Duration: 25 min
Nabilah Said speaks to Krish Natarajan and Astley Xie of Patch and Punnet about their upcoming production, Fika & Fishy, which is billed as a kids’ show made for adults. Warning: This podcast contains language that is not suitable for kids.
Fika & Fishy runs from February 14 to March 1 at 11 Chander Road.
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Nabilah Said (NS): Hi everyone and welcome to ArtsEquator’s Fresh Blood podcast. My name is Nabilah Said and I’m the editor of ArtsEquator. Today we’ll be talking to Patch and Punnet, who is a kind of newish theatre collective started in 2017. And it comprises three people, Krish Natarajan, Astley Xie and Sharmaine Goh. Today we have Krish and Astley. Hi Krish.
Krish Natarajan (KN): Hello.
NS: Hi, Astley.
Astley Xie (AX): Hey yo!
NS: Maybe we can start with, well, firstly, you’re here because you have a show coming up, right?
NS: And that’s called Fika & Fishy, happening from February 14 to March 1 at 11 Chander Road. And if you’ve never heard of that venue, don’t worry, we’ll talk about it – it’s basically in Little India. But maybe you can start with one of you telling us who is – well not who – but what is Patch and Punnet.
KN: So Patch and Punnet is a little collective that we started two years ago. And what we aim to do with Patch and Punnet is kind of create millennial-friendly work, that is whimsical and wild. but at the same time, we also want to kind of say something poignant with it. So we really have always done devised work – we improvise and from there, we transcribe and we create our scripts together as a group. And yeah, we really just try to get as many young people in our theatres as possible. We really aim to create a comfy, cozy, intimate space so people can enjoy our shows and don’t need to feel the pressure of “Oh, I’m going to a theatre”. But rather “Hey I’m just gonna enjoy something that’s going to be funny and make me think”.
AX: It’s a theatre group that doesn’t take itself very seriously. And we really, really like to play the fool. Playing the fool is fun.
NS: Okay. So was this a reaction to something that you saw that wasn’t present in theatre in Singapore?
AX: I think it was a reaction to how Patch and Punnet was in the beginning. When we first started, Krish wasn’t involved at all.
AX: It was just me, Dwayne (Ng) and Nisa (Syarafana). Patch and Punnet started out as a very serious theatre company. So we started off with a very boring-looking logo, very boring-looking branding and typeface. And the play that we put up, the first one, 2042, was a very serious double-bill. The first story was about a mother and son that lived in a post-apocalyptic Singapore, then the other one was about a man who falls in love with an artificial intelligence. That was played by Krish – the man, not the AI. This was a very serious way of doing theatre, a very serious style.
And then I think, after the show, we talked more about the company and whether or not we’re going to put up more works. And that was when Krish and Sharmaine joined the fold. And then I think, from then on, there was a little bit of…discussions, a few disagreements. By the end of the entire saga, we ended up with a very different Patch and Punnet. A response to what we were previously which is serious theatre. And it’s not that serious theatre is bad. I like serious theatre. Just that we have a lot of it in Singapore already and so Patch and Punnet was kind of a response to what was available in the market. So we wanted to present something that was alternative to what’s already there.
KN: And also the kind of people we are.
KN: I feel like Patch and Punnet is very reflective of our personalities. It’s loud. It’s noisy, it’s crude.
AX: A bit cock ah.
KN: Yeah. Absolutely.
NS: So wait – it’s a bit like that Hamilton song right, The Room Where It Happens? You don’t really understand what happened in the room. Somehow there was a big strategising, with tears involved.
AX: A few people left. Eventually it was just down to me, Krish, Sharmaine and Nisa.
NS: But from the start, your name was Patch and Punnet, right?
AX: From the very beginning.
NS: And I heard that it’s a reference to millennials being the strawberry generation.
AX: So it’s a funny story how the name – how it started actually. We were at a bar. And then I think Dwayne came to us with a play that he wanted to put up. So we were talking about it. And there and then – I forget – it was at that point in time where there were a lot of articles about strawberry generation and millennials out. There was this guy that we met at a bar, right? And he was like a early… late 20s, early 30s kind of guy. And he was like, “I’m not a millennial. Please don’t associate me with being a millennial”. And I was like, “What’s the problem? What’s wrong with millennials? What’s your issue? You know, why are you denying who you are?” and it’s a generation thing. And then I got really quite – so I was a little bit drunk, got a little bit angry.
