Singapore International Festival Of Arts

Theatre meets reality as homes open for sharing

Animal lover Lesley Ong (centre in white T-shirt) shares charming stories of the “backyard” of her house in Yio Chu Kang.
Animal lover Lesley Ong (centre in white T-shirt) shares charming stories of the “backyard” of her house in Yio Chu Kang. PHOTO: PASSIONARTS

REVIEW / THEATRE

OPEN HOMES

PassionArts (People's Association)

Various locations/Last weekend

It is a little difficult to review this production because it is like asking someone to rate a first-time visit to a friend's home.

Open Homes is slightly awkward when you first enter, then people start to warm up and, by the end, you almost don't want to leave because you have a lot more things to talk about.

This is an unusual series of shows - call it theatre meets reality, if you like - which invites the audience into 25 homes all over the island to listen to the home- owners tell their stories.

These tales have been shaped into a theatrical experience with the help of a group of artist-mentors that include theatre director Ian Loy and choreographer Ebelle Chong.

It is presented by the Singapore International Festival Of Arts in collaboration with the People's Association and PassionArts.

Of the 13 homes open during the last weekend, I visit four that take me to Queenstown, Siglap, Yio Chu Kang and Choa Chu Kang.

My hosts are, respectively, a Chinese wayang (opera) photographer, a naturalised Singaporean with a love for military history, an animal lover and a mixed marriage couple. If those are just a small sampling of possible hosts, imagine how more varied the others could be.

  • VIEW IT / OPEN HOMES

    WHERE: Various homes

    WHEN: Saturday and Sunday, various times (30 minutes for each show)

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: Pre-registration required.

    Go to www.sifa.sg/sifa/show/open-homes for details

It is impossible to visit all the "open homes" as they are located at all ends of Singapore and the show times overlap. There will be 12 more homes open this weekend.

It is almost a shame that one cannot catch all the shows. With so many households involved, each experience is totally different from the next.

Sure, not everyone seems comfortable addressing an audience, but what they lack in charisma, they more than make up for in enthusiasm and positive vibes.

What I enjoyed most about Open Homes is the unique blend of oral tradition and performance. What makes it authentic is that it is skewed towards the former and not so much the latter.

Actress Sharda Harrison, one of the artist-mentors, aptly observed during the introduction to Sayang, the tour led by animal lover Lesley Ong: "I don't know what to call it, is it a show?"

For some of the homes, the physical journeys that the homeowners decide to take the audience on help to bring out their stories more effectively.

In Sayang, I meet a delightful Ong at her house in Yio Chu Kang. She brings us to her "backyard" (it is part of state land) which she takes as an alternative and shorter route to the bus stop.

Some of us have traded our shoes for her home slippers - I wore a pair of too-small purple soft slippers - and we wade through the grass as she regales us with charming anecdotes of how she calls one of the trees (she thinks it is durian) the "YY tree" because of its Y-shaped branches.

Later, when we are back in the living room, she shares a touching tale about her beloved pet rabbit, who was buried under that particular tree when he died. The tale takes on a sobering note when you realise why she decided to single out that tree earlier.

Because of the candid nature of Open Homes, the tours feel more like two-way exchanges.

Audiences can ask the home owners questions and many start engaging the other audience members too, which marks a refreshing change from the usual theatre show.

It helps that for all the homes, refreshments are given out, which helps to keep the conversation flowing. The tours are meant to last 30 minutes but tend to run longer as people get caught up in the chatter.

There is also the element of surprise before you enter a home.

In Museum By The Sea, my fellow audience members and I gasp as we enter the home of military history enthusiast Nikolaus Edward Fiederer in a condominium in Siglap.

Row upon row of real swords line his walls and he has replica guns and mannequins dressed in military garb from the 18th century onwards around his living room.

This series really made me think about what lies behind the closed doors of my own neighbours and all the stories that remain untold because of our modern-day penchant of keeping to ourselves.

Perhaps it is not too late to start knocking on some doors and open ourselves to new friends and new stories.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2015, with the headline 'Theatre meets reality as homes open for sharing '. Print Edition | Subscribe