In a unique double bill presentation, GroundZ-0’s latest original piece explores two different treatments of the parent-child relationship that are universal and timeless: one where Death is the enabler, the other where Life is the possibility of change.
Gwen Sin interviews the directors and cast behind this double bill feature where despite of culture, language or race – the themes of love and fear – remain issues we learn and relearn from the past to the present.
How did this double bill presentation come about?
Zelda Titiana Ng (Director for Always On My Mind / 我在你左右 wo zai ni zuo you; Creative Director for GroundZ-0): This idea was first developed as a 20-minute pitch used for a scriptwriting competition in Nagoya, Japan in 2017. It is interesting to explore the dynamics between a father and son; a mother and daughter. And it is interesting to realise how birth and death relate to life’s issues. I also wanted to present it in different languages, since Singapore is a multi-ethnic country, ie. in English, Malay and Chinese.
Adib Kosan (AK): I was first approached by Zelda to think about an accompanying piece for her piece, Always, which dealt with the mother-daughter relationship, as the mother is facing death. I thought it was a good opportunity to talk about Saiful’s story. I have known Saiful Amri Ahmad Elahi (SA; the main actor in Every Time I… / Tiap Ali Aku) for a long time, and as friends, I shared a lot with him especially after becoming a father. Saiful has been a father in real life for a few years, and it was very helpful when he gave me advice on what are the things to look out for in fatherhood. What really struck my mind was he grew up not really knowing his father, as his father passed away when he was just a year old. For me, when I became a father, my father was the reference point. So we talked about this idea of what were the last few moments like, before entering into fatherhood?
Because when everybody becomes a father, they will go through this question – what do I do next? This one question became the basis of this whole piece. Once your child is born, it is no longer just you as the husband; the son; the partner. You are also the father for the rest of your life. It is a very big transition. That’s how I came up w this idea through conversations with Saiful; through my own experiences and and also through his moments where he doesn’t have a reference point of his father to emulate after.
Share more about the characters you are playing, and also what are some of the touching moments you felt from your character?
Lina Yu /余莉那 (LY; one of the cast for Always): I play the daughter character in this presentation. It is actually a very complexed mother-daughter relationship. There are events and issues that happened between the mother and father, which the daughter doesn’t not understand. As the daughter is growing up, further complexities between the mother and daughter mount up and makes their relationship even more tense. Essentially, this play itself is how the daughter tries to find an answer by confronting the mother just before she passes on.
There are two touching moments to me. One is when the daughter speaks to her (dead) father. The other moment would be towards the critical end, where the daughter tries to confront her mother about many questionable frustrations she has with her mother. It is a vulnerable moment as time is also the biggest nemesis.
Liow Shi Suen / 刘诗璇 (LSS; one of the cast for Always): I play the mother role. I think this character is trying to put her main focus on her husband more than her daughter. Her husband, in her own opinion is like a benefactor, and also someone she loves dearly. Her daughter becomes neglected as a result. In my opinion, I think this mother character also thinks since the daughter is born as a return of ‘favour’ (“報恩” / bao en) from the Chinese Gods to her, she does not need to pay a lot of attention to her at all. What is touching about this role is when the daughter tells her mother everything she has done for her – despite the fact that such love is often left unspoken between real-life mothers and daughters – I am touched by her immense love, when I reflect on this in the role of the mother character. Alas, time is also fleeting, as it is time for the mother to have her last breath on earth.
SA: There is no ‘manual’ to become a father. Each child is different too. I can never say to my daughter, “why can’t you be like this or that?” I just wish my kids to become useful people eventually; no need to become life-changers. The touching moment is also, what if my dad is still alive today? Would I become someone better or different from what I am today? Perhaps I might become more spoilt than I am now! Thinking about this – only Allah knows best. This is how I turn out; I will embrace it; accept it and just move on.
AK: Saiful and I are essentially in each character’s minds, where we are ‘conversing’ during the last 20 mins before he becomes a father in Every Time I… . During one of these ‘conversations’, there is a point where he reflects of becoming a father, and for me that’s as close as being my own thoughts. Saiful’s character shares of all the fears he has to go through before the child is delivered. But when this little human being is placed in front of you, it is amazing how much you feel for that little person. There is this connection and it makes me thinking about my own parents and my wife. This is definitely love for your child, no matter where they came from and in what form. All these fears you have disappeared as you enter fatherhood at the baby’s arrival. Questions arise, such as what can you do with their lives and what can you make the most out of it? This is as honest as I can get in theatre with my characters. We cannot run away from these real feelings we both have and experience. That connection is quite special to me. And I am happy to get the opportunity to share that.
What would you like to leave behind as takeaways for the audience?
LSS: I am not sure if our presentation will be able to strike a chord (共鳴 / gong ming) with the audience. But I hope through the characters’ conversations and nuances, they will be able to relate it in their lives.
LY: I hope the audience will rethink about their interactions with their loved ones. Are there new experiences that they can also create in reality, after watching Always?
AK: We tend not to talk much about our feelings as Asian fathers. The society has changed so much where we see a lot of young fathers sharing about fatherhood these days on social media. I hope more men will talk about their responsibilities, and especially what is means to be a Malay father nowadays. There are no longer the typical stereotypical gender roles anymore, since wives are also contributing to the household financially. We need to talk about it and I think it is also a form of responsibility to show others that this is the reality and this is also another reason why I want to do this as well. This is our normal now.
SA: What is important is to understand what a father is going through. Like how Adib puts it – every generation is different. The older fathers or the generation before us may look at us and say, “your wife can take care of your kids”. But things have changed, because the role of women has changed too. They also want some form of achievement as a woman; they want their own legacy. As husbands, we also have to agree and see how to work around it.
GroundZ-0 原。空間, is a Singapore-based, multilingual, intercultural and inter-disciplinary space initiated by Zelda Tatiana Ng, which aims to explore, research, promote and produce cross-genres/cultural/nationalities/disciplines works. GroundZ-0 原。空間 is interested in the experimentation of traditional arts forms (especially Chinese Opera & Japanese Noh) in contemporary theatre, surrounding its aesthetics, history, principle, philosophy, form and training. It also seeks collaborations with various international artists in order to share research and learn knowledge across nationalities/races/cultures. Through explorations and experiments, GroundZ-0 原。空間 aspires to find/define/re-define its identity(ies) as Singaporean as well as a Global Citizen.
Always On My Mind / Every Time I… (Tiap Ali Aku) opens at the Play Den @ The Arts House from March 28 to 31, 2019. Ticket admission fees apply. Please check more details from GroundZ-0’s Facebook page.