Mining the past for stories

(From left) Upstream's Chong Woon Yong, Felix Hung, Liu Xiaoyi and Ng Mun Poh.
(From left) Upstream's Chong Woon Yong, Felix Hung, Liu Xiaoyi and Ng Mun Poh.PHOTO: LIM YONG TECK FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

For his latest production Upstream, director-playwright at The Theatre Practice Liu Xiaoyi made the 11 actors revisit past sinkholes and open up scabs to craft and perform personal monologues.

The introspective play is perhaps a fitting final performance by one of Singapore's oldest theatre companies, before it vacates the ageing Stamford Arts Centre, a venue it has occupied as anchor tenant for more than 25 years.

It will move a few blocks down the road to its new premises, also located along Waterloo Street, as the centre has been earmarked for redevelopment into a home for the traditional arts.

To mark the occasion, Liu, who won Best Original Script at this year's M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards for his play Fluid, had thumbed through the plays first staged at the centre, but could not find anything appropriate.

"Then we found Kuo Pao Kun's 1991 play 0Zero01, which was about identity and origins, so I seized upon that concept to get the actors to talk about their own memories, roots and history," he tells Life.

  • BOOK IT /UPSTREAM

  • WHERE: Stamford Arts Centre, 155 Waterloo Street

    WHEN: Tomorrow to Oct 24, 8pm

    ADMISSION: Pay as you wish, but registration is required

    INFO: Go to bit.ly/upstream2015 or call 6337-2525

His cast members, who are all part of The Practice Lab, the company's training-focused arm headed by Liu, were each tasked to write, self- direct and perform a 15-minute monologue based on those themes. "I gave them only certain frames of reference, but everything else is up to them. I'm not the director, just an adviser," says Liu, noting that this aligns with The Lab's mission to develop emerging talent in the theatre scene.

Due to time constraints, they have been split into two groups, which will perform on alternate evenings during the show's run from tomorrow to Oct 24.

The actors in Group A performing tomorrow, on Friday, Sunday and Oct 21 and 23 are Darren Guo, Felix Hung, Neo Hai Bin, Ric Liu and Zee Wong. Those in Group B performing on Thursday, Saturday and Oct 20, 22 and 24 are Benjamin Wong, Chong Woon Yong, Jasmine Xie, Zachary Ho and Ng Mun Poh.

Actress Lee Qian Yu is the only one to star in both groups.

The stories that will be told range from the personal to the political.

For actor Chong, inspiration came in the form of an ill-fated break-up. "I was planning to do something else, but Xiaoyi asked if I would be okay to talk about this. So I used this piece to revisit my relationship of about two years," he says.

Along with his fellow actors and Liu, he acknowledges that lapsing into self-indulgence is a potential pitfall of this production.

"We are mindful of that and we've tried hard to do it in a way that isn't indulgent. One question I ask them repeatedly is: why is it important for the audience to hear this story from you?" adds Liu.

For actress Hung, what began as an examination of her relationship with her father morphed into a microcosm of the fraught relations between her homeland of Hong Kong and China. "I also started reflecting on my identity as a Hong Konger... but it was a struggle writing the script as I'm not a person who can write pages in a sitting. I also had to balance that with directing."

Says Liu: "The format of this production can get tough because they take on three roles - writer, actor, director. But something like this helps them become better, more all-rounded actors.

"Actors are artists - they shouldn't be there only to read out lines written by someone else and follow directions."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2015, with the headline 'Mining the past for stories'. Print Edition | Subscribe