Emergency Stairs has always dabbled in experimental fare, and while mostly quiet during 2021, are coming roaring into 2022 with a brand new exploration of performance and theatre, with The Spirits Play Online.
The story begins in 2020, when Japanese Noh artist Kanji Shimizu visited Singapore, while in transit. Meeting up with Emergency Stairs Artistic Director Liu Xiaoyi, and ssing just hand gestures and a translation app, Kanji expressed his wish to reflect on World War II and its ramifications in the present, and how Japan lacked a deeper reflection on the second world war.
This is why he was particularly drawn to Kuo Pao Kun’s The Spirits Play, a reflection and critique on World War II, and suggested that Japanese artists restage the work, with Xiaoyi as director. Xiaoyi considered how the play might have been even better if it featured artists from places affected by the Japanese invasion, and not simply Japanese alone. These were the conversations that marked the earliest of exchanges leading up to this project.
As COVID-19 struck, artists were forced to rethink and redefine meaningful intercultural exchange. For two years, almost all meetings, classes and creations shifted online, and certainly, led to us all rethinking communication, the culture of communication and the future of communication culture, and perhaps, our basic understanding of life itself.
The project seemed like it would be shelved indefinitely, but in 2021, The Theatre Practice invited Xiaoyi to test out a new livestream system that they have been developing, and provided him with the inspiration to move the project online.
In taking it online, encapsulating our behavioural response to the global war against COVID-19, Xiaoyi gathered five Asian artists for the project – Indonesian Javanese dance master Didik Nini Thowok, renowned Chinese Kunqu opera artist Ke Jun, Europe-based Singapore contemporary theatre artist Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo, Okinawa Ryukyu dance artist Yamashiro Ayano and of course, Noh theatre master Shimizu Kanji. They are joined by five researchers from various cities – Chen Lin (Qingdao), Rossella Ferrari (Vienna), Sunhee Kim (Seoul), Tadashi Uchino (Tokyo) and Chou Zhangshou (Singapore), who document and comment on the process.
Over three months, the team engaged in digital and intercultural exchange to reflect upon the themes of war, history and death, resulting in a consideration of the future of Asian arts, and a work-in-progress showcase of The Spirits Play Online on 21st January 2022, marking the end of this part of the research and triggering the next phase of exploration.
As Xiaoyi himself states: “My most memorable scene from Kuo Pao Kun’s “The Spirits Play” is when the five spirits stand before a land of nothingness in the spiritual world. A world so bewildering that one can hardly perceive another. The five spirits weep, not knowing where they belong. When talking about war and invasion in a nation’s history, we always tread with care and caution. But only when we stare death in the eye, only when we stand before greater horizons, do we realise the transience of life. Life is merely a stage filled with fools, fleetingly making entrances and exits.”
“Although this project is only at its early stages, we would like to invite onboard like-minded collaborators and explore various possible platforms to help further develop this work in the future. Perhaps the pandemic and technological world we now live in have already offered us a glimpse into a spiritual sense of being and existence. And I firmly believe that the stage can be our eternal land of spirituality.”
The Spirits Play Online culminates in a performance on 21st January 2022. More information available here