Still Life - Interview with Dana Lam

9 Mar 2019
Interview by Sam Kee
Photos Courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre. Photo Credit: Mark Teo.

Dana Lam is an activist, writer and artist. Now, she has also taken up the role of a playwright and herself in the play she's written.

Still Life looks at life and art-making through the eyes, words and works of artist-writer Dana Lam. We speak to her to find out more about this unique experience of rediscovering and reclaiming her life journey through theatre, and how she realises that the movement a performer's body is actually similar to movement of paint.

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1. How does it feel to be expressing yourself in a slightly different genre (in the form of a play) as opposed to writing and painting?

It feels great! Writing and painting are more solitary pursuits. You’re battling with yourself for most of the time; living with your own voice in your head. By bringing Still Life to the stage, I have been supported by so many people and their investments of time and energy. It has been an incredibly affirming experience. I never expected nor knew so much kindness and generosity would be available to me.

2. In devising the play with Claire Wong in the studio, do you think there are some similarities and differences between being a painter and a performer? It seems that for both, there needs to be some sort of courage to confront one's self, to be truthful with oneself, and then deciding how much of that you'd rather present to the audience in the end. Is there any differences between expressing yourself through theatre and the other forms of art that you have picked up previously?

I imagine that the starting point for every art form is the quest for authenticity. An authentic way of looking, experiencing, and sharing what we think and feel. In this sense, there is more in common between a visual artist and a theatre-maker than meets the eye. With painting, I am informed by the way that paint moves and by the natural arc, rise and dip of the breath and body. When done right, I have enough distance from the canvas to move freely, robustly. I don’t always achieve this, but trying is what makes the exercise interesting and worth the while for me.

Similarly, on the rehearsal floor with Claire, I realise that much of the work as a performer (apart from learning lines!) is about freeing the breath and the body to do their thing. I realise that the breath and the body have a vocabulary of their own. Look at little children — how they express themselves with their bodies and voice! The voice is obviously an important element in performance. In this, I cannot thank Noorlinah Mohamed enough for enabling me with the preparatory work she did with me as part of my process of training my voice for performance.

I have been asked if it is weird playing myself in Still Life. The answer is No. Because I’m not playing myself. I am myself in the performance. I was asked if I felt exposed. The answer is also No. The process of creating Still Life has made me realise that it is possible to separate the writer/performer from the person whose life is the writer’s material. That has freed me to concentrate on reaching for the authenticity of the moment and the text.

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3. How does it feel to be the author of the play, and to be directed by Claire, where the script might be subjected to very different interpretations from what you might have imagined when writing it? 

I have known Claire and her stage work for a long time – as far back as the 80s. And I’ve always admired the work produced by Checkpoint Theatre. So, for me at least, it was a natural fit. I knew instinctively that Claire would recognise what I was trying to get at with Still Life. And I was more than right – if there is such a thing! From the get-go, Claire had, I think, both an emotional and intellectual connection to the text. More than that, she was also exceptionally perceptive of the fellow human being whose work she was helping to realise. She worked with me in teasing out the themes and she pushed me towards actualising the ambitions that I had for myself. That we were friends, I think, was actually secondary. I have noticed this instinctive giving and caring of the person in everything I've seen of Checkpoint Theatre.

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Still Life runs until 10 March 2019 and is sold out. 


Still Life
by Checkpoint Theatre
Date: 28 Feb - 10 Mar
Venue: 72 -13, 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road, Singapore 239007
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  • Still Life

    Theatre 28 Feb - 10 Mar 2019 What happens when an artist picks up her paintbrush after a long hiatus? Does the body still remember what has been lived? Or are the senses dulled by time, the joints fused with experience?
    72 -13, 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road, Singapore 23900772 -13, 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road, Singapore 239007