There are some people who have lost touch with society, or rather, no longer find meaning in life. They find their existence to be absurd. If that’s the case, is their existence meaningful, if at all?
A man does not shed a single tear during his mother’s funeral. He commits an irreversible act, deemed unforgivable under the judicial system. Witnesses take to the stand, each one’s account as colourful as their personalities, held together by a common thread – the judgement of a man’s soul. Is this man a lunatic, a sage, a fool, a fiend or a social misfit?
This October, The Finger Players presents a brand new one-man show by critically-acclaimed theatremaker Oliver Chong (a Core Member of the company). Six years on from his Life! Theatre Award-winning production Roots (also a one-man show), A Fiend’s Diary will see Oliver take on multiple characters as he presents one man’s battle against the relentless judicial machine, and his conflict against a seemingly indifferent society.
A philosophical piece based off concepts of absurdism and existentialism, A Fiend’s Diary is set to challenge the audience with deep questions about our awareness and humanity even when we’ve been completely driven to the edges – What is crime? What then, is the law? What even is the point of it all?
Oliver began an interest in literary works relating existentialism years ago, with the idea that life has no intrinsic meaning or value, something that he aimed to investigate in a production. In 2018, Oliver was left deeply affected by the death of his father, which led to him relinquishing his full-time position at The Finger Players, as well as other matters that were more often than not, reductive in nature.
He was then reminded of a quote – “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life.” Finding this quote to be exceptionally positive, he hopes that this production will be a constant reminder of that quote to him, and to the audience. We spoke to Oliver, and found out a little more about his process and philosophies before A Fiend’s Diary premieres. Read the interview in full below:
Bakchormeeboy: How did the idea of A Fiend’s Diary come about, and why did you choose to once again take on the one man show format, following the success of Roots?
Oliver: Perhaps I could answer you with my Director’s message in the following paragraphs. The short answer would be that Fiend is a personal journey and therefore the one man show format became a natural choice.
The past year has been a downward spiral of a roller-coaster ride, filled with a succession of sinking lows and the passing of my father. My recurring obsession in existentialist and absurdist literature suddenly made screaming sense. A Fiend’s Diary has hence served as my coping mechanism in the form of investigation on acceptance of fate’s indifference, the meaninglessness of life, and the absurdity of existence.
People often confuse “acceptance” with “resignation”. To me, “acceptance” is when one actively agrees on something while acknowledging that any effort might not guarantee any results. However, an absurdist goes a step further to say that not only is life meaningless, any attempt at finding meaning in life is utterly absurd. But one could still accept that and simultaneously revolt against it, by actively defining the meaning of one’s existence.
Why then, revolt against the absurd? Why is the purpose of our life, made up by our definitions, in any way valuable if we are constantly having to acknowledge the lack of any purpose in life? Why create a purpose that we know has no value other than the one we gave it? It seems to just be presupposed that it is what we should do, because the alternative is the absolute negation of life. This in itself is opening a can of worms, since valuing life over death is yet another value judgment on my part, with no evidence to back it up.
“Some things are up to us and some are not up to us. Our opinions are up to us, and our impulses, desires, aversions — in short, whatever is our own doing. Our bodies are not up to us, nor are our possessions, our reputations, or our public offices…” – Epictetus
“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” – Nietzsche
Perhaps it all just comes down to the meaning one makes of one’s suffering.
Bakchormeeboy: With A Fiend’s Diary, how do you see yourself still developing as an artist, and how do you hope the public sees you and your artistic intent?
Oliver: I have always seen my practice as a constant discovery of myself and the relationship with the world around me. A way to give meaning to my existence here for the time being. This is a craft that I have and love very much. Every work that I create is an experiment for me, as opposed to replicating what works. So I guess I keep “developing” as a person, using a craft that is art.
Fiend is largely different to Roots. Because of the content and the character, an ambitious or daring concept was explored. This could be one of the most difficult character that I’ve ever played. A directorial concept that is almost too adventurous for me to dare.
In a consumerism model, a performance is often expected to entertain and “go easy” on the consumer. Is it an artist’s responsibility to do that? Should artists avoid harder to discussed topics and be pleasant? Should it be a one-sided effort of the artist to reach out and engage because the consumer has already bought a ticket and therefore could “sit back, relax and enjoy the show”?
I cannot hope how the public see me. I can only focus on what I have to do and can do. And perhaps someone could find what they are looking for in some of my works and begin finding meaning in their suffering.
My artistic curiosities are often that of investigating and exploring the craft of theatre (of course limited to my evolving understanding of it) to communicate my making sense of human afflictions.
Bakchormeeboy: Were there any specific real life trials that you took inspiration from in this show?
Oliver: There are constantly news about absurd murders happening all the time. No specific one. Here’s a selection of articles:
They are all so absurd. And they seem even more absurd when reported because there is no way anybody can see the full picture. Yet, even more people believe they get the full picture, and start becoming vigilantes, forgetting that they could be responsible for the stones thrown.
Bakchormeeboy: Morality and the idea of what makes a ‘good’ person seem to be social constructs. Is freedom of how we live possible, or will we always be restricted by what society deems appropriate or not?
Oliver: Not possible. Yes. Sadly. There is no real freedom. Total freedom is not freedom.
Bakchormeeboy: Is there an underlying message you hope audiences walk away with after the show?
Life is meaningless, merciless and absurd
We can only give it a meaning
By giving it all to that meaning
For the time
A Fiend’s Diary plays from 24th to 27th October 2019 at the Drama Centre Black Box. Tickets available on Peatix