Arts Preview Theatre

Preview: Don’t Cancer Me Can by Split Theatre

The Split Theatre Ensemble, facilitators of Split Theatre’s Work On The Self programme, will perform in the upcoming “Don’t Cancer Me Can”, spotlighting their own personal stories. (From left to right: Cheng Xin Rui; Lim Jun De – Associate Artiste; Damien Ng; Clement Yeo; Sreya Sanyal; Ella Wee)

Split Theatre has always held a unique, singular voice in the Singapore theatrical scene, crafting experimental works that bring across strong messages and commentary about the world we live in. In line with its motto, You Matter, Split Theatre aims to remember and heal the past and the Singaporean identity, and consequently build meaningful human-to-human relationships, whether it’s within the company, or between the company and audiences.

Now, the team is changing up their craft and elevating it, with their upcoming show Don’t Cancer Me Can. Supported by the National Arts Council
(NAC), the work is the culmination of Split Theatre’s inaugural “Work On The Self” programme, a recurring 10-week initiative funded by the National Youth Council (NYC).

Don’t Cancer Me Can will feature the Split Theatre Ensemble, who have themselves undergone the Work On The Self pilot programme and now serve as facilitators for the inaugural intake of participants. The Ensemble is a diverse one, and includes a voiceover talent and stunt performer with Autism Spectrum Disorder; a circus contortionist; as well as current undergraduates at the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and LASALLE College of the Arts. The play itself does not have a fixed storyline, but will instead, be devised by the performers, as they muse over it, and utilise their personal stories and interpretations of the title, crafting a unique script born from their real-life anecdotes.

These tie in with Split Theatre’s Work On The Self programme, which was piloted in July 2021 to empower everyday people, as participants, to articulate and make sense of their real-life stories within a safe space – and grow as actors and individuals in the process. The aim of the programme is to allow a safe space for healing through theatre, by blending actor training with personal development coaching, programme participants are guided to create their own theatrical “scores” – a mix of drama, song and movement – based on their personal memories, enabling them to tackle past obstacles.

Topics explored and reframed during the programme have included personal identity and LGBTQ+ issues, mental health and wellness, the state and future of education, and more. These are explored via various solo, partner and group exercises informed through years of academic and practical research undertaken by Founder and Artistic Director, Mr Darryl Lim – featuring physical theatre principles inspired by the work of renowned theatre directors Konstantin Stanislavsky and Jerzy Grotowski.

“To an extent, the work is inspired by Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, where the main character goes around searching for the truth, but when it finds it, it ends up as a kind of cancer for him,” says Darryl. “The title of the show refers to us recognising we all have ugly parts, But it is when we begin to accept those as a part of who we are, that’s when the healing happens. It is when we realise we are all fallible and imperfect that we begin to work on the self, to own who they are and develop themselves.”

“Through the programme, what we offered our participants was a safe space to create whatever each of them wanted, and forming a core ensemble and team that would be placed on this journey with us,” Darryl continues. “This is the direction Split Theatre aims to go, as we find our place in Singapore English language theatre, and with our diverse ensemble, see how our personal truths will emerge in relation to the bigger picture.”

The Work On The Self programme is currently open to the public for registration and accepts participants with no prior performing experience. After its first official pilot from 24th July to 25th September 2021, the programme was officially launched in October 2021 and is currently conducting its inaugural run with eight participants from 16th October to 11th December 2021. Four more programme runs will take place in 2022. Split Theatre aims to eventually expand the Work On The Self programme to schools, institutions and universities.

“Work on The Self is not about profit, but about sustaining the programme, and being able to spread it to more participants, and create this community of people,” says Darryl. “With this presentation, we hope to introduce the ensemble to the public, and further that awareness of us. We’re trying to look much further ahead, and think about how the programme will continue and eventually spread, not even necessarily with our participants becoming facilitators and keeping it within Split, but if they choose to leave and spread it to wherever they go, it seeds the programme in a new way too.”

Once participants have completed the Work On The Self programme, they can potentially optin to become facilitators as well as choose to join the permanent Split Theatre Ensemble. They will undergo the Train the Trainer programme, with trial sessions to learn about the concepts theoretically before embodying their learnings through experience. Four Ensemble training cycles are expected to take place in 2022, alongside each run of the programme. The theme for 2022 will be “Rootedness” – this will be followed by “Trunk – Steadfastness of Self Within A Team” in 2023, “Branches – Diversification of Self Within A Team” in 2024, “Leaves – Making Food Independently To Be Shared Within A Team” in 2025, and “Fruits – Gift-Giving” in 2026.

“At the core of the Split Theatre blueprint is the human experience, and helping individuals make sense of that experience,” says Darryl. “With Work On The Self, we invite participants to not only explore healing and self-care with the help of physical theatre tools, but to also translate that reciprocal act of caring to audiences. Through this process, we hope to empower everyday people to find their voice, boldly express their stories, and seek solace in the stage. It’s about self-awareness, building confidence, and putting on an honest production through working on the self.”

Photo Credit: Split Theatre

Don’t Cancer Me Can runs from 18th to 21st December 2021 at The Arts House. Tickets available here

Work On The Self is currently accepting sign-ups for its second run from 22nd January to 26th March 2022, which too will culminate in a capstone performance that participants are invited to take part in. More information about Work On The Self can be found here

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