Speaking about ghost writers with some cast members of The Necessary Stage‘s production Ghost Writer, the discussion about recognition and the implication with our own worth came up. After all, spending half our lives trying to discover who we are and eventually seeking a career that we love has become essential to our identities in today’s society.
What happens, then, when we would like to seek change in ourselves and be seen different? Is this transformation possible overnight or do we have to wait for a “right time” to do so? It is especially curious how a “mid-life crisis” seems to be a phrase that plenty of individuals use as a reason to make a switch in their own career preferences or personalities.
But do we really need to explain ourselves on matters such as this?
Popspoken sits down with Ghost Writer cast members Sharda Maxine Harrison, Olé Khamchanla and Jereh Leong to discuss about the self, traditions and cultures that they love.
Popspoken: Do you think there is ever a right time to reinvent the self?
Sharda: I think there are intuitive moments when we feel it is time to reinvent ourselves. This intuition, which could translate to a ‘right time’, whispers to us that we are ready to create again. I do not necessarily believe in reinvention to the point of change. However, I believe mind-sets could shift to give space for growth, thus allowing for new thoughts, new practices and even new types of works to emerge.
Jereh: Observing nature, there is a time for everything: when the snows fall; when spring comes again; when you can party late and it is still bright; and when leaves start to turn red. However these happenings are delayed by other factors. Hence, I believe there is a right time for change but it is not written down on paper when that day is. A bit of observation of the surroundings with a bit of listening to one’s voice should be enough to work on the action for the change. If anything, maybe it is a good idea to first know the current self.
PS: Why is it that there is a constant conflict with traditions and modernisation/exploration? Do you believe they can strike a balance in the future?
O: The concept of “conflict” is a human invention, as is the tradition and modernity. There is no conflict between these two things, only between ideological men. In my point of view, we should not seek a balance between tradition and modernity, but rather invent a third “state” of tradition, modernity, and the balance between the two. Three things cannot balance on a balance scale, unless one of them is half of the one and the other. Keep in mind that modernity will become tradition, and everything traditional was modern before being a tradition.
S: Let us talk about the present. I feel there is mass amnesia that has happened around the world, for many cultures and in many countries. Take the Orang Asli of Malaysia for instance — what is becoming of their cultures and even their space to live in rain forests? In my point of view, we, as Singaporeans especially, embrace this word, “progress”. However, because of constant “progress”, does this mean we leave behind our traditions? The Malay women of Singapore used to rely heavily on traditional herbs and roots to cure themselves of fevers or feeling bloated. We have embraced so much of the Western ideal of medicines—and I daresay even their culture(s)—because it is easier to embrace what is more promising in the name of ‘progress’, what is more convenient and what is more attractive. Hence, we forget our roots (not all of us, but i am speaking in general terms here). We can achieve this balance when we begin to remember what we have forgotten. For the young like me, we begin to learn what was been left behind. I can see this happening already in theatre and even in fashion with designer Ong Shunmugam’s clothes that mix in tradition with modernity.
J: The closing of the mind, of the ears, of the eyes—the senses cause these tensions. (Laughs) Would you agree that in order to feel happy, one would have to know what sadness is? Is the world ready to forgo all our baggage?
PS: Any traditions you are fond of that you still incorporate in your training or work as artists?
Ole: Yes. My work incorporates questions about the origin of things since 2006. Kham … (2007), a solo piece, questioned my roots, and Fang Lao (2010-2015) questioned my original culture. FOCUS (2012) investigated where and how one begins a movement that gives identity to the dance. AKALIKA 1 (2013) and AKALIKA 7 (2014) confronted the origins of our fears and demons. I am working on a duo performance, Cercle (2017), that will address tradition. My next solo performance in 2018 will be an investigation of my dance and influences.
S: I am fond of prayer and ritual. When I practise Kalaripayattu (an Indian Martial Art from Kerala, South India) with my teacher, we always perform a Kalari Vanakam sequence, which is a ritual to protect us in the training room. It also acknowledges the start of class and gives our blessings and concentration to the training. In my own work, the ways of my mother’s and aunties fascinates me. I like the way they think, a kind of post-war era mind-set where there is more gratitude and a closer living with nature. I incorporate rituals from various cultures and stories of times that we seldom hear about, such as buying live chickens from the market and going home to slaughter them, or climbing up mango trees.
J: Traditions like pottery making, Taichi and Javanese dance allow time for me to listen to myself, to hear my heartbeat and breath, and connect with the environment for a moment through the disciplines.
PS: Is there any culture that you would like to get the chance to explore if given the chance?
O: So much!
S: Presently, I want to explore more deeply, the Orang Asli Temuan Tribe from Selangor (Malaysia) — “Temuan” means meeting. In addition, I want to study the Toraja Tribe from Sulawesi (Indonesia) and how they bury their dead in hanging cliffs. These cultures are so rich and they fascinate me immensely. I want to revive the Eurasian culture back into the present, much like how the Peranakan culture was boosted thanks to the play, Emily of Emerald Hill. Some Eurasian flavour in the form of a theatre piece is going to be quite a roller coaster ride!
J: I recently heard a TED speech by the Prime minister of Bhutan, Tshering Tobgay. What got my attention was how they measured their country through GNH (Gross National Happiness) rather than GDP (Gross domestic product). It will be good to spend time there and live among people who treasure their environment—72% of the country is currently under forest cover and their constitution demands that a minimum of 60% of Bhutan’s total land shall remain as such for all time.
PS: Which character in Ghost Writer speaks to you the most? Why?
O: The GHOST because nobody talks about him.
S: Savitri struggles the most compared to the other characters as she is stuck in a liminal space between running a school full of tradition, and dealing with how modernity creeps into the equation. Her best dancer wants to leave her to break from tradition and her son intends to leave India for Singapore. Savitri comes from an insular world she has known all her life, having inherited her father’s dance school. As the people around her leave, she now has to decide if she wants to take the opportunity to “reinvent” herself, or stick to what she has always known.
J: Kadambari, the invisible character of Ghost Writer, speaks to me the most. Her story is enchanting and life dramatic. She is smart, she is sassy but she also faces problems that everyone faces—the pain of love. This excruciating feeling can only be experienced by a human who loves deeply.
Where: Esplanade Theatre Studio
When: June 9 – 11, 8pm, June 11 – 12, 3pm
Tickets: $35 from SISTIC. ($28 – Concessions for students, senior citizens and NSFs)
Photo credits: The Necessary Stage