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The Theatre is Just a Space

Words / Liu Xiaoyi


What exactly is a theatre experiment? I think an experiment in theatre starts from the process of finding a breakthrough in the genre itself. This breakthrough can manifest itself in discussions about narration, plot, reflection, body, voice, imageries, space, time etc, thereby creating a space for investigation and evaluation. How should one tell a story? How should one ask a question? How should we execute the motion? How should we project our voice? How should we choose from a series of actions? How should we go about re-evaluating? How should we plan a sequence? … We are constantly bombarding ourselves with these questions.


As such, a play thus needs to reflect the life and beliefs of its creators. It should reflect the cultural influences and depth of analysis of its creators. If a play is simply about examining the technical aspects, for example the design aesthetics, the acting skills, the riveting plotlines, then theatre merely remains at a rather technical level, and becomes a “craft”. Craft, no doubt, is important, but it is merely a tool and conduit for expression, and not what’s essentially at the core of it all. A technically brilliant actor, can be a mechanical tool with no heart or soul; a technically skilled director, can also be a factory supervisor who does not think nor exercise creativity. A technically brilliant show, can be merely a perfunctory window display.


In the rehearsal room, I would sometimes ask the members of the production team – Has rehearsing this show affected your life in any way? For example, while rehearsing Wanderer- Seeker: A Trek Around My Room, the actors would tell me, “Today, when I was bathing, it somehow seemed slower, and a lot more intimate,” or “Yesterday, I re-folded all my clothes at home” or that “Rehearsing this show has allowed me to train my body again” etc. I am often intrigued by these details, and would hence question further.


I think, regardless of the career we are pursuing, it would inadvertently influence our thought process, and hence affect our daily routines in life. Conversely, things happening in our lives would also influence aspects of our work. This sort of mutual influence would be of different extents for different people with different jobs leading different lives. However, we cannot deny that it does exist. The problem is, can we be more conscious of the interaction happening, so that our usual routine and habits are broken, therefore allowing ourselves to discover a brand new self?


A theatre practitioner should demand more than just being adequate with his technique. He should be courageous enough to experiment, and to be brave enough not to repeat himself. He should not be stuck in a mire, nor be restricted by rules of limitations, for he would then be oblivious of his surroundings; To move in any particular direction, you first have to take a step out into the unknown. It is only so that you can disrupt your own rules and leave your own comfort zone, thereby widening your horizons, and broaden your views. In the process, you will start to doubt your initial habits and experience, and the slightest doubt can be a small step to progress.


How we choose to answer questions often reflect our choices about the way we lead our lives. Our choices on how we do theatre are a reflection of the choice we made in leading our lives outside of theatre. As such, when we discuss about how to challenge notions of theatre while being physically in a theatre space, it would also naturally affect our thoughts about the state of life beyond the confines of this theatre. In this way, essentially when we use theatre as a medium to discuss, it would lead to discussions beyond the theatre. Our discussion about the cultural norm would naturally extend to a discussion about culture itself. And as for a discussion on culture – its impact, on a small scale would include affecting one’s attitude towards the world at large. On a larger scale, it could affect the development of a society.


In addition, I am very much interested in the perspectives and attitudes these actors hold towards life. I would then try to incorporate their emotions and opinions into the work as well. For example, when we were discussing about the term “Seeker”, we spent a lot of time talking about one another’s travel habits and experiences. In this process, we start to know more about the views of others, and comprehend the similarities and differences we share. When there are conflicting opinions, a discussion ensues. And in this respect, the discussion helps fuel our curiosity towards others, and generate a process of self-reflection. 


Theatre shouldn’t simply exist as a product or a result – it is a manifestation of life itself. It isn’t the result of creativity, nor the product of a process – It should be a platform for engaging discussions, a space for experience, and a process of creation. We utilize theatre as an art form to engage in thinking, experimenting and creating, to help us search for the unknown, to have a breakthrough, to test boundaries and to challenge the status quo. However, it is not the only, nor the most influential platform; it is however, one amongst the many possible. At the end of the day, theatre is  merely a space.


The theatre is one such space. In the space, we discuss about humanity, culture, life and society. These things are closely intertwined with the world outside of theatre. As such, as compared to other jobs, we have more opportunities to share and to listen to various opinions. We also have more opportunities to influence others, or be influenced by others. These conversations may even have a life of its own in a play, and resurface in further discussions the audience, thereby influencing the audience members’ opinions and their lives. As such, we often say, the theatre is a public space. And in this public space, we debate – and this would subsequently result in change.


Sometimes, we have answers to these questions. Other times, we do not have the answers. Sometimes, we may even have more questions. However, all these are unimportant. To question, sometimes is not just merely to seek answers – sometimes, the emphasis is on the process of finding answers to these questions. This process could allow us to comprehend the problem further, and perhaps ourselves, and perhaps the environment that we are situated in, and the culture we are surrounded by.

Taken from Why Not?,
a publication of the NTU Chinese Studies Department student group,

arrow  Continue reading on Issue 4 / 31 March 2015:Experiment • Viewpoint