M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2018: An Interview with Rei Poh (Attempts: Singapore)

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Rei Poh is a geek who likes video games. And being the innovative theatremaker he is, it makes complete sense that he’d apply it to his work as well. We decided to spontaneously meet up with Rei on bump in day to find out a little more about just what his mysterious new show, Attempts: Singapore is all about.

“I used to work with Drama Box and we did a lot of forum theatre heavy on audience participation. People like Li Xie, (Han) Xuemei and (Koh) Hui Ling, they’ve all started to develop their own style of participatory theatre. In my case, I found myself looking at video games, because what other medium investigates the spectators’ experience as much as that?” says Rei.

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Of all the M1 Singapore Fringe shows this year, Rei Poh’s Attempts: Singapore is probably structurally, the most interesting. Clocking in at nearly 120 minutes, the sold out run seats only 22 audience members at each of its shows and will have them watching and characters attempting to describe a girl gone missing as they make their way through three experiential rooms in Centre 42. These characters will be performed by Farez Najid, Henrik Cheng, Julie Wee, Sabrina Sng and Suhaili Safari.

“My choice of medium was to encourage the action required for ‘players’, with a lot of interaction,” Rei continues. “The style of games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil were some of my main inspirations, and even escape rooms, to an extent. But I don’t like to compare it to an escape room, because those are pure entertainment, and sometimes the focus is so much on progressing from one puzzle to the next that it loses the storytelling experience. I want to reclaim that form.”

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Attempts: Singapore is an original, devised work inspired by Martin Crimp’s Attempts on her Life, a unique play that has audiences bearing witness to 17 scenarios attempting to describe a woman. In one instance she becomes a terrorist, at others, she’s a physicist or a porn star, and at one point, even a literal car. Says Rei: “I first encountered Martin Crimp’s Attempts on her Life while doing my Masters degree in Melbourne. I was fascinated by how the audience is forced to look at different accounts of who or what people assume she is, and ultimately make a decision based on these disjointed accounts.”

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Photo from Attempts Facebook

At this point Rei pauses. He’s obviously thought about these issues of medium and description a lot, and continues: “It’s hard to pin down what exactly Attempts: Singapore is. It’s certainly a form of participatory theatre, something a lot of people in Melbourne and London are interested in too. ‘Immersive theatre’, so to speak, goes beyond simply putting an audience in an environment and letting things happen to them. The best kinds of immersive theatre cause audiences to spectate in a different way, putting them in an environment because they need to perform certain activities and force you into approaching narrative from a different way. The crux of participatory theatre then is giving you freedom of choice as to how and whether you should participate, and makes you think about the actions you’re partaking in.”

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Photo from Attempts Facebook

On how the play ultimately relates back to this year’s festival theme of Let’s Walk, Rei says: “Theatre can be very patriarchal. The director or playwright could be like a dictator and just tell audiences and actors to stand there or go there. And in Attempts: Singapore, I’m trying to break that structure of how we should be doing things. In her work, Amanda Heng was questioning the idea of ‘feminine values’, and here, I want audience members to similarly question the prescriptive ‘male gaze’, participate and figure out your own truth through the act of participating.”

Rei ends off by thinking about how even he himself has changed over the course of this work. “My dramaturg Zee Wong actually taught me how to be feminist, and I think I started to approach even the rehearsal process of Attempts from a ‘feminist mindset’. I’ve learnt how to be a bit more flexible in my direction, like starting a rehearsal by asking my actors how their day was instead of going straight into warm ups and rehearsal. There’s a concept where ‘fathers’ are meant to be ‘productive’ and keep their family safe with their rules and structure, but ‘mothers’, not to say they’re not productive, but the way they do things is letting their children go out and play and experience things for themselves, and if they get hurt in the process, come home and care for them. I’ve learnt to go with the flow and let actors have more agency, and interestingly, now they come in in their own time and rehearse their parts, and it’s been working really well.”

Attempts: Singapore plays at Centre 42 from 24th – 27th January. Tickets are available from SISTIC.

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