Mind the gap – you might find a surprising connection.
In Wong Kar-Wai’s 1994 film Chungking Express, Takeshi Kaneshiro considers his character’s relationship with Brigitte Lin, where at the highest point, they were a mere 0.01cm apart. With how tight-knit our city structure is, this could also apply to our everyday interactions, where 0.01cm represents the tiny distance between ourselves and others, the space and distance of possibility, where all one has to do is move a little closer, and go from strangers to close friends.
Playing as part of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, Goh Shou Yi, Rei Poh and students from NAFA’s BA in Performance Making course have devised 0.01, a work that explores the divisions and relationships we share in our busy urban lives in Singapore, particular with how COVID-19 has changed the way we relate to each other via distance, be it the choice to leave a wider gap for health and safety, the claustrophobia of being locked down in the same space for too long, or the seemingly infinite amount possibilities the digital space offers.
0.01 is first and foremost, committed to creating a unique atmosphere and experience for us, limiting the maximum number of audience members to an intimate 20. Seated on either side of the NAFA Studio Theatre in a row, the performance takes place between us, where we are separated from the space with a transparent plastic curtain around the perimeter, so close yet so far apart from each other and the performers.
Within the space, Petrina Dawn Tan has mirrored the symmetry of the audiences, with a mountain-like structure at either end, white sheets flowing down like snow, connected by a white, slightly-elevated track across the stage. As daunting as the mountains seem to be, this track offers hope of connection, no matter how far apart they may be. To further create the sense of isolation, even when seated with our row of audience members, 0.01 provides headphones to wear during the course of the show, which feeds the actors’ voices and Jing Ng’s soundtrack directly into our ears. In a way, we’re all lost in our own worlds, shut off from the other audience members to experience the piece in peace. With all this set-up in mind, it becomes clear how deliberate every action and decision in 0.01 has been to produce maximum impact in every scene, as we feel in full force by the end.
Over the course of the performance, the students take on various roles across a number of possible scenarios exacerbated by the pandemic. A daughter confronts her father about his neglectful parenting after they’re forced to live day after day together in lockdown. A woman trawls Tinder for a possible match, only to be disappointed, until she finds someone else who genuinely seems to care for her, calling out to her from the mountain on the opposite end of the stage. Elsewhere, two women seem to be locked in an obsessive, toxic relationship, unable to fully let go of each other.
These stories are told through brief exchanges, fleeting, yet powerful in the believability of the dialogue. From time to time, we see the more dance-inclined students move across the stage in arresting solos, seemingly presenting the inner turmoil of isolation, while at others, the group stands in a row on the platform, and we envision the tightness of a train at rush hour, packed yet maintaining a minuscule gap between each person, almost afraid to acknowledge each other’s presence.
Facilitators Rei, Shou Yi, and dramaturg Zee Wong have brought out the best in this group. Not only have they conceptualised an ethereal performance that captures both the stress and beauty of urban living; they’ve also given each student a chance to play to their strengths, leading to precise movements from the dance students, and clear, emotive delivery from the theatre students.
Above all, 0.01 feels like a carefully constructed performance that touches on just enough of each story to make audiences realise the possibilities we each hold in our hands to forge connections and break us out of urban loneliness, if we so wish. Towards the end, this is exemplified as the plastic curtain is finally pulled aside, and we are no longer separate from the performers. Over our ears, the sounds become harder to hear, to the point that we choose to remove our headphones and rejoin the ‘real’ world, hearing the actors speak as they are.
Each story coming to an end, some in joy, others in quiet tragedy, the ensemble begins to hang white ponchos around the space, like anonymous souls of city-dwellers hanging about, existing without purpose. But when other ensemble members arrive waving plastic sheets through the air, it feels like things are moving at last, almost hopeful with how lightly they sway through the air. Perhaps in the new normal, post-pandemic world, the boundaries between people too will dissolve, as we let go of our apprehensions, and leave our comfort zones behind, lean in a little closer, and take a chance to close the 0.01cm gap.
Photo Credit: Memphis West Pictures / Don Wong
0.01 ran from 13th to 16th 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