And so, the Mother Hen can indeed fly! 2012 saw a very hectic year for The Mother Hen Next Door – A Tribute. Pei Ching and I, along with our Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan counterparts, left our footprints in these countries, and shared with many audiences the fruits of our labour.
March --- It all began in Singapore.
The Mother Hen Next Door – A Tribute had its first stop in Singapore in a very small and intimate space --- the S4, which was the company’s blackbox theatre space. This play was inspired by Kuo Pao Kun’s Spirits Play, and as such, we were very grateful to be featured as part of the 2012 Kuo Pao Kun Festival.
Ten years ago, when we first created the work, Pei Ching, a Taiwanese actress, and I were separated in two lands. We could only rely on emails and the internet to make communication. At times, we felt like lovers in a long-distance relationship, unable to understand clearly what the other party was saying. It was slightly painful at that time. This time round, however, Pei Ching came to Singapore at the end of 2011, and stayed here for 3 months. We finalized the script, and conducted our first phase of rehearsals. The first draft of the script touched on many political issues relating to China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and its style of delivery bordered on being pedantic which gave us goosebumps. Subsequently, we decided to focus the script on the idea of humanity; hence we decided to explore what it means to be confronted with such iconic historical events, and hopefully invoke the audience to similarly reconsider the impacts of these incidents.
The Singaporean audience was rather unfamiliar with the Tiananmen and the Taiwan 2.28 incidents. However, this time round, we chose not to focus on politics but to utilize these political incidents as a tool to discuss humanity. And as such, the audience had the opportunity to re-experience the warmth of life in the now very technology saturated life of ours.
September --- We returned to Taiwan.
It was indeed a return because Pei Ching and I first created the work at the 2010 edition of the 3rd Taipei Fringe Festival and we were the crowd’s favourite, hence we got invited back again for the 5th edition of the same festival. We returned back to Guling Street Avant-Garde Theatre, the same venue we performed in 2010. The venue is one of Taipei’s most popular performance spaces, and since we were an invited piece, we thought ticket sales wouldn’t be a problem. However, things often do not go as planned. The Taiwan Arts Festival had overlapping programmes with the Fringe Festival in September, and to add on to the problem, the Fringe Festival had more than 120 groups involved, with over 500 performances! Goodness! How then were we going to attract audiences for our performances?
As such, we started producing our own publicity materials, distributed flyers and contacted various media for interviews. We also invited some popular online reviewers to watch rehearsals and write preview articles for us --- All these in exchange for more audience members to enter the theatre and view our work. Luckily, with the blessings from the gods above, we had good reviews and our last three shows were completely sold out.
The Taipei Fringe Festival was not really an international one. Almost 98% of the participating groups were based in Taiwan. Even though we were invited guests, we still had to find a place to stay. However, what was “lucky” was that we could “choose” our performance venue and we had just about “enough time” to set up in the theatre. Why do I say that? All performance venues in the Fringe Festival were balloted and each group only had 4 hours in the venue itself to deal with the technical issues. What?! A usual performance would require at least 3-4 days for preparations, how is this even going to be possible? Regardless, we tried our best to utilize this 4 hours fully. Looking back, I think, if I didn’t have such a strong heart, I would have died! Yet, it was also this lack of resources which forced us to become a pair of theatre practitioners who were not only creative but also apt at dealing with administrative issues.
Macau may seem small, but this 12th edition of the Macau City Fringe Festival saw a confluence of theatre practitioners from 10 over countries, which culminated in 42 different works being performed. In addition to the usual performing genres such as drama, dance and music, there were also clown performances, environmental theatre, puppetry, workshops, lectures, videos, and exhibitions, which packed the 3-week festival fully. There was also a variety of performance venues, which included school halls, a corner of a billiard club, outdoor theatres or even a corner off a street. And we performed in a black box within the premises of Hiukok Theatre Group. It was a factory which was subsequently converted into a performing space.
What is the origin of such a performing space? Initially, Hong Kong and Macau were industrializing in the 70s and 80s. However, in the 90s, the factories were subsequently relocated to the North, which then led to many empty buildings. As such, ingenious theatre practitioners began to convert these spaces into rehearsal spaces as the rental for these spaces were much cheaper. Add in some lights, along with some sound equipment, and many chairs – Voila! This venue instantly becomes a performance space which can accommodate up to 50 people. While these spaces may have more limitations as compared to traditional performance spaces, they definitely do not lose out in its versatility.
Many of the performers were international artists, hence we had lodging arranged for us as well. We were put up at a youth hostel, along with the rest of these performers, and every night after the performances, we would open all doors and have conversations with one another that would last through the night. We would talk about our life experience, our trials and tribulations as a theatre practitioner, exchanging stories which would resonate with one another. It was definitely cathartic for all of us!
The audience liked the performance because they can relate to the portions which dealt with kinship and one’s ideals. Some younger audiences were also stirred to reminisce about their loved ones, while others were inspired to question their own goals and ideals. What were their own aspirations? Theatre practitioners, on the other hand, gave us much feedback; some felt that the script has matured, whereas some felt we could even be more detailed, and could even explore the themes and issues more deeply. But the question really is, “When will the Mother Hen actually stop flying?” Maybe one day, when it has flown to Beijing, then its journey would have come to a complete resolution.
Continue reading on Issue 2 / May 2014:Opening The Door To The Arts