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Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia

Cakap-Cakap: Interview with Koh Wan Ching and Andrew Sutherland

In this new series of ArtEquator Cakap-Cakap (or in other words chit-chat), ArtsEquator sits down with director Koh Wan Ching and playwright Andrew Sutherland to chat about “creative romances”, random internet finds/memes and how things are going with their upcoming work, a line could be crossed and you would slowly cease to be, at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival.

ArtsEquator (AE): In whatever way you like, please introduce yourself in your own words.

Koh Wan Ching (KWC): I’m a theatre maker. I perform, direct and teach.

Andrew Sutherland (AS): I think of myself as a damp but hopeful waterbird dreaming of one day becoming Academy Award-winner and Goop CEO Gwyneth Paltrow. Otherwise, I’m a performance-maker, writer, educator, viral body. I spent the formative years of my adulthood and artistic training living in Singapore and now reside in Boorloo (Perth) in Western Australia, on Whadjuk Noongar land, where I was born.

AE: How are you doing at the moment? Could you describe your current state of mind?

KWC: Constantly anticipating that the performance won’t happen, that theatres will be shut again.

AS: At the moment, I’ve been struggling to get things done or work towards projects or plans. I am feeling a lot of internal resistance. I’ve watched about three to four seasons of Grey’s Anatomy in the last two weeks, which should be indicative of my state of mind. 

AE: What excites you about your show and its themes, and/or of being part of this production?

KWC: I am excited about the team embodying Andrew’s texts and images. Which is a culmination of on-off 2 years worth of thoughts, research, reading and exchanges between the 2 of us.

AS: I think something that excites me in every process is the entanglement between collaborators. For me, making theatre and performance is often as simple as an act of love between you and your creative partner/s. Working in independent theatre spaces can be so mentally and financially difficult, and more and more I feel that the thing that makes it worthwhile is the ‘romance’ you have with the people you’ve chosen to create with. So what was exciting about being asked to do this was the form that creative romance took with Wan Ching. We were very rarely in the same room or the same country, so the accumulation of what is now the play text was like wrapping up and offering little gifts to each other. We’d send each other hooks, or let certain offers fall away, or struggle in articulation, etc. And I think you can feel that in the show itself; the play is reflective of the attention and care we gave one another.

 

AE: What are your personal connections/entry points into the themes/issues of the show?

KWC: I think we are in for a lot of suffering caused by drastic and subtle climate changes. We, as in human beings, animals, physical landscapes, things and people we love. Some of this suffering is going to be invisible, disproportionately borne by those least able to respond to them. I feel we need to acknowledge this and collectively think of how we can make things better.

AS: Most of my creative work, I think, is deeply invested in the vulnerability of bodies, and the complex and difficult vulnerabilities that form between bodies. In a pandemic, for instance, we are forced to reckon (again) with the fact that we are not a discrete and autonomous self; that we might be no more and no less than vectors in an ecosystem of vulnerable bodies. Which I think could be a beautiful and powerful thing to realise; and might help us to better imagine care for one another (including the non-human), and better imagine a future that sits somewhere other than an extinction or a miraculous solution to our problems. So for me it kept coming back to the idea of moving or yearning alongside that huge uncertainty we find ourselves in.

Actors in rehearsal for “a line could be crossed and you would slowly cease to be”.

 

AE: How have rehearsals been? Can you share a particularly memorable part of the process? If you had to be honest, what’s been the most challenging part of this journey?

KWC: I think freelancers like myself before I joined the ITI faculty last year, who do not belong to a company or collective have a hard time keeping themselves sharp as they negotiate periods of rest and periods of packed days. There is no regularity of training or practice so their sensitivity to text, to voice, to body, to space, to time gets blunted. Getting to work after the CB (Circuit Breaker) is a gigantic privilege, but the extended uncertainty and isolation has exacerbated the issues that freelancers face.

AE: What’s it like to revisit the show after its first iteration, and how has it evolved?

KWC: The text has gone through significant cuts and rewrites, through discussion between Andrew and me. In terms of staging, I’ve gone lean and minimal. My stage manager Meirong was joking that the ITI version seems almost maximalist compared to what we have now. We both agree it is probably both a conscious choice as well as a limitation imposed by lack of resources, because as an independent producer, I have chosen to allocate our grants to the people working on the production rather than to things for the production. This is simply a choice I feel I have to make at this time.

We have a new design team with Vivian Wang in sound design and Huang Xiangbin on lights. And I am ecstatic about the new collaboration.

AS: Through various, interruptive portions of 2020, Wan Ching and I spoke a lot about where we felt changes or edits ought be made, and an attempt was made to make the sprawl a little more streamlined, as well as solidify connections that perhaps were untapped in the previous iteration. 

AE: Outside of the play, what are you currently interested/obsessed with, and why?

KWC: I am notoriously bad at time management and find it very difficult to have hobbies.

AS: BTS, Euripides’ Helen, ibises, becoming a better and more structured educator, various depictions of Pikachu, Queer temporalities, superimposing myself into the film The Exorcist

AE: Can you share a meme, joke, article or random Internet find that you’d like others to enjoy?

KWC: Otters singing Mr Sandman by artist takada bear

AS: “take a closer look at that snout” will never diminish, never fade, never tire.

AE: Who is a theatremaker or group whose work you enjoy, and why? 

KWC: I will always remember BITCH: The Origins of the Female Species by Edith Podesta which she also presented at M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, because of the way the writing hit me in my gut. A Clockwork Orange by Teater Ekamatra was also very very memorable for me. The ensemble and their physical vocabulary (singing in a car?), the weirdness, the music, the adaptation, the crazy space, the video work.

AS: Julia Croft does incredibly intelligent, beautiful and fun Queer-feminist performance work. She’s also a good friend who I first met at M1SFF a few years ago, which is nice. Kaylene Tan makes deeply considered and almost delicate choices as a playwright and director, and I respect her work very much – the few I have seen recently, anyway. One small bonus of the pandemic was that I got to see a lot of archival footage of Thailand’s B-Floor Theatre, who are excellent and challenging and visually stimulating.    

AE: Complete this sentence: 2021 is a year of….

KWC: *Not going to answer this.*

AS: just do your best when you can.


a line could be crossed and you would slowly cease to be will be on from 20 – 23 January 2021 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio and will be available for VOD viewing from 23 – 29 January 2021. Get your tickets here.

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