Welsh playwright Kaite O’Reilly’s Unlimited International Commission is a project created in collaboration with Singaporean artist Peter Sau. The show they’ve developed together with a team of people from both Singapore and the UK, ‘And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues’ will premiere 25-27 May 2018 at the National Museum of Singapore’s Gallery Theatre. Unlimited’s Clara Giraud asked Peter to answer a few questions for us…
CG: Hello Peter, please tell us about yourself and your artistic practice before this project.
PS: I am trained as an actor at the Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI) in Singapore. We had an alumni theatre collective, Traditions & Editions Theatre Circus, and from 2009 to 2012, I produced three theatre productions – ‘The Spirits Play, The Juggler’s Tale and Transformations’ – which featured international graduates from 8 countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, India, Mexico, Macau and Hong Kong) and reflected the ethos of our alma mater in cross-cultural dialogue and experimentation.
As an independent artist in Singapore, I work in both English and Mandarin theatre as a director, actor and educator, and have worked in main season performances, devised theatre, forum theatre, site-specific theatre, festival commissions and international theatre festivals. Personally, I am drawn to create works that aim to address social injustice and reclaim narratives for those who are misunderstood, oppressed and silenced. Some of my past directorial works include ‘Don’t Forget To Remember Me’ (2017) about the stigmatized condition of dementia, ‘Don’t Know, Don’t Care’ (2017) about the taboo subject of end-of-life, ‘Sinking Flesh Thinking Flesh’ (2015) about marginalized individuals, ‘Square Moon’ (2013) about detention without trial, ‘Tell Me When to Laugh and When to Cry’ (2012) shedding light on self-censorship, ‘A Madwoman’s Diary’ (2009) inspired by Aung San Suu Kyi when she was in political detention, ‘Big Fool Lee’ (2007) about a disenfranchised radio storyteller in Singapore, as well as ‘Bedhaya Layar Cheng Ho’ (2004) about the Chinese community being politically repressed in Indonesia in the 1990s.
I believe theatre-making embedded with conscience and a mature worldview is very necessary to soften the divide between different nationalities, cultures and ideologies.
What attracted you to an international collaboration?
From 2014-2015, I spent one year in the UK studying and reflecting about my practice. While I was there, I learnt about the disability arts and culture scene and is deeply drawn to the aesthetics and representation of Deaf and disabled artists in live performances. Back home, I realize while there are Deaf and disabled individuals practicing their arts, there is no one cohesive voice especially in the medium of theatre. Having known Kaite O’Reilly since my student’s days in ITI, I knew an important international exchange needs to happen to sow a seed of professionalized practice in disability-led theatre in Singapore.
What skills have you learnt from this international collaboration?
As an experienced artist, I found myself having to relearn what is education and mentorship when working with Singaporean mentees who are involved as emerging artists and guest performers in our premiere performances. This opportunity is encouraged by Kaite and Phillip and we trialled it during the R&D last year. Raised and educated in a socio-political climate where self-advocacy is not always encouraged, I became aware of my subconscious imposition on my mentees. They have the desire to professionalize, and so, with a paradigm shift encouraged by our collaborators from the U.K, they need to be listened to more than being instructed to. By dialoguing deeper and understanding what barriers they are facing, the ownership of work is shared with them and they reclaim their right to shared decision-making.
The Unlimited International project brings together different cultures. How are you managing differences when creating the project?
In the UK, disability arts and culture has decades of development rooted in political activism and civil rights movement. In Singapore, ‘rights’ and ‘activism’ are sensitive words which are most likely associated with dissent and opposition. And hence, our attitudes towards disability is usually wired towards encouraging community participation, promoting inclusion, and demonstrating virtues to care for the unfortunate and an aging population living with disabilities. To me, it has not been easy negotiating between the social model of disability as widely regarded in the U.K and the prevalent medical and charity model of disability in Singapore. What is perceived as a norm in the U.K might be a novelty in Singapore. Hence, I have learnt to cultivate a sense of patience and humility to openly communicate and negotiate. I have also learnt to put down my ego and cultural baggage to dialogue with my collaborators from the U.K. They have been important role models and necessary checkpoints of reflection for me.
Great collaborations are the birth of great art. Where do you see your piece going in the future?
With sufficient funding, hopefully this work can tour to more Asian cities where major paradigm shifts about disability and its representation are necessary.
Your project involves cross-cultural collaborations at several levels and areas of the project: actors, tech team, producing… How did you manage to stay on track of the end goal and that all artist involved were content with the discourse?
As we are an independent collective formed to work together in this international collaboration, we place a lot of trust in each other to honour our timeline and deliverables in a self-driven and invested approach. Also, I thank my 3 producers – Phillip Zarrilli, Natalie Lim and Grace Khoo – for maintaining communication constantly with everyone involved. I also feel as long as everyone is reminded about the intention and importance of such a project, each of us will do our individual best to uphold the professional integrity and artistic standard of our work and hence, derive our own satisfaction and fulfillment.
Thanks Peter, we look forward to seeing the show in Singapore, and its tour in the UK later this year!