Why experiment? - Interview with Emergency Stairs (Part 2)

26 Oct 2017
Interview by Max & Sam Kee
Photo by Emergency Stairs

I believe we are no stranger to Emergency Stairs’ artistic director Liu Xiaoyi experimental approaches to theatre. In the first year of its inception, Emergency Stairs steadily announces Southernmost - an intercultural theatre festival, manifesting their mission: theatre being revolutionary and that revolution is experimental.

We speak to Liu Xiaoyi and his producers, Jo Lim and Chong Woon Yong to find out more about their vision and relationship with experimental theatre.

Here is Part 2 of the interview.

0 20171026 why experiment interview with emergency stairs part 2

4. What is the uniqueness of Singapore’s society and/or arts scene with respect to intercultural dialogue and experimentation, as compared to other cities (London, Zurich, Hong Kong, Taipei, Nanjing and Tokyo) in the One Table Two Chairs movement?

Kuo Pao Kun mentioned the idea of "Cultural Orphan" in the 90’s. He said it's a "sense of loss and alienation, a kind of anxiety in the search for self."

I think being a cultural orphan, we might forget the cultural heritage we had. But does it also mean we have more openness, freedom and ability to absorb the essence of different cultures? If so, then to certain extent, Singapore can be the neutral and perfect place for intercultural dialogue and exchange. “对于孤儿,任人可以是父母” (Everyone’s a parent to the orphan… ­- Kuo Pao Kun)

At the same time, Singapore being a multilingual and multicultural society, we have the inherent advantage to develop a comparative discourse on creativity. Via the One Table Two Chairs movement, we can have better understanding and evaluation of our existing arts, education, creative research, and cross cultural institutions.

Singapore lies in a region where many countries are mono-cultural. The Singaporean identity is rooted in many South Asian cultures. I have to say that being intrinsically multicultural in language, history and custom against a backdrop of English and repression makes us an anomaly, as well as a rich and interesting ground for intercultural exchange.

5. What would you suggest a person do when he 'doesn't understand' a performance he just watched? Would you suggest that he dialogue with the theatre makers? Ask questions during post-show discussion? Or…

When we have the baggage to understand a performance, we usually are not able to understand. I always feel that art works, including theatre performances, are not meant for a person to ‘understand’, but to ‘create’, together with the artists. An art work will not be complete without the viewers' participation. An artist creates the work via his/her vision, conception, research and creativity, crafts and practice, while a viewer creates via his/her ways of appreciating, imagination, emotional reaction, thinking and critical thinking.

Pre-show research and post show dialogue can, and should, be important parts of this creating process, for both parties. That's what we attempt to do for Southernmost - to start the research and dialogue before the performance, and continue it after the performance. Hopefully then, we will have a different theatre experience; we will see the performance larger than it is.

How does one read a piece of art work, and what constitutes understanding? One can be in awe or be totally critical, and that usually stems from some kind of alignment - a chemical reaction occurs. I don't think there is a prescribed way of looking at a work that is not immediately accessible, but I do think literacy in the field helps. That's what dialogues and forums and open rehearsals can do. They provide the framework and handles for alignment to happen.

I also don't understand a lot of things going around in the world every day, and life in general, and myself. Haha! That being said, sometimes I feel perhaps we do not need to understand everything logically: Love, passion, hope, etc. How do you understand these logically?

Read Part 1 of the interview.


Southernmost: 1 Table 2 Chairs Project 2017
by Emergency Stairs
Date: 12 - 24 Dec 2017
Venue: The Arts House
Visit event page

  • Southernmost: 1 Table 2 Chairs Project 2017

    Theatre, Talk/Workshop, Festival 12 - 24 Dec 2017 Presented by up-and-coming experimental theatre company Emergency Stairs, the first edition Southernmost is a theatre festival...
    The Arts HouseThe Arts House