Multimedia magic

The work of the nominees of this year's Best Multimedia Design transported theatregoers to new and exciting worlds

B*tch was Tropical Traumas
B*tch was Tropical TraumasPHOTO: TUCKY PHOTOGRAPHY
The Effect
The Chronicles Of One And Zero: Kancil
The Chronicles Of One And Zero: KancilPHOTO: AFIQ OMAR

The four nominees vying for Best Multimedia Design this year mapped new dimensions through digital wizardry, whether the constellations of the night sky or the inner workings of the human brain.

Multimedia veteran Brian Gothong Tan is the man to beat, fresh off his win last year for The Incredible Adventures Of Border Crossers, and with two nominations this year.

Loo Zihan, who scored a special mention in the category in 2010 for The Necessary Stage's Frozen Angels, is back with Manifesto, which charted the history of artistic expression in Singapore.

They are up against first-time nominees Brandon Tay, who ventured into designing for professional theatre for the first time with Malay fable The Chronicles Of One And Zero: Kancil; and young designer Genevieve Peck for pharmaceutical romance The Effect.

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Brian Gothong Tan


Nominated for: B*tch: The Origin Of The Female Species (Edith Podesta, presented by M1 Singapore Fringe Festival); Tropical Traumas: A Series Of Cinematographic Choreographies (Brian Gothong Tan and Singapore International Festival of Arts)

Previous nominations: Nine for Best Multimedia, including Queen Ping (Cake Theatrical Productions, 2007), Temple (Cake, 2009) and Versus (Cake, 2016); Best Set Design for Nothing (Cake, 2008); and Best Director for Decimal Points: 4.44 (Cake, 2012)

Previous wins: Best Multimedia for godeatgod (The Necessary Stage, 2005, honourable mention), Nothing, Decimal Points: 4.44 and The Incredible Adventures Of Border Crossers (Singapore International Festival of Arts, 2016)

Tan, whose name has been a mainstay in the Best Multimedia category since it was created, scored two nominations this year.

In B*tch, the 36-year-old transformed the Esplanade Recital Studio into a dazzling star-map, which the characters tread in exploration of the mythological heavens.

The play is about a dog - played by playwright and director Edith Podesta - who observes a man as he loses his wife to dementia and later suffers a stroke, the effects of which were also conveyed through Tan's projections.

His favourite part of the play was using footage of his own dog, a Shiba Inu puppy called Kiwi. "His attention span is really short. I had to cajole him and use a laser pointer to make him focus on the spot."

At the other end of the scale from the cosy space of B*tch was Tropical Traumas, which took place at the massive installation 720° in Gardens by the Bay.

Through a combination of animation, multimedia projections and live performances, the show depicted expeditions into the jungles of the Malay Archipelago from the 1800s, based on the journals of Sir Stamford Raffles' wife Sophia Hull and British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace.

The show included a lengthy scene in which Podesta's character gives birth on a rocking ship, which he feared might make the audience nauseous.

He is glad that more directors these days are open to the potential of multimedia, compared with 10 years ago. "It's grown less expensive and, if you project, you don't have to use heavy sets. It's more environmentally conscious too."

Genevieve Peck


Nominated for: The Effect (Pangde- monium)

Previous nominations: None

Previous wins: None

In the pill-popping romance The Effect, two drug trial volunteers fall in love. The question, though, is whether their feelings are real or merely the side effects of their increasing dosages.

To create the sterile world of the drug trial, Peck, 27, read up on mental illness and the pharmaceutical industry and designed projections based on medical literature and MRI scans. "It was pretty much gibberish," she says of the content of her projections. "But at a distance, you couldn't tell."

She had been interested in the topic of depression even before she started working on the play. "It was something I had seen in other people, having to depend on pills. Once you form a dependency, it's very hard to get off it."

Peck, a graduate of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, decided to be a lighting designer at the age of 16 after experimenting with moving lights in secondary school.

In her first year of university, she fell in love with the versatility of projection mapping.

On The Effect, she got to experiment with new surfaces such as twinwall polycarbonate, which diffuses light differently when lit from behind as opposed to the front.

Most challenging, however, was maintaining the constantly beeping heartbeat projection at the top of the set and synchronising it with the sound effects.

The Straits Times reviewer Akshita Nanda commended the "sci-fi feel of the set", adding that the heartbeat effect reminded the audience "that the core of the story is the gloriously unpredictable nature of humanity".

Brandon Tay


Nominated for: The Chronicles Of One And Zero: Kancil (Zeugma, presented by M1 Singapore Fringe Festival)

Previous nominations: None

Previous wins: None

Tay scored a nomination in his first foray into professional theatre with The Chronicles Of One And Zero: Kancil, Zeugma's take on a Malay fable, which used body projection mapping and animated sequences.

In it, the animals of the forest gather to celebrate the birthday of Kancil the mousedeer, but she worries about the impending razing of their habitat by bulldozers.

Tay, 35, a video artist who primarily works with music shows, depicted a "world in decay" by creating imagery that looked "somehow off, like a glitch in a video game that was not working well".

For two months, he worked with actress Gloria Tan - the only live performer in the show - and playwright Zulfadli Rashid to record their performances using motion-capture technology.

It was a "logistical nightmare", he says, because they each played several characters.

"We would have to decide who to record first so Gloria would have something to react to, but then she also had to play the character she was reacting to.

"It was a chicken-and-egg situation, but it was such an adventure."

Tay used cutting-edge technology to, ironically, impart the primal connection felt when telling stories around a campfire.

"People think of folklore as archaic and irrelevant to us today," he says.

"But if you frame it in a contemporary way, it speaks to people at an intuitive level."

Loo Zihan


Nominated for: Manifesto (Drama Box and The Necessary Stage)

Previous nominations: Best Multimedia for Gemuk Girls (The Necessary Stage, 2009) and With/Out (Loo Zihan; M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, 2016)

Previous wins: Frozen Angels (The Necessary Stage, 2010, special mention)

For Manifesto, which traced the struggles of artists in Singapore over 70 years, multidisciplinary artist Loo decided to place control in the hands of the actors by having them film themselves using their mobile devices on selfie sticks.

"I had to trust the actors," says Loo, 34. "I was pleasantly surprised - the camera movement added a layer of performativity.

"It's very easy to make sexy multimedia, attractive designs people will instantly like. But I wanted Manifesto to resist that kind of immediate beauty."

In what he calls a "counter- intuitive" move, scenes which took place in the present day were shown on film, whereas scenes from the past and future were performed live on stage.

Manifesto, which dealt with the politics of art and freedom of expression, struck a little too close to home for him towards the end.

In the final days of its rehearsal, he found himself the subject of censorship, after two sex objects were withdrawn from his Institute of Contemporary Arts installation Queer Objects: An Archive For The Future.

In the light of this, watching Manifesto became for him an "out- of-body experience".

"It was like seeing my artistic life dramatised in front of my eyes," he says. "It helps to have that distance, to see someone else play out the struggle you are experiencing. It gives you lucidity and perspective."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2017, with the headline 'Multimedia magic'. Print Edition | Subscribe