Of Digital Cats and The Future of Social Media: Sanctuary by The Necessary Stage & HANCHU-YUEI (Preview)

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This November, The Necessary Stage will be rounding off their 30th Anniversary with an all new-collaborative work with contemporary Japanese theatre company HANCHU-YUEI and we couldn’t be more excited. In previous collaborations, The Necessary Stage has always had a chance to push their work to new limits, exploring new aesthetics and themes most of their main season wouldn’t otherwise.

Much like their earlier work Frozen Angels, which postulated about the future of stem cell research and its impact on humanity, Sanctuary once again sees TNS delving into the realm of science fiction and musings on technological advancements, taking a leaf from speculative fiction of the best kind to explore themes of immortality and futurism through a phenomenon familiar to anyone with a smartphone: social media and the internet.

Phase 3 - Haresh & Suguru
The Necessary Stage and HANCHU-YUEI began their collaborative process almost a year and a half ago in May 2016. The two companies were brought together by their translator Nao, who previously worked with both companies (specifically for Mobile and Mobile II for TNS). Nao thought it would be interesting to see a collaborative work between TNS, who impressed her with Haresh Sharma’s thought provoking scripts, and Alvin Tan’s direction, and HANCHU-YUEI’s radical and often surprising aesthetic, as a young, contemporary Japanese theatre company.

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Suguru Yamamoto, artistic director of HANCHU-YUEI and co-directing Sanctuary with Alvin Tan, drew inspiration from the many sci-fi films on TV he would watch while eating dinner as a child. One example he cites is Mamoru Oshii’s seminal animated film Ghost In The Shell (1995), which explored similar themes of artificial intelligence and consciousness in cyberspace. For Suguru, Sanctuary is about bringing across fundamental themes common across humanity, forcing audience members to confront the unfamiliar and encourage important dialogues about the potential implication these technologies might have on human lives.

Sanctuary did not always possess the sci-fi slant on social media though. When the Singaporean cast visited HANCHU-YUEI in Tokyo earlier this year, still in the very beginnings of the collaboration, the cast worked on a couple of draft writings Haresh Sharma brought along on the trip. Initially experimenting with issues of language and the body, where actors attempted to speak in each other’s native tongues, the idea was eventually scrapped and further developed into its current form.

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Now, Sanctuary is set sometime in the near future, taking its title from a social media platform of the same name that exists in its technologically advanced world. But taking it one step further than Facebook or Twitter, Sanctuary becomes a space where users voluntarily surrender more data than ever to the servers, essentially becoming more at home online than in real life. In the performance, audience members will become privy to new stories born from the development of Sanctuary, introducing them to characters whose lives have been irrevocably changed, from a terminally ill woman who records greetings for her children to watch even after she passes, to social media influencers and personal assistants, and even some very important feline friends.

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Co-director Alvin Tan compares the direction Sanctuary has taken favourably to TNS’ earlier works Mobile and Mobile II. Said Alvin: “Where the first Mobile was about dialect and migration concerning about Asians in Asia, Mobile II furthered that idea about movement and migration, but was instead set in the past. Interestingly, with Sanctuary, we’re once again tackling issues of migration and home, only this time, it takes place in the future, where we consider concepts of selfhood and how much of our ‘selves’ we’re surrendering to our online presence on the internet.”

“We’re using social media as a medium to explore different ways of viewing how we live life. Sanctuary is very much a form of speculative fiction, keeping its world fantastic yet believable, sowing the seeds of possibility and extrapolating upon the many directions the future of social media might take, changing the way we live and approach life itself.”

Phase 3 - Yazid, Sachiro, Mikie

For Japanese actors Fumi Kumakawa and Mikie Tanaka, the entire collaborative experience has been an eye-opening cultural exchange. Coming from monolingual, monocultural Japan, Singapore feels almost like a burst of colours with its multiracial and multicultural backgrounds, and for the two actors, developing Sanctuary has been a thoroughly fascinating process of finding points connection despite the vast differences between the two countries.

Meanwhile, for local actor Yazid Jalil, Sanctuary will mark the first time he will be acting in a production by The Necessary Stage. Said Yazid: “Actually, when I was 15, I interned with The Necessary Stage, helping out with archival work after school. Haresh and Alvin were practically heroes, and my drama teacher always talked about them with awe.”

“For me, Sanctuary is a really high level, high concept collaboration, and I’m really learning a lot from and enjoying the entire process.”

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With only a few weeks left until November, both TNS and HANCHU-YUEI are making the final tweaks to the show before it premieres, following which Sanctuary will be brought overseas to Yokohama, Japan at the end of the month for a limited run. From what we’ve seen and heard so far, Sanctuary has all the potential to be one of the most powerful and thought provoking productions of 2017, and we’re beyond excited to catch it. Get your tickets now, and fully immerse yourself in this strange, poignant production about the future together with The Necessary Stage and HANCHU-YUEI.

Photo Credit: The Necessary Stage/Karmen Wong

Sanctuary plays at The Necessary Stage Black Box from 1st – 12th November. Tickets available from SISTIC

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