Relaxing, empowering afternoon spent draping fabric with fashion designer Max Tan.
Never referred to as the person but by his studio, fashion and costume designer Max Tan (of MAX.TAN) is perhaps one of theatre’s more reclusive figures. But with The Theatre Practice’s (TTP) Play With…Skins workshop, the designer sheds some light on his personal life and work process to promote the art of play.
Playing as part of TTP’s 2020 M1 Patch! Festival, Play with…Skins saw about 20 audience members participating in the workshop from the comfort of their own homes, held over Zoom and moderated by TTP Artistic Director Kuo Jian Hong. Like in most workshops, there was initially a little hesitation from how unfamiliar everyone was with each other, but this was quickly dispelled when Max began the session with a self-introduction, speaking about how he’s been designing professionally for 10 years now, never letting himself be restricted to conventional beliefs, but always allowing himself to ‘play’ and let his imagination run wild when conceptualising designs.
Prior to the session, audience members collected a 1.5m length of black and silver, Spandex-like cloth and a number of safety pins, which were to be used during the workshop. As participants with little experience in the field of design, Max reassured us that it would be a stress-free, safe space for all over the 2 hour workshop, where we would be both designer and model for ourselves as we played with draping techniques.
While 2 hours of sitting in front of your device may initially sound long for a workshop, TTP’s pacing of the session made the time fly by. Initially warming us up with a ‘game’, where we were given a minute to style the fabric any way we wanted on our bodies, as Max reminisced about how he used to do this with towels as a kid. It wasn’t long before we started to feel more comfortable with the idea of play, feeling like a child again as we wrapped, twisted and tied the fabric around ourselves in varying configurations. We wanted to do more, and TTP was ready to give us that opportunity.
In explaining the workshop’s title, Max explains how as a designer, the way fabric fits on our body is everything, from how it looks to how it feels, almost like a second skin, one that we get to choose for ourselves. Demonstrating his usual brainstorming process with his own length of fabric, we were impressed by how he managed to conceptualise and create a kind of halter top through drapery alone within a matter of minutes, before being split into pairs in breakout rooms to try it for ourselves. It’s amazing what one can achieve under time pressure, and 10 minutes later, the results were fascinating, with everything from a jumpsuit to a jacket that participants draped on themselves. Always, Max was supportive as we presented our garments, finding the positivity in each piece and how the idea wasn’t to create a finished product, but to free up the mind and use elements of the final shape as inspiration.
In the final part of the workshop, we were given 20 minutes to once again drape the fabric on ourselves, but this time, were allowed to cut holes in the fabric, creating ‘negative space’ in the ‘positive space’. While not overtly said, it felt almost like there was a hidden message in this exercise, where a ‘perfect’ piece of fabric now filled with holes can still be crafted into a fashionable outfit, showing how all it takes is a little imagination, optimism and play to turn something negative into a positive. The final outfits were the most creative outcomes of the session, leading even Max to comment how much fun he had looking at the various results, with the sheer amount of versatility displayed by participants. By that time, we were already comfortable enough with each other to proudly show off our pieces, with evident joy as we shared our creations and thought process behind them.
Closing the session, Max shared a final anecdote about how a yoga session he attended helped him overcome his own insecurities about his body image; despite there being other people who seemed much fitter than him, there were those who still struggled with certain poses, leading him to realise that traditional standards of beauty weren’t everything. “I can embrace what I have and who I want to become, and in doing that, celebrate myself in all my imperfections, have fun and play with it,” he says. And we realise that amidst the fashion aspect of the workshop, we’ve walked away with an important life lesson – sometimes, by changing your perspective and outlook on life, and removing your own mental blocks, you re-learn how to find value in everything that you are, and empower yourself through the power of play.
M1 Patch! A (Live) Theatre Festival of Play runs from 18th July to 30th August 2020. For more information and full list of programmes, visit their website here