Sanctuary, a play about a very digital future, ended just last weekend. This collaboration between The Necessary Stage and HANCHU-YUEI marks another successful celebration of theatre, and a timely one too, with 2017 being The Necessary Stage’s 30th Anniversary.
As the industry flourishes further with more time and resources, we do see more collaborations between companies – be it locally or internationally. This sparks interesting new work and opens up more possibilities of moving forward with the art form itself. Transcending language and culture, companies have shown us that there is still much to be explored in theatre if more boundaries are broken down. How do these come about though? And what can we do to promote a more active culture of collaborations?
Popspoken speaks to the various collaborators onboard this project to find out more about the topic at hand, and to garner more perspectives.
Popspoken: The Necessary Stage/HANCHU-YUEI has been collaborating with overseas theatre companies on a number of shows. How do these collaborations come about?
Haresh Sharma (HS): There isn’t one way for these collaborations to materialise. In the past, we have met international artists and groups who have performed at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. This project, however, began with a simple introduction by Nao Suzuki, a renowned Japanese translator.
With international collaborations, we always have to take it slow and be more open, and not assume that everyone works in the same way as you do. Sanctuary had a 3-phase process, the first in Singapore, the second in Tokyo, and finally in Singapore for the rehearsal and world premiere. When we meet, we discuss as much as we play and explore. We also skype often so that we can all be on the same page where the production is concerned. It’s not easy creating a new work, let alone one involving 2 playwrights, 2 directors, with artists who don’t speak the same language and coming from very different societies. But that’s why we do it.
Momo Sakamoto (MS): When HANCHU-YUEI’s play GIRL X was presented at TPAM 2014 in Yokohama, we received an invitation from Kakiseni, an art platform from Malaysia, to present the original production as well as staying in Malaysia to stage a collaborative version of the play, working with their local artist, Ayam Fared.
Since then, Girl X has toured to Thailand, China and New York, and have developed to be one of HANCHU-YUEI’s most powerful representative works.
The second collaboration was with Thailand’s Democrazytheatre, presented by Japan Foundation, Bangkok, where “Girl X” had evolved into a dance piece without spoken dialogue.
The third collaboration was with The Tadpole Repertory from India, which was presented by Japan Foundation, New Delhi, where both theatre companies worked together for two years to research, conceive, write and direct, having actors from both companies perform, and tour to four cities in India as well as being staged in Japan.
Popspoken: Do you think technology has a part to play in making these collaborative plans work out or not?
HS: Technology helps. As I mentioned, we skype with the artists from time to time, to discuss ideas and prepare for our meetings. Facebook is also used to share articles and resources. Finally, we are on LINE [which is more popular than whatsapp in Tokyo] so that we can keep in touch, both for work and fun.
Suguru Yamamoto (SY): In fact, Sanctuary is based on the premise of making full use of smartphones, computers, cloud services and internet in creating the play. Technology is not only taking “a” part, it’s taking at least a thousand of parts in the executions of collaborations.
Bani Haykal (BH): It could have. I’m curious as to how an AI would have organised the process and contents of our collaboration if we had fed it resources such as the team’s browser or phone data, reading materials and improvisations. there’s a part of me wanting to be a far more proficient artist working with code so we could attempt cool projects which would decentralise the “human” part of theatre making.
Ken Takiguchi (KT): Yes, I think it does. This production deals with our anxiety in relation to the technology, and it is a theatrical representation with many layers.
TK: In my case, obviously, I’m able to collaborate only because of technology… as the computers and various graphics editing software. And Google Translate, and our chat group, they help me to communicate with the Singaporean artists.
Popspoken: In general, do you think technology is a boon or bane to human kind?
HS: I’m just a playwright. I don’t think too much.
SY: I think it could be both boon and bane. When technology develops, our lives will become more enriched and convenient, but on the other hand, there might be a drop of labour quantity or people might end up with less ways to connect to the society. If that happens, there’s a possibility that humans will become more apathetic. I think the important thing is for us humans to maintain the awareness that “technology could be both boon and bane.”
BH: I’m not sure I subscribe to this dichotomy. Think about the washing machine. as economist Ha Joon Chang wrote in his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, the washing machine beats the internet in terms of productivity. Sure, maybe that was a few years and I’m not sure if the internet of things has matched the washing machine since, but one thing’s for sure, I’m extremely thankful to be able to have a washing machine at this stage of my life. But I also have to think about the utility bill. Of course I’m oversimplifying the role of more advanced technology at this point in time, but the point I guess is not just about function but who has control over how these technologies affect and influence politics and economics.
Ken: I don’t think it is very appropriate to see it in that kind of dichotomy. Technology simply changes our way of living. We have seen such changes in history… Technologies, such as printing, motor and nuclear energy, have changed our lives. And everything has both bright and dark sides. Printing disseminated the knowledge to the masses, and eventually, as political scientist Benedict Anderson argued, generated the imagined community called nation, under which so many blood was shed. Japanese economy heavily relied on the nuclear energy, which caused a huge catastrophe in 2011. What is undeniable is, after all, these technologies have changed our lives forever and we cannot go back to the era without them.
TK: That connects to the question, “what are humans, life, willpower and soul?”
Even if our ancestors are hypothetically regarded as small creatures of the size of a grain of dust, or androids, or humongous servers, or even a type of mineral like a rock, as long as there are souls which are recognized with the values of the new era, as well as hope which could be sent forwards to the next era, I can say that it’s a boon.
Popspoken: What is one essential difference in this generation growing up with technology and most of us without? / How do you think technology has influenced the younger generation’s personal philosophies and ideas?
HS: I don’t even have internet banking.
SY: I myself am from the generation which grew up through the development of technology. I am from the generation which witnessed the transfer of CRT-based TV to flat-screen TV and the cell-phones to smartphones. Although, I cannot but help think that my father and grandfather have both witnessed the technology transitions as well. My father’s generation had a black-and-white TV and my grandfather’s generation had a radio in their homes. Today’s generation might be the generation that the majority has smartphones and computers in their homes. I do not think that technology itself would make a fundamental change in the human nature. I say this because I don’t think I am fundamentally different as a human being from my father or grandfather. There’s no doubt that the current younger generation will witness and live through the transitions from smartphones to the next devices. What we must do is to keep handing down the reminder for humans to avoid changing fundamentally through technological growth.
KT: They have more access to the information. The sources are diverse and international — the rapid development of machine translation is making it even easier to go beyond the language barrier. The same can be said for making friends. You can meet and communicate with people beyond the national borders. Their consciousness about the borders may be quite different from the previous generations. They may create other kinds of borders, though.
TK: The generation growing up with technology seems to be allowed to be forgetful. Their memories, which had used to be stored in their brains, weighs much less because they can now store it outside themselves. Instead, the usage area of the brain bounds to be used to stimulate active spontaneous ideas and calculations, rather than remembering. The buzzes on internet is probably the best example. But on the other hand, historicizing with individual values, or having deep speculations tend to be a neglected these days. I think that we are moving from a generation of weight and depth, to a generation of the optical and speed. I think both generations are equally wonderful.
Photography credit: Tuckys Photography