And that was kind of the event that started this Patch and Punnet thing. So this millennial branding is a little bit taken from that particular argument that I had at the bar about wanting to make this guy realise that millennials aren’t f*cked up. We aren’t as bad as you think. You don’t have to be so ashamed. We do cool things. We make stuff, you know.
NS: So the image of the strawberry generation, are you embracing it? Or are you actually rejecting it and saying, we’re not like that?
AX: I think at some point we wanted to redefine it, right?
KN: Yeah, I think we want to kind of redefine it–
AX: We want to reclaim the word.
KN: I mean, we can be lapsap, but we can also be profound, you know? I think that’s one thing about us. We want change and we also want to have a good time.
AX: I don’t think lapsap means what you think it does, but ok.
NS: What’s the definition that we’re all agreeing it to be?
AX: Lapsap like–
KN: Like, a bit naughty ah.
AX: By right lapsap is like perverted. Like perverse.
KN: I mean like naughty.
AX: Lapsap uncle go lapsap KTV, go and sing song.
KN: I do mean a bit like lapsap. A bit dingy and naughty.
AX: A bit filthy. A bit head in the gutter.
KN: Yeah, I mean look at Barry. I think it’s–
AX: Yahlah. I mean that is a little bit of how we are like lah. Naturally.
NS: Barry was a party?
AX: Barry is mascot. That’s Barry.
NS: Oh, the strawberry.
AX: The strawberry. His name is Mr. Barry. He recently had a huge party at Pinball Wizard.
AX: It’s really fun. I got f*cked up. I think he’s our mascot lah.
NS: Is he…? But why does he look like that?
AX: What do you mean, like what? What do you have to say about–
NS: His eyes are kind of like, weird.
AX: Ok ok.
NS: And he has only two teeth. I don’t know how many teeth strawberries are supposed to have.
AX: He’s a bit kooky, he’s a bit trippy. That’s kind of the idea. Yeah, supposed to be fun and wacky. I think the two teeth lends to that quite nicely, to be honest.
NS: Speaking of lapsap, Fika & Fishy is not quite what people might think if they just heard the name or even if they saw maybe some of the photos. Can you tell us more about what exactly it is?
KN: Fika & Fishy aims to be one of your kid shows but with a twist. Almost like an adult cartoon on stage. So it’s a heartwarming story, but it’s also a crude and gross story with a lot of swearing and other things that you will see if you come down to the show. So yeah, I mean, I think that’s what we wanted it to be.
AX: Think like Bojack Horseman, South Park. They look cute – they’re cute-looking – but the themes that they tackle in the show, it’s always going to be a little bit more adult. Maybe a little bit more dark, a bit heavier. So that’s kind of what Fika & Fishy is angled towards.
NS: So it’s a relationship between a goldfish and a dog–
KN: Yes, so a goldfish has been there for a while. She’s been at her master’s house for nine years and the dog is new. So we start to see a little bit of, you know, tension at the start when – the goldfish is not a very friendly fish and the dog is very excited to be in this new home.
NS: And what are you using this to examine or look at?
KN: I think we’re looking at this comfort zone that we have. This feeling of “Hey, I’m safe, I’m comfortable”, but then are we really happy in this comfort? And it also looks a bit about life and death. The fish is getting older. And she also has her own dreams, but she can’t really achieve them because she’s a fish in a bowl. Just this idea of freedom and… agency.
AX: So the whole play is an extended metaphor for what we deal with when it comes to comfort and happiness. That kind of idea.
NS: Right, ok. How did you actually put the show together? Is there like one playwright, one director type thing?
KN: So the first idea for the show came two years ago, when we did a 24-hour playwriting thing in my house. So we actually followed the format–
NS: Oh, not TheatreWorks?
AX: No… a pirated version–
NS: An alternative–
KN: We actually wanted to do it for M1 Fringe actually. This was meant to create a script for M1 Fringe, two years ago. And then, from that, Sharmaine came up with the story about a dog and a fish, and we’re like, ok let’s put that on hold. And then we decided to revisit it. And so she had the initial idea. I kind of developed it, and then we both came together and created the script.
NS: Yeah. So like devised…?
KN: We just talked, actually, there was a lot of talking. I mean, we had some rehearsals where we had some improv scenes and then we transcribed from there. But I would say this, compared to our other two shows, was the most – it’s been the most written show. Less transcribed.
