Singapore Repertory Theatre to stage immersive play in actual art gallery

SINGAPORE – Caught, an immersive play by San Francisco playwright Christopher Chen, ostensibly begins with a talk by “Lin Bo”, a dissident Chinese artist who has shown up in a gallery to discuss his work.

But who exactly is Lin Bo, what did he do, and can we trust him?

These questions may float into the minds of the audience at the Singapore Repertory Theatre’s staging of the play, which opens at Miaja Gallery on Tuesday (Sept 10) and will explore notions of truth, cultural appropriation, and American perceptions of China.

Much of Caught- which saw its world premiere in 2014 and has been described by one American critic as a “nesting doll of falsehoods” – will happen on two levels of the APS building in River Valley, home to Miaja Gallery and Miaja Art Collections which have curated an exhibition specially for the play.

Portraits of women by Sebastiano Navarra and Kim Xu, photography by David Yarrow and various other intriguing works provide a provoking backdrop to events that unfold.

During the three-hour-long experience, audience members will not simply be observers. They will get to move around the space, socialise and help themselves to food and cocktails from a pop-up bar.

Award-winning Indonesian director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, who currently lives in Singapore and was previously based in the United States, directed the 2017 Los Angeles production of Caught which he made more fully immersive.

“All previous stagings up till that point were in a theatre space with immersive elements. I decided to take it out of that space and put it into an actual gallery space,” says Iskandar, who also directed SRT’s 2013 production of Venus in Fur.

“You engage as deeply as you want to engage. You will not be made to do anything you don’t want to do,” he adds, letting on that there will be some Easter eggs.

Chen, who won an Obie award (an annual prize which recognises outstanding off-Broadway and off-off Broadway theatre) for Caught in 2017, was partly inspired by the controversy of Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, a show which looked at the grim conditions in Apple’s Chinese factories but embellished the truth.

He was also inspired by a visit he made to Beijing’s 798 art district in 2009.


Playwright Christopher Chen photographed in Chelsea. PHOTO: SASHA ARUTYUNOVA FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

“I was at first surprised by how subversive the art seemed, after reading about the zero tolerance environment of Mao’s reign. I realised I didn’t have a clue about where the levels of freedom of expression stood,” says Chen, who adds that there has been a “complicated push-and-pull dynamic” below the surface.

Has Caught acquired new meaning in the light of Trump’s presidency and his “fake news” rhetoric?

Chen says he is sure it has.

BOOK IT/CAUGHT

WHERE: Miaja Gallery (off Martin Road), 9 Muthuraman Chetty Road, APS Building

WHEN: From Tuesday (Sept 10) to Oct 6; 7.15pm (weekdays and Saturdays), 3.15pm (Saturdays, except Sept 14); 2.15pm and 6.15pm (Sundays). There will be an audio-described performance on Sept 21 at 3.15pm, and a signed performance on Sept 22 at 2.15pm

INFO: www.srt.com.sg

ADMISSION: $75 (preview on Sept 10 and 11), $80 (Sundays to Wednesdays), $85 (Thursdays to Saturdays) at www.srt.com.sg or via Sistic. Prices exclude Sistic fee.

“In an alternate history, the plethora of points of view on the internet could have expanded our consciousness, making us able to see the contours of the bubbles we live in, but we’ve seen a sharp slide in the opposite direction under Trump. He’s taken an idea that in its essence is a noble one: to always question facts, and has, again, weaponised it by morphing it into a cynical relativism and a receptacle for hateful ideas and blind rage.”

Caught aims to challenge its audience and invite them to come up with their own conclusions. Chen calls this a “50/50 experience”, where the play offers one half of the experience, and the audience provides the other fifty per cent.

“If the play is advocating for anything,” he adds, “it is advocating for an alert and questioning state of mind when dealing with the world around you.

“To do this, there’s trickery involved, but what I’ve been heartened by is that audiences have taken these sleights of hand as exciting challenges rather than turn-offs.”

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