Off Stage

Mistakes on stage can be beautiful

Neo Hai Bin
Neo Hai Bin, a freelance theatre practitioner, welcomes comments and criticisms about his work.PHOTO: TAN NGIAP HENG

Theatre practitioner Neo Hai Bin thinks errors create experiences that one will otherwise never get

Theatre actor Neo Hai Bin, 31, is part of the ensemble cast in Kopitiam, an interactive theatre performance adapted from the 1986 play by the late playwright Kuo Pao Kun. It will be staged by Artivate, the youth wing of Chinese theatre company Drama Box.

Kopitiam follows a discussion between an elderly coffee shop owner and his grandson, as they grapple with change in society.

Neo was an Artivate alumnus before he became a freelance theatre practitioner. He has acted in productions such as Manifesto (The Necessary Stage and Drama Box), Upstream (The Theatre Practice) and The Lower Depths (Nine Years Theatre).

Do you remember your first performance on stage? What was the experience like?

My first stage performance was with the first batch of Artivate members in 2009. It was City S, a production devised under the mentorship of Drama Box and directed by Koh Wan Ching.

It was an honest piece from a group of young people. In retrospect, we were young, filled with uncertainty, but brave. That was because Drama Box trusted us.

How do you prepare for a show?

The actor has to do a lot of homework. During rehearsals, there is a lot of communication between the actor and director so that we are on the same page. Before the show, I warm up, stretching myself, warming up my voice, so that I can open up my heart, mind and spirit to the theatre space.

The actor is the bridge between the play and the audience. When I enter the theatre, it is time to share the story with the audience, to have a meaningful interaction with time and space. I have to warm up so that I am open, ready to give, and, most importantly, ready to receive.

What do you do when you make a mistake on stage?

Theatre is collaborative in nature. Everyone works to adjust and keep the show going even if anyone or anything - actor, lighting, sound, props - goes wrong.

Theatre is ephemeral. What happens when a mistake occurs? Do we bring it with us through the rest of the show, harping on and regretting that instance? If we do that, we forget what is happening here and now. Mistakes are human. Mistakes sometimes create beautiful experiences that we will otherwise never experience.

In rehearsals, we make mistakes all the time to make discoveries and further our explorations.

What's the funniest or most memorable thing that's happened to you while you were on stage?

When I find that I am still able to discover new things about a line, or a character, or the story even though it is the last show. It's like a mini- enlightenment - so this is what it is about. I value these mini- revelations. They prove that art needs time and space to grow, mature or even to die. If you allow yourself to stay with it long enough, you will be able to see new life budding.

What's the harshest criticism or review you've received about your work?

When I receive harsh reviews, I try to say "Yes, but..." instead of a simple "No" which would snub any possibility of a dialogue. I hope I create works that inspire dialogues, instead of stopping conversations from growing. So I learn to welcome comments and criticism. It is better than no response at all.

Do you get any post-show food cravings? Where do you go?

After my shows, it is usually late and most food outlets would have closed. I usually have fast food. Sometimes, I cook instant noodles or my mother cooks me her signature dish - fried rice. Comfort food in the night after a day's hard work.


Correction note: The caption has been updated for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2016, with the headline 'Mistakes on stage can be beautiful OffStage'. Print Edition | Subscribe