Since overseeing the artistic direction of SCENES: Participatory Practices, a festival that was meant to happen in-person but went digital in the thick of COVID-19 back in 2020, Han Xuemei has gone on a year-long sabbatical in 2021, received the Young Artist Award from the National Arts Council, and joined Koh Hui Ling as Co-Artistic Director of Drama Box in April 2022.
To date, Xuemei continues creating theatrical experiences, and come end July, presents a brand new work looking at the different incarnations of horror and violence surrounding youths through an immersive thriller. Made with a young audience in mind, Xuemei’s new show Assembly is presented as part of the Esplanade’s Feed Your Imagination series, and besides shows produced exclusively to secondary and tertiary student audiences, will also feature four shows that are open to the public.
In 2019, Xuemei created an experiential installation piece titled FLOWERS, which looked at patriarchal violence and its effect on a family. Since then, she has been interested in studying the different types of violence that permeate everyday life. Spending time working with young people since her sabbatical in 2021 has made her aware that violence exists in different degrees and one common aspect among youths is bullying. Wanting to understand the layers and types of violence young people face was her impetus for creating Assembly.
Xuemei explains her choice of using horror to structure the play: “Horror is something that many people are familiar with. Student or adult, it is very relatable as almost every school in Singapore has their own ghost stories passed down over time. Importantly, the horror genre offers a way to depict difficult issues in a nuanced and powerful way. I am interested in exploring how a premise of some kind of supernatural haunting provides a reflection of the often invisible violence and fear that surround us.”
Directed by Xuemei and written by Adib Kosnan, Assembly promises to keep the audience on its feet. Indeed, the performance, held in Esplanade Annexe Studio, will not provide seats. Instead, the audience is required to walk around the space or stand throughout the 90 minutes, to immerse themselves in the world of the three protagonists – teenage students with their own struggles, while also dealing with unexplained occurrences in the school’s art room.
“I hope that the audience will find resonance with the characters and their struggles, and through that, be encouraged to talk and understand more about the issues of bullying and violence around us,” Xuemei adds.
Starring Alvin Chiam, Auderia Tan, Nadya Zaheer and Timothy Wan, from haunted corridors to toilet cubicles, the ghosts of the past will emerge to strike fear of both the supernatural, and the very real horrors of school life today.