Arts online Preview Singapore Theatre

Preview: Festival of Women, N.O.W. 2021 by T:>works

From 13 to 31 July, T:>Works will power on with the final iteration of Festival of Women, N.O.W. (not ordinary work) as a completely digital experience for the second time.

Helmed by theatre artist Noorlinah Mohamed, the 2021 edition will consolidate various digital platforms to engage new and existing audiences, a strategy that has proven successful in its first all-virtual edition1 in 2020. With 15 programmes including four livestreamed productions alongside three digital exhibitions, online conversations and workshops, the line-up of N.O.W. 2021 explores taboo topics that are seldom heard or seen within the diverse communities of women.

T:>Care, a Creative Action Resilience Enabling initiative that was established in 2020, also returns to encourage donations in support of projects that make positive changes in our communities. In solidarity and alliance, T:>Care identifies a select group of urgencies and projects working at the intersection of gender, class, and race. Contributions received through T:>Care will be divided equally and donated to this select group of beneficiaries.

Noorlinah Mohamed, Artistic Director of Festival of Women, N.O.W., says, “N.O.W., with its focus on making porous the borders between art and life, is the right arena to embrace the digital. The digital offers us a wider reach, cutting across the divides of geography, age and time.”

“This year, we will work with the most accessible platforms to enable ease of engagement with a diverse range of audiences. We then focus on developing appropriate languages, crafting meaningful interactions, and designing unique experiences for the audience in each digital production.”

– Noorlinah Mohamed, Festival Director of N.O.W.

“Our excitement with N.O.W. 2021’s digital journey is in how each event is designed with the aim of creating an environment for communality: the spirit of convivial gathering, and of being together within a shared digital space.”

Says Festival Director Noorlinah Mohamed: “The creation on the digital requires a re-thinking of what it means to make engaging performance, and propels us creators to not only think about the narrative but also the environment for the audience. In the digital performance, the ritual of attending, witnessing, as well as partaking in the artistic process is being investigated, developed and thought through, and that is an exciting domain. In N.O.W. 2021, each creator gamely considers what it means to make work for a digital space and how to support each other. The creators also have to ensure that the audience is completely immersed and is given space to receive, respond and care for the work they encounter. That is both the challenge and excitement of creating in the digital.”

N.O.W. 2021’s digital journey starts with three digital exhibitions that generate conversations on invisibility and the unsaid through everyday objects as well as self-photography of body images and narratives. Starting from 3rd June, the three digital exhibitions are:

Thamizhachi: A Digital Museum of Tamil Women Under Construction, led by anthropologist and writer Vithya Subramaniam and Brown Voices, a collective of Indian theatre practitioners, privileges the voices and labour of Tamil women, which are often less visible than their male counterparts. Initiated by Grace Kalaiselvi, Brown Voice’s purpose and vision is to generate and encourage narratives expressing the perspectives, concerns, and aspirations of Singaporean Indians.

Curated by artists ila and Sonia Kwek, nudes.jpg features images of bodies taken by diverse contributors with an accompanying story of traumas and triumphs, marked by moles, scars and other parts that are distinctively personal and confessional. nudes.jpg is the third iteration from the red thread series by ila and Sonia, a series initially conceived as a public space intervention in 2018 along Desker and Rowell Road. In 2019 it was an installation and pop-up photo booth at The Substation. As nudes.jpg, the iteration goes completely digital, with open calls for online submissions of self-portraits, including an online gathering of exchange, dialogue and reflection from contributors to and visitors of nudes.jpg on 27th July 2021.

(un)becoming stories on IG showcases a diverse collection of striking narratives on being mothers and daughters collated from the public. The social media platform, Instagram, will be used as the exhibition site. The choice of Instagram positions each story as not just a collection of text but also to enable shareability among the fans of this highly interactive platform. (un)becoming stories on IG is an extension of the digital performance co-created by Sim Yan Ying “YY” and Nabilah Said that will be featured in Week One of N.O.W. 2021.

Each of these exhibitions is designed as an interactive portal, inviting visitors to view, comment, critique and contribute to the projects. Starting from 3rd June, visitors can expect a digital exhibition site that is uploaded in stages and continues to evolve and grow.

What is intimacy beyond the physical, in the digital world? How do we achieve it beyond contact, touch, smell and proximity? Of the four original digital performances in N.O.W. 2021, three get to the heart of intimacy, with narratives devised through interviews and personal accounts. Each performance is a powerful encounter imagined specially for an online space that tenderly reveals inner secrets and musings, and make public the vulnerable and private.

The first week of N.O.W. 2021 begins with (un)becoming, a devised performance by cocreators Sim Yan Ying “YY” and Nabilah Said that explores the complex dynamics of mother-daughter relationships through the lives of four characters. Combining live performances, films and digital snooping, (un)becoming invites audiences to toggle between screens, peek and read through text messages and search histories, to gain a better understanding of the characters and the secrets they hold.

With Not Grey: Intimacy, Ageing & Being, artist Salty Xi Jie Ng collaborates with a diverse group of older women aged 59 to 82. They include a hairdresser, ballet dancer, activist, natural healer and hiker, with each collaborator raising timely and provocative questions on the negotiation of intimacy, along with its absence and the changes that come with age and circumstance. Employing the digital breakout rooms as private boudoirs, an intimate group of audience (no more than five) join these ‘sharers of experiences’. With moments of listening, watching as well as interacting, the boudoirs offer the audience moving encounters and an opportunity to reflect on their own relationship with intimacy at whatever stages of life they are in.

This project is an extension of Xi Jie’s longstanding interest in the gerontological universe and will culminate in The Grandma Reporter, a collaborative publication project on the culture of senior women around the earth. The publication is available as a downloadable PDF issue at the end of each boudoir performance.