NS: I see. So there’s like a collaborative writing type thing?
AX: We did collaborative writing for Stupid Cupid and (The Adventures of) Abhijeet. So Fika & Fishy was the the least amount of collaborative writing, I think.
NS: Actually in terms of the three of you, right, what are the different roles that you guys take? And also what are your backgrounds actually?
AX: Roles? We don’t have roles, I think. Everyone just tries to fight fires all the time. So if something needs to be done, and like “Eh I can’t do it, I’ll ask Krish and Sharmaine”. If Sharmaine can’t do it, then everything else has to be sacrificed, I think. We don’t have traditional roles, but we do have, by and large, things that we’re more used to doing. I think Sharmaine is more familiar with finances because that’s what she’s doing most of the time.
NS: She’s also performing, right? She is the fish?
AX: She’s the fish. She’s Fishy – very originally named fish. Yeah, myself right now for this one I’m producing it. But we tend to do a mix of things lah. In previous plays, I wrote a little bit here and there. I think the only thing that I don’t do is act.
KN: Yeah. But he tries ah. He auditions and we’re like, “No. You’re not good enough”. (laughs)
AX: (in a small voice) “I tried so many times, guys!”
NS: And Krish?
KN: In terms of roles? Pretty much Astley summed it up – I don’t really have particular roles. For this show I’m directing. My first time directing, kind of alone, so that’s fun, stressful, worrying, but FUN – above everything else. So yeah.
NS: And what are your backgrounds? How do you guys know each other?
AX: Ooh. So let’s start with backgrounds. You wanna talk about your background?
KN: I was in SOTA and then I went to LASALLE for acting. So I’ve always known that I wanted to do something theatre-related. So I actually met like Nisa and Sharmaine and Dwayne through Young & WILD. So we kind of loved working together and then that’s how I joined this thing.
AX: So for me, I actually have no background in theatre. I started out doing law. So I graduated from a university in the UK, came back to Singapore. And I met Nisa and then that’s how I got to know Krish and that’s when he kind of like The Greatest Showman-ed me into doing theatre. He Hugh Jackman-ed my ass.
NS: You mean that thing in the bar where…
NS: Was a bar involved as well?
AX: I mean, a lot of things were involved at a lot of different points in time. He basically sang to me “The Other Side” for about six months to a year.
NS: So you were not in theatre and somehow you managed to get into it.
AX: I think the only plays that I’ve seen were like musicals when I was overseas. So like Les Mis was the first one that I… Rocky Horror Show was the first one that I saw. I think it was only after I started to work with Krish and I realised that actually writing is pretty fun. Creation is pretty fun. Because prior to that, you just kind of spend your whole life just consuming content, consuming material. Never really stopped to create something, you know, not very big on arts and crafts, don’t have any real musical intonation. So writing ah, writing kind of fits the bill. It’s fun.
NS: So Fika & Fishy is actually going to be done not in a traditional theatre space right. Not in Drama Centre or any of those spaces. But 11 Chander Road which is in Little India, quite near to where we are currently actually. I read that it’s a renovated shophouse. I saw a photo before it was renovated as well. So how did you guys get this lobang, or what exactly is it?
KN: My father has a friend who– basically she has spaces all around Singapore. And you know, we’re always on the look out for an unconventional space that’s cozy, that we can do our shows at. And we just so happen to be lucky enough that… we wanted to do the show in March originally. And we were lucky enough that this pocket of time was available to us after construction and before a tenant moved in. So we had to actually move it a bit earlier so that we can kind of fit ourselves right in that sweet time. And so yeah, that’s kind of how it happened.
AX: And it’s great, I think the shophouse works a lot better for us, than a traditional space. I think Abhijeet was the lesson that I learned there. Abhijeet was in The Arts House, in the black box. And because the space was so traditionally theatre – the way that the architecture is laid out is very, very prim.
NS: It primes the audience to a certain kind of expectation–
AX: Yeah, exactly. Make them feel like it’s gonna be a “theatre show”, right? But Abhijeet wasn’t that, it was supposed to be a cozy and intimate and very, very… kind of like living room theatre. So when we found only 11 Chander, we were like “This is perfect”. This is exactly what we did for Stupid Cupid. A cozy shophouse, so you get a very intimate experience.
NS: As in Stupid Cupid was also in a similar space?
