Death is probably one of the most terrifying things a person can face, and it can be incredibly difficult to talk about due to its taboo nature. But as terrifying as it is, its inevitability cannot be ignored, and Drama Box and ArtsWork Collaborative have joined forces in an attempt to make it more accessible and open up the conversation on how to die with dignity and plan for the end, regardless of age.
In the latest part of their project, titled Both Sides, Now, the team is touring their show Exit to both Chong Pang and Telok Blangah this March. Setting up shop at the basketball court beside 109 Yishun Ring Road, Drama Box shows true professionalism in their set up, with an elaborate stage complete with lights and sound system, as well as plenty of volunteers easily drawing in curious passers-by to join in the pre-show activities discussion.
By the time the show began at 7.30pm, Chong Pang was out in full swing and the seats were filled with audiences ranging from members of the pioneer generation all the way to young schoolchildren. Hosted by Rei Poh and Drama Box Artistic Director Kok Heng Leun, Exit is a forum theatre piece that follows two parallel stories set in a single hospital room. Ah Po is a sassy, energetic 69 year old woman who wants nothing more than to go home and eat her favourite chai tow kway. Even saddled with cancer, she refuses treatment, preferring instead to accept her fate and die at home, but realises the complications of her choice when her daughter steps in and refuses to comply. Meanwhile, 38 year old Mr Tan lies unconscious and hooked up to a life support system. When his condition suddenly turns critical, his wife and son must then make a snap decision as to whether to put him through yet another operation, or let him go.
Perhaps precisely because it’s such a serious, relevant topic, members of the public were incredibly forthcoming when it came to sharing their thoughts on the performance. In both scenarios, either decision is divisive, and morally controversial in its own way, providing plenty of food for thought. In the performance we attended, many even chose to share their personal experience with hospitals and near-death experiences.
As with any forum theatre piece, the crux of the performance ultimately lies in the audience participation, as members come up and replace characters in the show, choosing to react differently in an attempt to better understand how things could be better. In our performance, audience members chose to react to both scenarios, resulting in some intense alternative scenes. Drama Box pulls no punches and comes to no easy answers at all, with participants finding themselves at the end of long drawn out arguments perfectly replicating the dilemmas one might face in real life. Whether it’s engaging in an emotional argument with their ‘daughter’ over whose decision it is to live or die, or the tearful debate over whether to cut Mr Tan from life support, either argument ends either in giving in or a deadlock, with both sides emotionally drained thereafter.
But even if no final decision is made, Heng Leun rightfully explains that through their actions of engaging in discussion, new truths are constantly being revealed and the channels of communication are opened, allowing for future revisiting of the topic. Audience members seemed fully invested in the show, and if anything, walked away with the topic of death and decision making firmly at the forefront of their minds, more ready and willing to discuss the topic with friends and family. Although a heavy topic for the heartlands, what Drama Box and ArtsWok Collaborative are doing is so important for anyone and everyone for the sake of their own futures and families, and if ever you get an opportunity, you should catch Both Sides, Now to find in it a safe space to discuss and roleplay the inevitable future discussions of death you may well have in time to come.
Photo Credit: Both Sides, Now
Exit tours to the space beside Blk 11 Telok Blangah Crescent Market from 21 – 24 March. Admission is free, and the show will be performed in English, Mandarin and Malay
with English, Chinese and Malay surtitles. For more information, visit their website here