M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2018: An Interview with Kenneth Chia and Mitchell Fang (One Thousand Millennials Crying)
Lazy. Entitled. Selfish. Shallow. Narcissistic. These are probably some of the most common generalizations about the millennial generation (loosely defined as those born between the late 80s and early 2000s). So what happens when you ask an actual millennial to respond to those accusations? You might just get something like One Thousand Millennials Crying, as co-creators and theatremakers Kenneth Chia and Mitchell Fang premiere this self-reflexive, comedic take on Saturday as part of the M1 2018 Singapore Fringe Festival.
We spoke to Kenneth and Mitchell about the creation process behind the work, and about how millennials can triumphantly reclaim their very generation. Read the interview in full below:
Bakchormeeboy: What’s up with the title ‘One Thousand Millennials Crying’, and how did the idea come about in the first place?
Kenneth: The title ‘One Thousand Millennials Crying’ loosely references contemporary Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei’s Sunflower Seeds artwork, which consisted of more than 100 million seeds. Just as the seeds in the artwork were seemingly homogenous, they were also unique (in that they were crafted by hand by artisans and hand-painted). The millennial community I think is very much like that: diverse but overwhelming if you insist on a single label to define us. We were also inspired by the publicness of Ai’s work like the 9000 children’s backpacks used in Remembering (2009) and of course the element of visible protest, but interpreted in our own way.
Mitchell: We started off knowing we wanted to write a comedy, so the title had to be funny. We also thought the idea of a protest group of crying millennials was hilarious, hence the number 1000 emerged. In a nutshell, we wanted to take the piss out of what the ‘strawberry generation’ term entailed, and the idea of how millennials are weak and emotional.
Bakchormeeboy: Is the term millennial forever doomed to be a derogatory term associated with avocadoes and unemployment, or is there a way we can reclaim it?
Kenneth: Hmm. Ok let’s break it down: firstly, the reason why ‘millennial’ is termed derogatory doesn’t come from avocadoes or unemployment, but from a perceived lack of resilience (and by resilience I mean the word as defined by generations above us). Secondly, I think we are a resilient bunch – if anything, the economy and in extension our very unique way of surviving in it, is proof of that. Everyone’s working a main gig and a side gig plus a hobby that is probably monetized in some way. Also, the fact that issues like mental illness has featured so prominently in millennial discourse is not because it’s more present, but because it’s gotten more visible and important to talk about openly. If this is what it means to be a strawberry or whatever, I’ll gladly own the label, because it doesn’t mean weakness to me.
But you’re right in saying its always linked to symbols of the movement – the avocado is a scapegoat for pressing issues like unemployment. This obsession over cheap thrills and living what I call a #premiummediocre, bougie-ass lifestyle is because of a general pessimism toward the economy of the future. We may very well be a generation that will never be able to afford cars and homes of our own – so why not make day to day living slightly more spiced up with these small rewards y’know? And where did this mentality actually come from? A large part of it comes from watching our parents struggle through the recession in the past.
Can we reclaim it? I think the reason the word ‘millennial’ is so vilified right now is precisely because we continue to reclaim and laugh at the absurdity of our own narrative as it unfolds. It frustrates people, that a label used to oppress is celebrated and proliferated at lightning-speed over a medium they cannot grasp, and they cannot catch up. But the question here is really: can we reclaim it in the eyes of our critics? And to that I say honestly – who cares? Because I don’t. This play doesn’t. And energy can be spent more efficiently elsewhere, doing productive things and making a difference in our own communities.
Mitchell: I think time will run its course, and before you know it, the millennial generation will be saying the same thing about the generation after them. Already some are calling the next generation the ‘durians’. That roughly equates to ‘tough on the exterior, extremely soft on the inside’. I don’t think there’s a need to reclaim a very temporary and silly label.
Bakchormeeboy: Tell us about your motley crew of millennials making up the cast – how did you decide on them, and how similar or dissimilar to their onstage characters are they in real life?
Kenneth: Oh this is a really interesting question haha. We had an open call (which by the way, is crucial as a ground-up initiative towards industry sustainability) and we didn’t only look for solid actors, but for actors who were able to contribute to a robust discourse on millennial culture in the rehearsal room.
Being a work-in-progress, you’d want people who can speak up from a place of knowledge and interrogate your work so it gets more polished as the drafts go by. And I think our actors live and breathe the millennial anxiety every day, so they’ll tell you when you’re being real and when it’s complete BS script-wise. They share so many of the same struggles as the characters in our piece, even though the characters are quite different from the actors.
Another thing that may be note-worthy is that we wanted to hire a fully millennial cast, and we did. Even our costume designer/stylist, Mash-Up, is a local label run by young creatives and our official photographer, Lenne, is making big waves as a 20- something artist.
Mitchell: Because we are all serious business, we wanted the play to take place at a party. We set up various characters that were obviously people we were all familiar with, and each bearing occupations and interests across a broad spectrum – having characters that would have opportunity to come into frequent conflict with each other. The characters may appear to present exaggerated forms of behaviour during the show, but it’s all very much based on their actual archetypes in reality.
Bakchormeeboy: How does One Thousand Millennials Crying relate back to this year’s festival theme of Let’s Walk?
Kenneth: We wanted a not-so-obvious take on Amanda Heng’s work, which many people interpreted to be about female bodies and empowerment etc. And we’re also two guys, so we figured there were other angles and responses we could take to Let’s Walk. We started by looking at the way women were being simultaneously oppressed and mined by corporations in the 90s when the Asian Financial Crisis hit and how many women were retrenched – the beauty industry made money off these women’s insecurities, while perpetuating the sort of sexist culture that fuelled this inequality.
In this sense, millennials are like that – you see all these banks creating new cards for millennials and local shops that sell ang ku kueh cushions to milk millennial nostalgia…but at the end of the day you have these CEOs slamming the same community for the lack of work ethic blah blah like hey, you cant have your cake and eat it. Pick a side. Furthermore, a lot of millennial anxiety is grounded in capitalism and the wariness (and weariness) toward the economy. I know there are people who think this sort of response to the theme Let’s Walk is tenuous, like it’s a cop-out, or that it’s #reaching if y’know what I mean. And that’s ok. I’m just grateful to have a platform to showcase my generation’s voice, because opportunities like this don’t come often.
One Thousand Millennials Crying plays at the Esplanade Rehearsal Studio on 27th January. Tickets available from SISTIC.