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Checkpoint Theatre’s Still Life: An Interview with Playwright/Performer Dana Lam

When we first met Dana Lam at a preview of her new play Still Life last year, we were struck by the quiet strength the former AWARE president exuded as she confidently performed a poetic interpretation of scenes from her life. This was helped in part by the countless artworks displayed all around her studio in Goodman Arts Centre, offering us a glimpse into Dana’s life not just through her recounts, but through her very eyes and the way she sees the world, each visually arresting work offering insight into the forces that shaped her into becoming the woman she is today.

Now, after a two year long artistic journey, Still Life is finally getting a full staging, as the play premieres at 72-13 this February under direction of Checkpoint Theatre Joint Artistic Director Claire Wong. We spoke to Dana herself in the leadup to the multidisciplinary play’s premiere, and found out a little more about the artist inside that created this honest, vulnerable and revealing work. Read the interview in full below:

Screenshot 2019-02-14 at 10.44.19 PM

Bakchormeeboy: You’re known as both an activist and an artist. Do you see yourself as one more so than the other? Do each of these aspects influence the other, or do they exist and develop completely independently of each other?

Dana: I hesitate to call myself an activist simply because the activists I know, never rest. They never take their eyes off the cause even if they tried. That, I can’t say for myself. But I think art and activism are two sides of the same coin — both begin with a question or questions. My journey with art and activism began with the question, who decides who we are? That investigation became a project for a group show, Women About Women, curated by Amanda Heng in 1998. The making of the project led me to AWARE and later on, to feminist thought. That was the beginning of my education.

With Still Life, you see all the strands being pulled together – the writing, the art, the lived life – all rolled in one.

Bakchormeeboy: What would you say is the primary driving force behind why you create art? What are the themes or subjects you find yourself most drawn to?

Dana: Life itself. And the state of being alive. The sheer energy of being alive is to create and of course, the aesthetic impulse to make something beautiful. That leads to questions on what is beautiful. For the past one year, I’ve been making work in my studio as part of the creative process of Still Life. I’ve been able to consider such questions, to turn the pages of art history and fall into the river of that history.

Bakchormeeboy: Why did you decide that theatre was the right medium to tell the story behind Still Life, as opposed to say film? Did you feel that you had any great takeaways or sudden epiphanies about your life while working on Still Life?

Dana: It’s about the magic of theatre. I’ve been on the receiving end of that magic so many times as an audience that I relish the opportunity to be on the giving end for once – the chance to experience giving back to theatre some of that magic I’ve received. There’s no great epiphany, just a quieter, deeper understanding of what has always been there; that life is an untitled work-in-progress.

Bakchormeeboy: Why do you think Still Life matters as a piece of theatre, and why should Singaporeans take an interest in coming to see it?

Dana: Still Life as a title came about because it is what we try to achieve. The still-life in the history of painting is a contrivance of the ideal life. Today, we are doing it on Instagram and Facebook.

I’ve tried to be as honest as I can. You ( the audience) will be looking at parts of my life with me, and I hope that you will laugh with me and cry with me. And be comforted.

Photos Courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre
Photo Credit: Mark Teo

Still Life plays at 72-13 from 28th February to 10th March 2019. Tickets available from SISTIC 

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