As part of the 2015 Transformation Trilogy Season, Pangdemonium returns with Tribes – a humorous and heartbreaking play about love, family and communicating with the ones you love. Tribes tells the story of a dysfunctional and eccentric household, centering around Billy, played by newcomer Thomas Pang, who happens to be the sole deaf member of his family. We speak to Thomas about his debut production with Pangdemonium.
1. What’s your first impression when you read the script?
FIRST read… I’ve met this family before. What a strange meeting of minds. The theme of language isn’t fully explored. The ending is a bit too convenient (I don’t like happy endings.. I’m a grouch like that). I wanna learn Sign Language.
2. Which aspect of the character, Billy, is more challenging to interpret and portray: the physical disability, or his inner world (turmoil)? Why?
Well.. fathoming the disability proves to be the most difficult. But rehearsals have actually been the most helpful in giving me a feeling of what Billy might have gone through all his life. I wouldn’t assume to understand how pent up a deaf person might feel if ignored or made to conform his entire life like Billy has been… so the rehearsals have helped tremendously. My family plays their parts so well… So I take that and I magnify it by ten. You have to sort out what’s new to the character and what’s habit, cuz they feed each other.
3. Tell us the differences and similarities between yourself and Billy. How do you make use of these differences and similarities in your performance?
Differences: He’s deaf, British, and the youngest in the family
Similarities: I can relate to his feeling of isolation in some ways. I’ve moved around a whole lot and often the feeling kids give you when you first come to school is a lot like being deaf – they don’t acknowledge you, or they think you speak another language so they talk funny — all the teachers often make the mistake of being condescending because I was “Asian”, I rarely got picked for sports cuz I was small. I grew up in a family where we talked about very grown-up things at the dinner table — life, death, religion, philosophy, economics, race, etc. etc.
Acting is empathy and communication. What you feel in the moment you try to communicate to the audience in the best way possible. And if you’ve got a similar experience then you can guess what it might be like to be that person and then design the rest from there.
4. We heard that you have been working very hard learning sign language from the talented Ms. Lily Goh, what other new experiences did you have to make in order to fill the shoes of your character, Billy, in Tribes?
Talent is an understatement to describe what Lily does. Talent is something you find or you happen upon. Hard work and constant faith in yourself raises a totally different beast in a person than talent. Mike and Lily have that kinda beast inside them. What they do, are doing, and have done, far surpasses talent. The kind of dedication they had to have to grow into the people they are – is en par with professional athletes: persistent effort to communicate, almost tireless attention, and the kind of drive and work ethic that pushes people to greatness.
We in the hearing world take so much for granted — esp. when it comes to school. The stories that Lily and Mike shared will continue to motivate me far beyond this role. Their stories were the most valuable aspect of my preparation.
5. As Thomas, how would you describe your tribe at Pangdemonium?
First thing you see when you walk in the office is a pod of desks all facing different directions — each has a unique purpose and is as equally integral to the show as we are. In a sense being able to see the marketing, ticketing, etc. work being done while we work is quite motivating because we’re part of the work — not the be-all end-all magic material.
The SM team is seemingly tireless, ever optimistic, and supportive. They’re the first audience, they arrive earlier, leave later, all that jazz, they make me work harder. We’re all grunts slogging for the same thing… and I think that’s a beautiful thing really. I like working with a team, and most of all I like working with people who are way better than me at something I have NO IDEA about. It fills me with a kind of wonder.. I think if Acting doesn’t work out, I might give the behind-the-scenes stuff at Pangdemonium a try. Their season is jam-packed, and as soon as the last sweaty costume is washed, dried, and hung — it runs the risk of being dragged out again for the next show a week later and it starts all over again.
Of course Tracie and Adrian, and my mates on the stage but we’re family anyway so I don’t need to say anything nice about them.
6. What was the toughest scene or emotion that you had to grapple with during the rehearsals for Tribes?
Not being able to hear music. I still can’t get it. If you see my confused mug on stage, pretend it means I’m sad. I’m finding it difficult to fathom not being able to hear music and when I do, I feel really sad.
7. Is there any expression that you think you can say better with your newfound signing skill?
TONS. If you’re willing to act it out… I think you can tell waaaay better stories in Sign. Facial expressions, effects, location, physical description, proximity, severity. Nothing like it.. there’s a bit where I sign quite profusely and it’s a trip. I feel like I’m going to rip the walls down.. I don’t think you can shout louder than an angry SL speaker.
8. Why should anybody come to watch Tribes?
Tribes doesn’t present either side of the argument as perfect.
We all do fucked up things for the people we love. Because the degree to which we love someone is the only bottom-line. How much do I love you? How far am I willing to go to keep you safe? The whole family does some really fucked up things out of selfish wonderful love — take it or leave it “that’s all on offer here”. Everyone’s crippled themselves somehow just to continue loving someone else. That’s what family is I’m afraid.
I can’t accurately quote this but one of my favourite definitions of family is “a group of strangers that you have to put up with for the rest of your life.” We didn’t choose our parents, neither they us, nor our brothers and sisters, and it goes on and on and on. But somewhere along the line we have to make a choice.. we are joined by blood forever and ever yes — but whether or not you want to get along is a choice entirely up to you.
* * * * * *
A unique production that aims to reach out to new audiences, including the deaf community in Singapore, Tribes will stage its Gala Night on 23 May with a performance accompanied by sign language interpretation. Artistic Directors Tracie and Adrian Pang: “We have been working closely with members of the deaf community on this production to gain a deeper understanding and insight into their lives, and some of the cast members have also been learning sign language for the last couple of months to prepare for their roles. Ultimately, Tribes is a moving and powerful story examining communication, new beginnings and the inextricable bonds of family.
Written by Nina Raine
Date: 22 May – 7 Jun 2015
Time: Tue – Sat: 8:00pm | Sat & Sun: 3:00pm | Sun, 7 Jun: 8:00pm
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre
Ticket Prices: $30 – $70