KN: It was at The Moon.
NS: So this space actually helps you tell, make or present the kind of theatre or create the experience that you want–
NS: …for Fika & Fishy, and also your brand of theatre, in general?
AX: Yah correct. A couch, pillows, blankets, carpets. This time around we got floor chairs because people were talking about how uncomfortable it is to sit on the floor without a backing. So we’ve got some floor chairs. So it’s a very cozy space. Then we’ve got a bar in the back, selling Fika & Fishy-themed drinks. And then we’ve also got a little merchandise booth selling our t-shirts and tote bags and stuff like that.
NS: Right? The alcohol – are you partnering with people?
KN: My brother – he’s a bartender. He’s really interested in creating bespoke cocktails. So we thought why not create a cocktail for Fika and create a cocktail for Fishy.
AX: While we’re talking about experience, I think the key thing about Fika & Fishy is that it’s actually – well, the way I see it – it’s a unique experience that involves theatre. It’s based around theatre, you know? So in addition to the show itself, we’re also gonna be having dog adoption drives on some days before the show. Since we got the whole Chander space, and the ground floor is not going to be used.
So it’s supposed to be an experience. You come for the adoption drive in the day time, maybe you drop by Tekka Market for lunch, maybe swing by one of the bars, get a bit to drink, maybe they give you a promo code, come for the show – come a bit earlier, snag the couch, chill with your friends, talk a little bit and the show starts lah. So it’s supposed to be an experience. Theatre is a lifestyle.
NS: That reminds me of The Adventures of Abhijeet right, about how you’re kind of talking about migrant worker rights but without actually talking about that particular issue, right, and doing it in a form of like a comedy and a farce. But then I saw on your Instagram that you’re posting photos of migrant workers who had issues about treatments and injuries and things like that. There’s quite an interesting mix of this like, your work, you may be doing it in a not serious form, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not powered by certain real-life issues. Is that something that’s important for you guys?
KN: Definitely we have things to say. I mean, I feel like there’s no point in creating a theatre company if you’re not gonna say anything with the work you’re creating. I mean, then it’s just all fun and dandy, right? Like, I feel like it’s important to talk about things. And I think that’s what Patch and Punnet aims to do. I feel like recently we’ve been figuring out that maybe we don’t want to say a lot of political things, but maybe things that concern us and I think that’s our attempt with Fika & Fishy. Less political or… social issues, but more, you know, your everyday millennial thoughts.
AX: At the end of the day, you cannot play the fool without a little bit of profundity, you know. Otherwise, you’re just a fool. So I think for us, it really is about delivering something that is insightful and meaningful, especially from a millennial perspective. Yeah. And clothing it in madness. Clothing it in nonsense and comedy and farce and drama. That’s what we gun for most of the time.
NS: So as a younger theatre company, what are some of the challenges that you guys face?
AX: MONEYYYYYYY! Money. Funding is tricky.
AX: Marketing is a little tricky. I think funding got trickier because when we first started producing Fika & Fishy, that was when the deadlines from NAC (funding) changed.
NS: Oh yes yes yes.
AX: So money is a big issue, especially when it comes to trying to secure private sponsors. People don’t really want to do sponsorship in cash. They want sponsorship in kind. But depending on the nature of your show and the story, sponsorship in kind might be a little bit hard to secure. Other than that, as a small company, as a young collective, we don’t have a very big following. So in terms of patrons and donors, it’s gonna be a little bit bleak. So for the most part it’s just bootstrapping, finding a way to get paid for things, dipping into our own savings, stuff like that, to really make ends meet.
But other than that, I think marketing and promotion is another issue. We live in a country where there’s A LOT of things to do. There’s a lot of activities to go for, there’s a lot of events. We’re just fighting for that visibility, we’re fighting for that space to be heard. You’re hoping that people will come and watch the show because you know that you’ve got a good story to deliver.
NS: It’s quite funny that you say marketing, because I feel like when I look at your Instagram at least, like your social media game is strong.
AX: Oh, thank you!
NS: I mean, I think so.
NS: Like you have that edge over the other, you know, more established companies who may not know how to use these spaces because they’re not used to using it on a day-to-day basis. And you guys as millennials, and your audiences are also there. That could also be an opportunity.
AX: It’s true, it’s true, it’s true. Being familiar with social media definitely helps.
