Off Kilter centres on an experience that many of us would have had: a day when we feel out of sorts and things are just not going the way we want, we feel ‘off’. However, renowned visual theatre artist-storyteller Ramesh Meyyappan wants to explore an ‘off-kilter’ day that has more serious consequences, to identify the isolation, fear, anxiety, confusion, deep sadness and even anger possibly felt by the protagonist.
Meyyappan feels deeply for the stigma felt by those who suffered from mental illnesses (a stigma that is a result of much ignorance), making them feel ostracized and alone as they are not understood, and at times wrongly demonized and feared due to sensationalized media reports.
Off Kilter is set to be a dark comedy, ready to explore a person’s mental well-being and identity, when one feels a tad different from everyone else, and not quite being yourself. We speak to Meyyappan to pick his brain on the idea of inclusiveness in today’s world.
1. In today’s mad, mad world, ‘inclusiveness’, ‘doing social good’, ‘diversity’ are trending words in the press’s vocabulary. What do you think about ‘inclusiveness’?
I come from a deaf perspective and often relate thoughts about inclusiveness to my deafness and challenges I’ve faced. First, I am proud to be deaf and it is who I am. However, I do try to avoid labelling my work or what I do as deaf work. I don’t think we should put any labels on anyone’s work because of their disability, instead I hope we can look at the artistic merits of the work – the creativity rather than the disability. I don’t feel that labelling work as ‘disabled’ or ‘deaf’ supports being inclusive. Instead, it singles out the work and can change people’s expectations about the work. And those expectations can (at times) be patronizing.
In Singapore, there appears to have been some progress recently – British Council, National Arts Council (NAC) and the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) held a conference recently – I was one of the key-speakers at this. The dialogues and discussions were insightful and I think there is a real interest in what we were saying, NAC and other organisations were listening and they seemed to want to know and understand how to support deaf and disabled artists…Talking and listening is a start.
However, in my view, perceptions amongst the public have to change. They have to understand the deafness and disabilities, then accept and move beyond them to see the individuals for what they can do. We need to start thinking about the opportunities (or the lack of) we provide for deaf and disabled artists. We need to ensure they are getting access to the same opportunities as others, including training and education.
I am aware of and sense frustration about the way deaf art is being pigeonholed: It is a constant battle for their work to be seen on mainstream stages and by audiences.
As a deaf theatre maker I have to create a platform and ensure that the quality of the work that my audiences see is absolutely comparable with ‘mainstream’ work, and therefore challenge any misconceptions about our work.
I think that there are more deaf and disabled persons becoming involved in the arts in the past few years, and they are creating work. But this ‘work’ is not always presented on mainstream stages. There needs to be more collaboration between individuals and companies to share the same stage.
Currently, I’m one of the teachers of the BA Performance in British Sign Language (BSL) and English. This programme has highlighted the need for equal access to training and education. While I welcome the existence of this course and the opportunities it is providing for young deaf persons, I still feel a little frustrated that the course excludes the hearing students. There are too few opportunities for them to work together. I think this generally reflects what is happening in the arts – there is improved access but it is not entirely inclusive – inclusion is not just about providing access!
What I’d like to see in Singapore in the arts is a change in legislation, to ensure more inclusiveness, so that the deaf and disabled can have equal opportunities and equal platforms in terms of education and employment in the arts.
2. Is there an ideal that you are working towards in all of your shows? What do you strive to achieve in doing theatre?
Theatre has its own language and traditions; what I aim for is looking at that language – the visual one that exists and taking it one-step further, combining a host of visual ideas to create something that is universally shared and understood.
The challenge and aim for me when creating work is finding the common ground, not just in the themes and ideas but also in the language – finding that shared language.
I like to think that all my works are at least a little different from each other: the stories are different; the themes, I hope, are different, and while they are all purely visual, I make efforts to develop and explore new visual elements.
For example in Off Kilter, I’ve incorporated illusions. The illusions are fairly small in scale but nonetheless are integral to the character and what happens to him. The illusions aimed to make the character feel out of sorts and confused and they work on that level. This is not a magic show – the illusions were chosen and designed to support the character. He doesn’t perform a trick, but his mind sort of plays tricks on him.
About the creator
Ramesh Meyyappan is a master of physical theatre, award-winning actor, and internationally renowned visual theatre artist. His last major work, Butterfly, played to sold out audiences in the UK, USA, Singapore and at the Edinburgh Fringe.
by Ramesh Meyyappan & TheatreWorks
Date: 11 - 14 Oct 2017
Venue: 72 -13, 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road, Singapore 239007
Ticket prices: $35 (Standard), $25 (Concessions for Students, NSF, Persons with Disabilities and Seniors above 62 years)
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