In search of spirituality

Lone Journeys (above) depicts three humans who are trapped in a world of machines.
Lone Journeys (above) depicts three humans who are trapped in a world of machines.PHOTO: IN SOURCE THEATRE

The late Mahatma Gandhi, a venerated leader who guided India peacefully to independence, was believed to have slept naked with young women to test if he was able to resist carnal temptation.

This lesser-known side of him forms the basis of Sleeping Naked, an upcoming production staged next month by Singapore theatre company In Source Theatre.

In Sleeping Naked, the protagonist, a spiritual adviser named Stony, makes the same discovery about Gandhi, tells his wife and daughter about it and it leads to conflict in the family.

Actors Eng Kai Er, Michael Cheng and Eleanor Tan make up the cast.

Playwright Beverly Yuen, 42, tells The Straits Times she was inspired to come up with the play from her personal experiences.

She says: "I wanted to look at what happens when someone is single-minded and passionate in pursuing a certain kind of ideal and philosophy, to the point that he doesn't realise it may be hurting the people around him."

Eng, 32, will make her acting debut in Sleeping Naked as Stony's daughter, Leng Leng.

"It's challenging to pretend to be an actor, but everyone else seems experienced, so I tag along, make my observations, compare them with what I know, acknowledge differences, appreciate them and try to understand more," she says.

Yuen, who was one of In Source's founders, says she used to be fixated on what she felt was the ideal of theatre, to the point that she would sometimes hurl abuse at her fellow practitioners.

She says she got so frustrated once with the company's current artistic director, Jacklyn Kuah, that she tore a hole in her shirt.

"I believed that theatre was about purity and truth. I was like a demon then, I would get very agitated if I could not achieve what I wanted," she adds.

Yuen took a break from theatre for five years to pursue a doctorate in communications. The time spent away from the stage helped her become more mellow, she says.

Yuen and Kuah are also strong advocates for the practice of spiritual theatre, which they define as a method that draws on traditional forms and rituals to bring about a state of transcendence in performers and audience.

Yuen says: "Spiritual theatre speaks directly to you and touches your heart and soul."

This approach is also echoed in the company's other production this year, Lone Journeys, which is written by theatre practitioner Ellison Tan and directed by Kuah.

The work is about three humans, who are trapped in a world of machines and try to escape to preserve their spirituality and souls.

Kuah says: "Both productions contain a quest for spirituality by humans. In a way, I feel like practising art in Singapore is similar to being in a world of machines.

"We are constantly doing art within constraints - you have to work with a space, within schedules, within rules and regulations set out by the authorities."

This year marks In Source's 15th anniversary.

Yuen and Kuah say they hope to work with more emerging directors and do two to three productions every year. Previously, they produced one production a year.

Yuen says: "We've always focused on spirituality and this can take place in different forms - be it abstract drama, dance or spoken theatre. In a way, spiritual theatre is about finding a way to live a better life."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline 'In search of spirituality'. Print Edition | Subscribe