NS: So you guys are also part of WILD Rice’s Young Company Residency Program, so that’s kind of a newish thing.
NS: So what is that and what kind of support do you get?
KN: So one of the first things is that we are given their Kerbau (Road) space before they actually vacate it, for rehearsal. So that’s been really helpful for Fika & Fishy. We’re also given support when it comes to the dramaturgy of Fika & Fishy. For example, we just had a preview yesterday, so Ivan (Heng) and Thomas (Lim) came down for the preview and gave us their feedback. So things like that. They’re really helping us along the way, especially for this production.
AX: A lot of consultancy – so they basically give us a lot of advice on marketing, fundraising, securing sponsors. Thomas worked a lot with Krish on the script.
NS: What does it mean to have that kind of support? Like beyond tangibles–
AX: Spiritually? (laughs)
KN: I think it’s nice. It feels nice to know that you’re being supported and like, it’s really wonderful that it’s like, “Okay, you guys have potential, now let us reach out and help you”. It’s not competitive and it feels nice that it’s not competitive, because you would think that, we’re living in this world where “I have to sell more tickets than you”. It just feels good to be supported, like honestly.
NS: Like it’s not a zero-sum game, right? Yeah, it’s nice, especially across generations as well. Because often it’s like, even with the strawberry generation argument, it’s almost like pitting the older generation against the younger generation, when there might not actually be that differentiation.
NS: Okay, well, let’s close it off with one last question: What are your hopes for the Singapore theatre scene?
AX: I think the Singapore theatre scene needs to go mainstream if it wants to survive. We need to be able to make Singaporeans or convince Singaporeans that theatre is is a meaningful thing that they should add to their lifestyle. You know, it should be something that everyone enjoys, regardless of what your station is in life.
And I feel like what theatre should be doing, in Singapore at least, is to try to reach out to ordinary Singaporeans. There can’t always be the case whereby we’re making theatre for theatre people – you got to find a way to reach out to them. And I think right now theatre seems to be a bit of a niche. And niche markets have a limited expansion size. You can’t really get that big. And if you really want to focus on the arts in Singapore and tell Singaporeans meaningful stories that are not about Ah Boys becoming Men, then we kind of have to broaden the market a little bit more.
NS: And kind of going back to the roots of theatre, in Asia historically, right? It was never like just one group enjoying it. Everyone–
KN: It was the common man’s pleasures.
AX: When we go way back isn’t it kind of like a bit farcical, got people vomiting and drinking?
NS: Festival and like–
AX: I think over time theatre became a little bit more reserved for the affluent. It is intellectual, but everything is. It doesn’t have to always present itself as intellectual. I think we shouldn’t be afraid of entertainment. I think that shouldn’t be a dirty word. Not everything can be a very profound intellectual piece and only like a small proportion of the population understands it, you know? So yeah, that’s what I think theatre should be in the future.
NS: And what about Krish?
KN: Yeah, I just want everyone to come to the theatre. I want everyone to have a great time in the theatre. And I want it to be inclusive and also collaborative. I feel like there are a lot more other youth companies around us that are doing some great work too. And I feel like, why not just support each other and help each other out and fight this drought of money or whatever together. So yeah, I just feel like I wanted to be a space where everyone can feel comfortable. I don’t know that might be idealistic. I have no idea if that will ever happen. But, you know, one can only hope.
NS: I feel like it’s the job of the young to be a bit idealistic, if not it’s just going to be doom and gloom. Then nothing changes.
NS: Well on that hopefully rallying note, thank you so much for being here and talking to me about the show and what you guys stand for – it’s been really interesting – and I hope people all go out and buy lots of tickets to Fika & Fishy…
KN: We hope so too.
NS: …and Fika & Fishy drinks, Fika & Fishy merchandise. So thank you so much.
AX: Thanks for having us!
KN: Thank you. Bye-bye.
Fika & Fishy by Patch and Punnet runs from Feb 14 to Mar 1 at 11 Chander Road in Singapore. Tickets can be purchased here. Patch and Punnet will be taking these health and safety precautions as part of Covid-19 epidemic.
About the author(s)
Nabilah Said is an award-winning playwright, editor and cultural commentator. She is also an artist who works with text across various artforms and formats. Her plays have been staged in Singapore and London, including ANGKAT, which won Best Original Script at the 2020 Life Theatre Awards. Nabilah is the former editor of ArtsEquator.