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Photo credits: Su-Ann Lim & Bryan Chang

A Response to ‘Every Thought I’ve Ever Had: Contemplating the Origin of the Sun’

Veteran playwright Leow Puay Tin is intrigued by the methods used by a trio of young performance makers to sustain a 12-hour performance.

Every Thought I’ve Ever Had: Contemplating the Origin of the Sun [ETIEH] is “a 12 hours long performance from sunset till sunrise by the Malaysian trio, Arief Hamizan, Bryan Chang, and Tung Jit Yang, who embarked in a curious experiment of endless train of thoughts while exploring their personal relationships to Japan.”

The audience could see it in person at the KongsiKL arts warehouse in Kuala Lumpur or catch it streamed live on Twitch, from 7:18 pm on 16 April to 7:07 am the next morning.

I didn’t see all of it – I saw the first two or three episodes online, went to bed, and woke up in time to see the closing segment, so glad to see the three guys still lucid and inventive and not at all cranky from lack of sleep.

What they had accomplished was a feat.

Photograph by Su-Ann Lim & Bryan Chang.

Most theatre performances nowadays don’t go beyond two hours, and if they go anywhere near the two-hour mark, there is usually a short intermission. But durational performances break this conventional time frame for a purpose – as a challenge to the performers, and members of audience who are up to it – by going on, usually without intermissions, for long stretches of time – 12 hours, in the case of the ambitious ETIEH. Durational performances used to be the norm for the traditional theatres, such as the wayang kulit, until they got shorter and shorter over time, to the point that they too now are largely within the ‘modern’ two-hour frame.

But ETIEH was interesting to me not just for being durational – but for what the three performance-makers – the performers Arief and Jit Yang (also the project director), and, Bryan (projections, sound and lights) wanted to do.

Photograph by Su-Ann Lim & Bryan Chang.

They had set themselves the punishing and impossible task to recall and express the contents of their minds at random moments of their everyday life – when they might be napping or attending a seminar or in the shower – followed by the performers taking turns to interrogate each other until both were satisfied they had extracted all the details they wanted from the other.

In a sense, this was a futile task. Thoughts and feelings are fleeting and wordless – the performers could never hope to capture and reveal all. And neither could or should they, since they were sponsored and being streamed live.

So a problem was constantly present: how to be continuously ‘honest’ and ‘interesting’ and yet not get into trouble by shooting off their mouths at any given moment for hours on end?

How they managed to do that is what makes ETIEH a good case study of how to design a devised project that could last 12 hours and which keeps producing new and interesting ‘episodes’ hour after hour.

Photograph by Su-Ann Lim & Bryan Chang.

A key thing they did was to pre-record brief episodes of truthful and spontaneous recall using the phone, where Bryan would call either Arief or Jit Yang at any time and they had to start talking about whatever was on their mind at the time, whatever was in the “footlights of my consciousness”.

A recording was projected as the start of a new episode during the performance. Under interrogation, the performers would try to recall more details about what they had seen in the footlights of their consciousness – they were allowed to ‘speculate’ and ‘fabricate’ where they couldn’t remember vividly.

This process of devising allowed them to generate graphic bits of text.

My notes from a Jit Yang episode:

“Woken up from nap – Japan – woman in colourful kimono – bunraku – sleeping, head back. Napping on trains – woman in beautiful dress – seated in front of me, to my left – sleeping. Man sleeping, head jerked back every time he was about to touch the woman next to him. Napping in public – cultural practice in Japan.”

My notes from an Areif episode:

Thinking about money. When you are rich, do you make up things to buy? Scene that my eyes are taking in – I have a lot of stuff. Seeing all of that in front of me, feels like a lot – I agree it is a lot. And all of this cost money.

Prompted by the movements of their subconscious, the performers were producing a stream of fascinating snapshots of their inner and external life. As a writer, I felt I was witnessing two adept performers performing spontaneous playwriting. And it was something marvellous to watch.

Every Thought I’ve Ever Had: Contemplating the origin of the sun opened to the public on 16 – 17 April 2022, which ran at a physical space, KongsiKL, and live streamed online on Twitch. 

About the author(s)

Leow Puay Tin is a playwright and text curator who collaborates with directors, actors, and other practitioners in making reality-based performance works, besides creating her own texts for performance. She also teaches at the School of Arts in Sunway University in Malaysia.

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