Drama box takes audience on an internal journey

Drama Box resident artist Han Xuemei (right) worked with playwright Jean Tay (left), sound artist Darren Ng and theatre-maker Neo Hai Bin to develop Missing: The City Of Lost Things.
Drama Box resident artist Han Xuemei (right) worked with playwright Jean Tay (left), sound artist Darren Ng and theatre-maker Neo Hai Bin to develop Missing: The City Of Lost Things.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

In Drama Box's new work, participants will reflect on themselves by following a series of instructions sent to them by text message

Drama Box is known for site-specific works about people's connections to different parts of Singapore.

Its new piece, however, takes participants on an internal journey.

Every weekend this month, about 16 participants at a time will gather at the troupe's headquarters in Chinatown and then follow a series of instructions sent by text message. They will be taking part in Missing: The City Of Lost Things, which has been developed by Drama Box's resident artist Han Xuemei, working with playwright Jean Tay, sound artist Darren Ng and theatre-maker Neo Hai Bin.

Each session lasts about four hours and participants can sign up for experiences in either English or Mandarin.

Han says: "When we go to the theatre, conventionally, we go there to hear other people's stories. For this work, from the start, we set out to look at ourselves. It's our stories."

Participants will receive a "travel kit" to help them take that interior journey, guided by text messages sent to individual phones. She says giving more details will spoil the experience.

  • BOOK IT / MISSING: THE CITY OF LOST THINGS

  • WHERE: Drama Box, 14A-C Trengganu Street

    WHEN: Saturday, Sunday, Jan 20 and 21 (English); Jan 13, 14, 27 and 28 (Mandarin); 10am and 3pm

    ADMISSION: $35. Text the word “MISSING” to 9095-7676 before Jan 22

    INFO: www.dramabox.org and www.facebook.com/dramabox.org

Han, who turns 31 this year, joined Drama Box as a resident artist in 2012 and co-created the 2014 performance tour of Bukit Ho Swee estate titled IgnorLAND Of Its Time. The performance featured stories of the estate from the infamous 1961 fire to the present, often narrated by residents.

Han also co-created a similar site-specific community theatre project in 2016 at Dakota Crescent, one of Singapore's oldest public housing estates. The IgnorLAND projects excavate personal stories and bring them to public notice.

But what of a viewer's own personal connections to spaces? Han lives in Bishan and very near her old primary school, Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Primary School. It is not on her way to work, however, and she has not visited the school or looked up old teachers for years.

"How come when we move on to a new stage in life, there are always people we stop contacting? My school is very near my home, but because it's not on the way, I haven't been back to see it," she says.

Questions about what she had left behind led to questions about whether she was now missing something. Hence the title of the project.

She brought in fellow theatre-makers to help refine the participatory theatre experience: Ng for his sense of sound, and Tay and Neo for their sensitivity to language. Tay writes in English and Neo makes theatre predominantly in Mandarin.

The artists took turns to hold workshops for the others. Some involved travelling to places they had lost touch with and to Changi Airport.

An initial idea of starting Missing: The City Of Lost Things at the airport was eventually discarded. Han says this is because an airport is associated with departures. Missing: The City Of Lost Things is a return or revisit of the self.

Tay, 43, adds: "It's a more reflective journey than we are used to."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2018, with the headline 'Embark on a journey inside'. Print Edition | Subscribe