A continuation of Thamizhachi’s exploration of the Tamil Woman is the one-night only T:>Care fundraising dinner, Rasanai: An Invitation to Appreciate by Brown Voices. Directed by Grace Kalaiselvi and featuring Mumtaz Maricar, Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai and Vithya Subramaniam, Rasanai is a multi-sensorial livestreamed lecture-performance, inviting viewers to a night of appreciating tastes and histories. Rasanai features a special home-delivered meal to be enjoyed with the performance – prepared by MasterChef Singapore Season Two contestant Vasunthara Ramasamy and curated in collaboration with Brown Voices – for supporters who donate $380 and more. This T:>Care fundraising dinner is limited to 60 persons.

Much like joy, fear offers a window for women to critique the various ‘glass ceilings’ in their lives. The ‘F’ Word is a series of talks held over three different nights, with three different hosts and their special guests with one central aim: to stare at the ‘F’ word, fear, squarely in its face. Each talk unpacks various perspectives and dispels myths through science, psychology as well as personal experiences of how fear is real, yet, necessary. The first session hosted by Noorlinah Mohamed aims to understand and know fear, the various ways in which fear reveals itself, the effect on mental well-being and ways of coping with it in life. The second session, hosted by sexual health advocate Janice Lee, holds space for conversations on fear of intimacy and relationships with self and others. Former media specialist and now content creation strategist, Corinne Ng, hosts the final session. Together with her guests, she will examine fear and risk-taking, and take a hard look at the challenges women entrepreneurs face.

In Cabaret Joy, cameras on-site will reveal the inner workings of digital cabaret, bringing the chaos of a ‘live’ cabaret onto the digital world. It will be an interdisciplinary, interactive performance, with live performances merging with film, and audiences are invited to appear on screen and interact with the cabaret by sharing their own stories of joy. It is not for the faint-hearted.

Cabaret Joy is a three-hour engagement that brings performance, interactivity as well as voyeurism into one joyously naughty universe, made possible, within the digital. In a persistently unequal world for marginalised communities, joy and fear – both seemingly innocuous emotions – can take on liberating turns, as individuals start to reposition and reclaim these very emotions. As the final digital performance of N.O.W. 2021, Cabaret Joy centres joy in a cabaret re-imagined for an online audience. Co-created by the biggest drag queen in Singapore Becca D’Bus and actor-comedian Deonn Yang, Cabaret Joy unpacks joy within the LGBTQ community, where stories of triumphs and success are often eclipsed by narratives of tragedy and trauma. This cabaret thus positions ‘joy’ as a narrative of liberation and reclamation by a historically marginalised community.

Online experiences can be uplifting, comforting and caring as N.O.W. 2021 re-imagines the possibility of gathering and doing through its workshops. Led by facilitators adept at bringing people together through the digital, the N.O.W. 2021 workshops are kept intimate to enable conversations and interaction.

Restorative Tonics for Body and Soul, led by medicine woman Ajuntha Anwari, is an online cooking workshop. Examining food and herb culture and its restorative and efficacious potency on women’s sexual and reproductive organs, Ajuntha prepares several tonics for participants to cook along with her. In times when social distancing makes onsite exchanges of experiences and knowledges challenging, this workshop pushes forth the idea of gathering, now made possible, by the digital. To gather and cook along with Ajuntha, participants can expect cooking kits delivered straight to their homes.

Let’s Talk Circumcision, led by Crit Talk, a platform for alternative views in the Muslim community, is an online workshop raising awareness and understanding of the ritual of circumcision across cultures. With the use of small group activities and moderated discussion, including drawing and writing through a digital interface, participants are invited to enter the workshop space with openness and respect for honest and critical conversations as well as reflections to emerge on this topic.

Taking place on 17th to 18th July, the 2021 edition of the 24-Hour Playwriting Competition will introduce meal delivery for the first time, bringing participants together in a shared space, as well as shared experiences. Being apart, after all, need not be lonely. The Telegram platform will also be used for the first time, to facilitate open communication throughout the 24 hours, amongst fellow participants and the organisers. The annual competition reinvented itself in 2020 as a platform for aspiring playwrights to conceptualise works presented for the digital screen. A roaring success with over 80 participants, the 2020 edition focused on developing the camaraderie and the spirit of togetherness. Time and space were allocated for participants to drop in for chats and brainstorming sessions with the judges and moderator.

As in the 2020 season, the submitted scripts are adjudicated by three female judges – a director, playwright and performer. The winners are thereafter selected for staging in December under How To Break A Window II – a hybrid showcase of in-venue and digital works. Going digital certainly has its benefits. Last year one of the judges was Singaporean playwright and director, Kaylene Tan, who is based in Melbourne, Australia. This year, the competition will be judged by Singaporean playwright and director and former Artistic Director of Teater Ekamatra, Zizi Majid, from New York, along with Singaporean playwright and educator, Jean Tay, as well as director and writer Sim Yan Ying “YY”.

Noorlinah concludes: “In these uncertain times, T:>Works is not looking back. This year, after its digital beginnings in 2020, N.O.W. fully takes on the mantle of re-imagining performance and engagement in the digital. Embracing the digital need not be about discarding the past. Instead, it entails a parallel journey of exploration and investigation of the digital. How can we re-imagine the artistic experience, and the rituals of going to a performance, meaningfully in the digital?

“In these times, where the possibility of gathering is diminishing, yet sorely needed for a world in flux, we are privileged to have the digital space to continue experimenting and engaging with audiences. Personally, I have grown much as an artistic director with this digital space.”

– Noorlinah Mohamed, Festival Director of N.O.W.

The 2021 Festival of Women, N.O.W. (not ordinary work) runs online from 13th to 31st July 2021. More information and full lineup available here

T:>Care is open for donations from 1st June till 13th August here

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