take place.
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Starting off the evening was an abstract physical theatre performance by C.O.P., which consisted of Cake members Julius Foo, Jean Ng, Noor Effendy Ibrahim and Nora Samosir. C.O.P. stands for Cult of Personality, and each of the actors took on roles that suggested they were playing various characters throughout history who had used their infectious personalities to wreak destruction and influence the masses. Set to a hypnotic soundtrack, the actors performed increasingly bizarre actions while clad in strange, futuristic headgear and loose fitting black clothing. As they interacted with interesting props, from a big white tube to dead baby dolls with detachable limbs, a voiceover announced various dates in history.
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At times funny, at times disturbing, C.O.P. felt like the fever dream of a crazed fashion maverick, and one could hardly look away as we tried to take in every aspect of the show. Jean Ng in particular, had some very interesting actions, such as dismantling the dead babies with an expression of devious satisfaction, before stringing up the body parts on a rope like a macabre, oversized charm bracelet, and suggested her character was based off genocidal leaders. Julius Foo’s headgear was reminiscent of the Pope’s hat, and possibly was meant to represent religious figures throughout history.
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Dead babies, anyone?

The next performance was Rizman Putra’s Trip the Light Fantastic, a much more light hearted piece that opened with the audience entering a room where Rizman had created a huge drawing of his twisted spine. Through a casual form of storytelling, dance, and simple props, Rizman stood on the small round stage and recounted his own personal history with dance and movements, recalling how he first fell in love with Michael Jackson’s music videos all the way to his fascination with Zai Kuning’s strange non-dance. It’s hard to take a man wearing golden hotpants and tights seriously, but Rizman’s ‘lecture-performance’ (which drew laughs from the audience) was the most accessible piece of the night, making us really feel the love and respect he had for dance and movement of all forms.

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The third piece of the night was by 2016 Singapore Literature Prize Winner and poet Cyril Wong. Titled Disassembly, Cyril looked almost emaciated and small in the white room, dressed in a white t-shirt and white pants. But behind his thin frame lay a powerful voice. Drawing on his past as a ‘renegade countertenor’, Disassembly reflected on the nature of the voice. Taking the form of a German lieder, where poetry is set to classical music, Cyril spoke a little about his voice, before playing it back. Putting on a white blindfold, he harmonized with the recording of his own singing for a while before breaking free of that, his voice growing louder and louder as he repeated the same few words. A powerful, reflective piece of work, the performance even left some attendees in tears, perhaps due to how the performance partially discussed the condition of the struggling artist, alongside an entire bed of other issues, and was a deeply serious final piece to end off the night.

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Before leaving the area, there were still two more segments to Running with Strippers. Audiences were invited to enter a room containing Zul Mahmod’s Marching On, a working consisting 16 solenoids fastened by scaffolding that rhythmically hit the scaffolding via electromagnets. Creating a sound not unlike the regular beat of military marches, the work sought to offer a critique on the repetitive, rhythmic nature of life in Singapore, but to no visible end, an oddly depressing piece about the futility of work, emphasised by the dim, almost dread-inducing red lighting in the room. Finally, C.O.P. returned and ended off the night with a one hour improv version of their previous performance, done to a live set by Singapore sound artist Intriguant.

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Returning to reality after the bus came to bring us back was like we had stepped out of a wrinkle in time.Running with Strippers is the kind of show that you’d be hard pressed to find in Singapore’s current art landscape, and a rare opportunity to see artists come up with some of their most intimate and personal work in a casual setting. Running with Strippers feels almost like we had returned to a more raw form of art, where though imperfect, was able to bring out some truly primal emotions in audience members. There’s a refreshing freedom to the deeply personal art presented tonight, and buoyed by Cake’s impossible to forget visuals, was certainly an experience we’d be remembering for a long time.
 Performance attended 21/7/17
Running with Strippers is fully subscribed, but you can email admin@caketheatre.com to be put on the waiting list. Meeting point is the roundabout pickup point at the National Library before 730pm. 
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