M1 Chinese Theatre Festival

M1 Chinese Theatre Festival focuses on social issues

The festival's sixth edition explores diverse works that look at issues from sexual assault to sins

Worlds converge and collide within the narrow confines of a black box theatre in the sixth edition of the M1 Chinese Theatre Festival, which will run from Aug 3 to 27.

The festival, started by The Theatre Practice in 2011, aims to bring Singapore audiences both quality local Chinese-language productions and international plays in the intimacy of a black box setting.

Artistic director Kuo Jian Hong, 49, says: "In terms of international works coming in, there aren't a lot in a studio or black box setting. And Chinese-language programmes for young children were not consistently available either.

"There was a void in every corner we looked, so we programmed the festival to be broad as well as deep."

This year, the festival will feature three local works by The Theatre Practice as well as three international ones - two from Taiwan and one from China.

The cross-border nature of the festival is apparent in works such as The Seven Silences: Anger, a production by Taiwanese company approaching theatre, based on a book by Hong Kong writer Wong Bik Wan and directed by Malaysia-born Koh Choon Eiow.

Anger is part of a developing series of works inspired by the seven deadly sins in Wong's writing.

Set in a dilapidated public house, the play is populated by ghost-like characters from the dregs of society - prostitutes, thieves, charwomen and so on - who eke out a base survival and stew in the face of society's indifference to their lot.

  • Festival shows


    Where: Practice Space, 54 Waterloo Street When: Aug 3 to 13; Tuesday, 3pm; Wednesday, 10am and 3pm; Thursday, 3pm; Friday, 10am, 11.30am and 3pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11am, 2 and 5pm Admission: $28


    Where: Black Box @ Centre 42, 42 Waterloo Street When: Aug 10 and 11, 8pm; Aug 12, 3 and 8pm; Aug 13, 3pm Admission: $38


    Where: Black Box @ Centre 42When: Aug 16 and 17, 3pm; Aug 18, 3 and 7.30pm; Aug 19 and 20, 11am and 2pmAdmission: $28


    Where: Practice Space When: Aug 17 and 18, 8pm; Aug 19, 3 and 8pm; Aug 20, 3pm. The Sexual Assault Care Centre will hold post-show talks on Aug 17 and 18 and after the 3pm show on Aug 19 Admission: $38


    Where: Practice Space When: Aug 24 and 25, 8pm; Aug 26, 3 and 8pm; Aug 27, 3pm Admission: $38


    Where: The Theatre Practice Rehearsal Studio, 54 Waterloo Street When: Aug 25, 8pm; Aug 26, 3 and 8pm; Aug 27, 3pm Admission: $28

    •All tickets from Sistic, excluding booking fees (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg). Go to www.practice.org.sg/en/ctf

Koh, 45, who is based in Taiwan, says in Mandarin that the series aims to pay tribute to Wong's sharp, concise critiques of social struggles, as well as to enter into dialogue with contemporary society via the theatre.

"In the hustle and bustle of these busy times, we should lower our heads and listen in silence."

Also from Taiwan is The Little Child by Short One Player Theatre, a children's puppet show that reimagines sombre themes of illness and death for its young audience.

When director Wei Chun-chan was 10, his father entered a coma due to a brain haemorrhage. Based on his experience, the play uses marionettes and cotton-wool clouds to tell the story of a little boy who enters a fantastical world of clouds in pursuit of his father.

Wei, 36, says in Mandarin: "What I experienced as a child was a nightmare written into reality. How did my tall, healthy father turn into a pale, twisted lump of flesh?

"At that time, this was something I could not comprehend and could come to terms with only through my imagination. The magical nature of the puppets makes them the best medium for this play."

Of a more classical bent is Lu Xun Blossoms, a medley by the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre that translates four of esteemed Chinese writer Lu Xun's short stories into physical theatre.

Since its premiere in 2007, co-produced by Canada's Theatre Smith-Gilmour, the show has toured more than 40 countries, including China, Canada and Germany. This is its Singapore premiere.

Producer Zhang Huahua, 37, says in Mandarin: "On this bare stage, with nearly no backdrops or props, the expressions, emotions and physical motions of the actors become especially vital. To master different personalities with finesse, they must constantly grapple with these details."

The three local works, all directed by Kuo, comprise Blank Run - a dark, multidisciplinary piece that depicts the memory landscape of a sexual assault victim - as well as the fifth edition of experimental series 1 Table 2 Chairs and a children's musical, The Wee Question Mark And The Nameless.

It is a sequel to The Wee Question Mark And The Adventurer (2015), which won the inaugural Best Production for the Young award at last year's M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards.

In this new instalment, Wee Question Mark encounters a nameless person living in the mountains. It is meant to get its young audience thinking about issues of labelling and identity, which Kuo says are already "a very complex lesson for adults - being known a certain way, or not being known a certain way".

Giving sexual assault victims a voice

When it comes to making a police report, there are some questions that victims of sexual assault have no answers for, such as "Why didn't you run?"

"This is what puts some victims off going to the police," says The Theatre Practice artistic director Kuo Jian Hong.

"If you didn't run, does that mean you didn't do your part in preventing what happened to you? If you can't even explain to yourself why you didn't run, how do you explain it to the police?"

In Blank Run, an original play produced by The Theatre Practice, a sexual assault victim tries to piece together her recollections of the event through the fever dream of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Its intent is not so much to recreate the experience of sexual assault itself, but to "tell the story of a person's memory and how it comes together and falls apart", says Kuo.

The multidisciplinary piece will make its Singapore premiere at the M1 Chinese Theatre Festival, after performances at ACT Shanghai International Theatre Festival last year and World Stage Design in Taipei earlier this year.

It was conceptualised by Kuo, performer Gloria Ang and writer Zoea Tania Chen.

Besides multilingual text and physical theatre, it will also incorporate soundscapes by Sandra Tay and multimedia installations by Genevieve Peck.

To produce the piece, they wove together personal experiences as well as the stories of women who have sought help at the Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC) run by gender equality group Aware (Association of Women for Action and Research).

Ang, 24, who will be acting in the piece, is herself a victim of sexual assault.

Her story has been worked into the play, although she does not play herself, but a devised character.

"The most traumatic event is not the act itself, but when it comes back to haunt you," she says.

She realised, as she began to recount her assault to those around her, that she was obliterating details which she was afraid would make it seem like what happened was her fault.

"There is a conventional narrative of sexual assault and I realised I was subscribing to it too, when really, things are so grey. Most perpetrators don't even see what they have done as assault."

The Theatre Practice consulted the SACC in the production of the play and will be working with it to hold post-show talks about trauma and its work with sexual assault victims.

All proceeds from the opening show on Aug 17 will go to the SACC.

Aware's 2014 survey on sexual violence among youth found that only 6 per cent of respondents who experienced sexual violence sought help.

Victims were most likely to approach family and friends before going to the authorities.

Aware executive director Corinna Lim says: "Many survivors who reached out to the SACC tell us how, when they spoke up about their assault, they were met with disbelief or accused of lying or making up stories because of inconsistency in their retelling.

"The reality of sexual assault is still widely misrepresented. Many are not aware of how traumatic experiences can impact a victim's memory of the incident.

"A survivor's story may appear disorganised, but it is often their way of trying to make sense of what has happened to them."

•To reach the Sexual Assault Care Centre, call 6779-0282 (Mondays to Fridays, 10am to midnight).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2017, with the headline 'Delving into the dark'. Print Edition | Subscribe