Review: Hot Pot Talk – Theatre and the Arts

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“I had a conversation recently,” says Adib Kosnan. The thirteen member strong audience shifts around to indicate how much they agree with the statement (most do).

“I had a good conversation recently,” Adib continues. This modifier divides the audience. Some decide to stay put at the high chairs, agreeing with the statement, others head to the stools, disagreeing, and the rest move over to the bench, indicating an ‘undecided’ response. This goes on for a while as new statements are thrown out, and both audience and the facilitators of Hot Pot Talk are kept on their toes as they move around the performance space before finally breaking into smaller groups for discussion.

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Conceptualized by Chong Gua Kee, Hot Pot Talk is no ordinary theatrical experience, and what seems to be a simple series of theatre games, anecdotes and discussion gives way to a much deeper, heartfelt set of unexpectedly sincere conversations between audiences and facilitators. Aimed to foster greater understanding of artists’ lives and to get a feel of the arts scene from audiences, Hot Pot Talk, above all, is about seeking out a genuine connection and to create a space to talk freely and openly about a given topic, in this case, Theatre and the Arts.

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For Hot Pot Talk, the Centre 42 Black Box was arranged in a way that never had a ‘stage’, and audiences were allowed to sit anywhere around the space. After a round of introductions, our group contained, as expected, a number of regular theatre-goers, but interestingly enough, one or two irregular theatre-goers as well. A diverse group, some of the audience members were more forthcoming with their participation, while others hung back and expressed their discomfort with public speaking.

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Yet, it is to the credit of facilitators and arts practitioners Chang Ting Wei, Adib Kosnan and Shaiful Risan to have created a comfortable enough environment that even those who were initially shy with their opinions eventually became excited enough and more than willing to put in their own thoughts about the local arts scene. Besides being extremely friendly and approachable, there’s a keen element of fun that all three facilitators imbue into their ‘performance’, and with wildly differing personalities, ably play off each other’s onstage energy and chemistry to form a powerful A-team. A stroke of genius perhaps, can be attributed to how Gua Khee also utilizes balls of dough as part of the process. Neatly placed in plastic plates, the dough not only acted as a creative way to get audience members to respond to discussions, but perhaps, much like fidget spinners (an inferior comparison we’re begrudgingly making), the dough was useful as for the less outspoken audience members channel that nervous energy into non-verbal expression instead.

As the crowd warmed and the soup of conversation was ‘stirred’, there was almost no limit to the topics that were raised, and as time went by, it became easier and easier to talk. Even if there are no easy answers to the issues brought up, the importance of Hot Pot Talk lies in how it has pioneered what is hopefully the first of many new opportunities for members of the public to engage with artists and find in such ‘performances’ an avenue that can be surprisingly hard to find in today’s world beyond the realm of Internet forums and Facebook threads.

Much like an actual hot pot, Hot Pot Talk effectively takes audience members’ opinions, or perhaps, their entire being, and through a process of ‘stewing’ their thoughts, everyone comes out a little different from when they first stepped in. It’s the sort of thing that’s applicable to literally any other topic, and we can only hope that it continues to develop after the end of its brief run in September, reaching out to even more people and giving them the chance to engage in a good conversation.

Photo Credit: Hot Pot Talk Facebook

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