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M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2020: An Interview with Secretive Thing (Secretive Thing 215)

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Secretive Thing is a collective that’s…well, secret. While they’ve done a number of productions in the past, they’ve kept their identities a tight-lipped secret, something few to no people can do in this day and age.

Known only by their monikers Lemon and Koko, they’ll be presenting their new work Secretive Thing 215 at the 2020 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, inviting audience members to join the Glasgo Mascon Kline (GMK) Medical Institute. Taking on almost the form of an induction programme, ticketholders can expect to be introduced to the mysterious company’s culture, aiming to ‘create the most cohesive and harmonious society for all.’

Set to be a roving experience with little to no idea what to expect, the prospect of a truly unknown experience is a tantalising one, and we spoke to Lemon and Koko to glean what little information we could from them before the premiere. Read the interview in full below:

Bakchormeeboy: Do you feel that it is precisely the secretive nature of the performance that draws audience, and is the secretive nature of each project integral to the experience?

Secretive Thing: Anyone who purchases a ticket for Secretive Thing does not know much about what they are coming for. It is safe to say its secretive nature is the only thing that would draw a brand-new audience in. 

It is exciting to be in the know about something that is a secret. There is an innate kaypoh-ness in all of us. The secretive nature of Secretive Thing is absolutely essential. The occulted nature of each experience places the audience in the centre of the world and gives them the chance to be anything they want to be – without fear of judgement. In fact, our ethos is that the more you play, the more you will get.

With audiences who have been following our work, they know they are coming for something different each time, yet there is a certain ritualistic element to not knowing what to expect time after time. 

Bakchormeeboy: Is every Secretive Thing project different, or is there a kind of formula/mechanic in mind and it keeps building up with each iteration? Where do the ideas for these ‘birthday parties on steroids’ strike? 

Secretive Thing: Every Secretive Thing experience is thematically and mechanically different.

We have a number generator and a long list of random ideas. Before each Secretive Thing, we use it to help us choose the idea we will be executing. Although sometimes we put a ball back into the bowl because we can’t remember what the idea is. 

Bakchormeeboy: Is there a significance to the number at the end of each Secretive Thing project? Or is it entirely random?

Secretive Thing: Each number is chosen according to the advice our Feng Shui master. Andy Tan. Before each Secretive Thing, we go to him for guidance and ask if there is anything we need to be aware of before the go-ahead. He will also help provide a number for our piece. Sometimes we buy 4D instead of making work, but that has proven to be quite challenging to get consistent results. 

Bakchormeeboy: With the synopsis of Secretive Thing 215 revolving around audiences as new subjects at a mysterious medical company (bearing a strong reference to GSK). Was it intentional to create this sinister undertone? Do you feel that these ‘sinister undertones’ are omnipresent throughout society?

Secretive Thing: We created GMK with the intention to play a role in a story. It is interesting that you mentioned it strongly resembles GSK…

In the current age of Trump, Brexit, the rise of nationalism and borders, sinister undertones become omnipresent when we look for them. Too often cynicism takes over. Secretive Thing tries to place audiences in experiences that lead audiences to their own conclusions about our current world. We enjoy playing with perceptions and preconceived notions.

Is GMK actually GSK? Hmmm…

Bakchormeeboy: As artists, what do you feel is the position your work fulfils in the arts landscape of Singapore? As crowded as it is, how do new artists break in and find the spaces that have not yet been occupied (and occupy them well)? Is it difficult to live up to the expectations of the work you do?

Secretive Thing: Reactions to Secretive Thing (from people who have never been to one) has been equal parts of intrigue and distaste. On occasion, others have asked us if what we do is art.

At the end of the day, we create what we want to see, with what we have. We have big dreams for Secretive Thing that do not fit the route of becoming an “established” arts company. Meeting expectations of assumptions from others is not our motivation or inspiration.

Our work often puts the audience in the driver’s seat and allows them to exist in a different dimension for a period of time. The arts landscape in Singapore is constantly growing in diversity, which works out for us.

As crowded as it is, we think that everyone has a story to tell. No one can tell your story like the way you do. We talk to many people, from the auntie who lives downstairs to cats and cows. They all have their unique way of expressing themselves. Audiences are always interested in a good story and can take a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for. 

Bakchormeeboy: Were there any fears starting Secretive Thing, particularly as it seems like such unchartered territory for most artists in Singapore?

Secretive Thing: When we started presenting Secretive Thing experiences, it was a roller coaster ride for us. We had no money and no funding, which forced us to work creatively and outside the usual processes.

We try to test everything before putting it out to paying audiences, from the design of forms to the very concept of selling a secret experience. This process helps us know what to develop and what to kill. We are constantly seeking feedback (from our lovely pool of test audiences) in the developmental stages of a work, which is also when it is the scariest because we find out if a concept is good enough to be presented.

By the time we are running the shows, adrenaline takes over and we ride it all the way home. 

Bakchormeeboy: It’s a little odd for Secretive Thing to be a part of a festival because of its ‘secret’ nature which suggests access only to those in the know. Does this betray the artistic intent of the collective, and why was it that the group decided to apply to this particular edition of the Fringe based on its theme?

Secretive Thing: Past Secretive Thing experiences have been open to the public. We must have done a very good job at being secret so far for you to think it is an exclusive club.

The artistic intent of the collective maintains that each Secretive Thing is secret, that the artists are not known publicly. 

Secretive Thing 215 is still secret. The cat has not been let out of the bag because the bag is still tied (=^.^=)

It has been such a privilege to be part of the festival. We ❤ Singapore and the theme for 2020 was so apt we had to apply!

Photo Credit: Secretive Thing

Secretive Thing 215 runs from 9th to 19th January 2020 as part of the 2020 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. Tickets available from SISTIC

The 2020 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival runs from 8th to 19th January 2020. Tickets and more information available from their website here

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