Arts Interview Preview Singapore Theatre

M1 Singapore Fringe 2022: An Interview with Bound Theatre on the age of the Internet in ‘Screen. Shot.’

In this Internet age, cybersecurity is no longer limited to keeping your devices and accounts protected by a well-devised password. With fake news on the rise, angry mobs arising from social media, and a single comment can spark a wildfire, even a simple look at someone’s Instagram stories without response can label you a degenerate of society. How do we survive the sheer madness of it all?

Premiering at the 2022 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, Bound Theatre’s Screen. Shot. attempts to present the madness of the digital world, as the online community goes wild over a missing Primary School student. Last seen at an after-school care centre, speculation is abound, and the centre’s chairperson has been accused of being a paedophile. But who can you trust when the evidence is flimsy and emotions run high? We spoke to director Juliana Kassim Chan and playwright Dwayne Ng, Screen. Shot. to unravel the truth of the matter.

“We came together almost 2 years ago in February 2020, and we decided that we wanted to do something to do with online culture, and how differently we behave online and how we are different online than real life, such as cancel culture and deep fakes,” says Dwayne, on the origins of Screen. Shot. “As we explored during the devising process, we did do our homework and research before entering the rehearsal space, and a lot of the work was to look for things that were current and also maybe controversial, and we would bring all these topics to the rehearsal space and discuss ideas that stemmed from there.”

“In the process of our research, there were so many interactions and events that unfolded online, especially during the lockdown, when we were all forced to go digital while spending time at home,” adds Juliana. “We existed online, and that really made us aware of our behaviour online, and how it changed or expressed itself. So the show is this Pick N Mix of events events that unfolded over the past year, using them as inspiration.”

Bound Theatre’s devising process was blended, adopting a hybrid approach that went both online and offline. “Our very first meetup was on Zoom, before we eventually started doing rehearsals at Juliana’s place. Sometimes we’d use our phones and even did improv via text,” says Dwayne. He’s not wrong – Bound Theatre even dedicates an entire interactive segment where the audience can take out their phones and engage in a group chat on Telegram.

“Elsewhere, we would hold debates with each other, slowly going from mundane topics like yellow is a terrible colour for a bedroom, to more controversial topics about race, abortion, and forced some of us to defend and debate the morals that don’t align with us, where something might feel blatantly racist or sexist,” says Juliana. “All of us generally have the same beliefs, and with half the team forced to take the other side and argue from an alternative perspective, that duality inspires a lot of the stories and narratives that came up in the show.”

Diving deeper into the issues arising from social media, both Juliana and Dwayne reflect on the increasing inability to pulls our attention away. “One of the most impactful moments for me was when BLM happened, and people started posting the black squares on their feed,” says Juliana. “People were calling out others who weren’t doing anything, and it made us realise how nobody is allowed to be silent about it anymore, not just in America but even in Singapore where it became a contentious issue amongst friends. There’s just no middle ground anymore, at least, not on social media.”

On the topic of how youths are practically digital nomads, both Juliana and Dwayne see the pros and cons of being plugged it from such a young age. “I think that you wouldn’t let your young go where they are without knowing what they’re accessing, what they’re seeing,” says Juliana. “But you think about it, it’s so easy to lie about your age online and access what you want, so that’s hard to manage as well. The Internet has continued to morph and evolve over the years; it’s a tool with an infinite amount of possibilities, whether positive or damaging. It’s good that their only information source is no longer parents or the people around them, but in turn, they get such skewed perspectives of the world, and often just repeat what they see without really understanding it.”

“I’m personally on the fence about it,” says Dwayne. “The Internet is already so populated by youth, and they’re all being exposed to many ideas at a young age. The youth today are definitely more woke than we used to be; The kids know about things like micro-aggressions already, and apply that knowledge and claim to not be as prejudiced as others. As a drama educator, I can see my students know so much more than I did when I was their age, because I did not have the same access to info as my students have now. It is because of this information that they can understand the world so much better, though of course, we do need some restrictions to protect them as well.”

On what they hope their show would achieve, both theatremakers recognise that their work isn’t going to change anything overnight, and aims simply to use it as a way to present multiple viewpoints. “I know one show cannot change mindsets, but we are there to present both sides and all sides of the story,” says Dwayne, commenting on the almost Rashomon-like style the play takes inspiration from. “There are 6 characters and therefore 6 sides to the story, all of them dealing with the same problem in different ways online, and this 6-sided approach allows audiences to see the same situation from different points of view, and perhaps, encourage them to think and consider all these sides before they made a decision and speak on a topic.”

“Even if the answer seems very obvious, I think it’s to be aware of the views of the people around you, how even though they might be similar, there’s still a degree of diversity,” says Juliana. “In the heat of activism, there are a lot of voices that get shunned and pushed away, and it shakes up the reality of people’s whole lives. Suddenly all you hear is that you’ve been doing the wrong thing this whole life, and naturally, people will react aggressively and defensively. Just need to stop and think about all these potential consequences of speaking.”

In our eyes, Bound Theatre has always been a part of the small but tight-knit group of ‘youth’ theatre companies in Singapore, but these days, they’ve decided that they no longer associate themselves with the term. “I do think every youth collective has an expiry date on the name because no one is forever young,” says Juliana. “We stopped viewing ourselves as youth theatre since The Taste of Water, because that is a very loaded term. I know we are youths, but we are in this in-between state where we are not amateurs, and lead a very active artistic life outside of Bound and use it to create work. We are an independent theatre collective where we create works when it feels right, but hope to never be bogged down by a KPI.”

Bound then, seems to keep looking forward, and to keep creating work that’s in the moment, for the moment. “We definitely aren’t closed off from restagings, but we do focus on talking about things happening in this moment of time,” adds Juliana. “It’s not like we have many shows in our repertoire or a mass fanbase, but it’s just never felt like it was the right moment in time to do it. Longevity in theatre means you have to make sacrifices; sustaining the self is tiring, and when you become a company, it means you need this consistent roster of shows, to treat the company as a business, and still pay everyone fairly.”

“We also don’t want to compromise the process of creating shows, and every show is so focused on the process and want the process, one that encourages people to grow, and for our collaborators to work with issues and styles they haven’t been exposed to and really come together to give their all and receive and that kind of process takes time and patience,” she continues.

“It’s hard to put yourself out there, and it’s hard to do all these things besides the art – the publicity, marketing…and after doing it once, it’s very hard to restage again,” adds Dwayne. “We put in so many hours and time to this piece, and we need to earn money to sustain ourselves in this piece, for us it’s better to create new work than restage for the sake of it.”

“This show took us 2 years, and it was a slow process. It’s fine for a theatre collective not to last forever, and for me, it’s all about existing in the moment and at this moment the collective was meant to exist to fill a certain void, and when that stops serving you, it’s time to move onto the next thing,” concludes Juliana. “My only hope is that these little things that ignite can just keep going, and even though we’re not a full company, we can still produce respectable work.”

Photo Credit: Bound Theatre

Screen. Shot. runs from 20th to 22nd January 2022 at the NAFA Studio Theatre, as part of the 2022 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. More information available here

The 2022 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival: The Helpers runs from 12th to 23rd January 2022. Tickets and full line-up available here

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