In November 2015, independent theatre producer Neo Kim Seng presented a multidisciplinary showcase called My Grandfather’s Road as one of nine performances at Cake Theatrical Productions’ 10th anniversary celebrations, Running with Strippers. My Grandfather’s Road comprised a photo exhibition, a book, and a monologue performance.
It was the second time that Kim Seng created a work with Cake – the first being a 2014 performance titled Decimal Points 810, which he conceived and directed.
“Decimal Points and Running with Strippers have always been about our commitment to experimentation, the alternative and innovative. [They showcased] works to which you couldn’t assign labels or categorise simply, but were about research and wilder artistic exploration,” says Natalie Hennedige, Cake’s artistic director. “Kim Seng’s creations would be an artistic extension of himself and of his current mind-space. What’s important to us is that each piece offers a facet into what the creator is expressing at that moment in time, and facilitating an environment where audiences can share in that creation.”
While Decimal Points 810 was inspired by Kim Seng’s open heart surgery in 2013 – “810” referred to the number of minutes for which he was unconscious – My Grandfather’s Road was more of an homage to his childhood growing up on Neo Pee Teck Lane, which was named after his paternal grandfather.
In an interview with The Straits Times published on 10 November 2015, Kim Seng said: “I’m very, very happy to be a part of [Running with Strippers]. When I wrote [My Grandfather’s Road], I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but at the end I realised it was about mortality and, more importantly, about renewing your relationships with people.”
He added in the same interview that the process of creating the work helped him come to terms with the difficult relationship he had with his late father, and brought him closer to his mother.
The photo exhibition for My Grandfather’s Road opened on 19 November 2015. For three days, it was displayed along the corridor outside Cake’s studio at Goodman Arts Centre, beneath the original Neo Pee Teck Lane street sign that Kim Seng successfully bid for in an online auction by the Land Transport Authority to sell off older white street signs in 2003. He won the sign at a price of $62. There was only one other bidder – his older sister, which he only found out about after the auction.
The images from the exhibition were taken from his parents’ old photographs and negatives. As he wrote on the wall text description for exhibition, however, his “parents collected quite a lot of photos, but they […] were limited to certain people, events and places.”
That is why Kim Seng supplemented the exhibition with a book – which is still available for loan at the National Library – and an English-language monologue, which was performed by Bjorn Lee Varella on 20 November 2015. The monologue is, in a way, a condensed version of the exhibition and the book. Together, they tell the story of his childhood, and of his relationship with his family.
Kim Seng received positive feedback for My Grandfather’s Road. Reviewing Running with Strippers for Today, Mayo Martin wrote that the entire event reminded him of “the alternative theatre scene of an earlier time (and of the gritty performance art events that still take place today), what with sweaty people waiting expectantly outside before cramming inside the room to see performances in less-than-polished circumstances, but certainly done with a lot of heart.”
Two years on, Kim Seng has decided to revisit the monologue as part of Centre 42’s Vault programme.
“My Grandfather’s Road first started out as a project with the encouragement of Cake Theatrical Productions to think about a project that may have a life after its initial presentation,” he wrote in his proposal to the Centre.
Cake’s Natalie is delighted that it will take on a second life. “It is always a great thing for a work to keep evolving and for Kim Seng to keep discovering and exploring his work in its various iterations,” she says. “We are extremely happy that he is visiting it again at C42’s Vault.”
The Vault: My Grandfather’s Road will be presented at the Centre 42 Black Box from 23 to 25 November 2017. This time, Kim Seng is working with actors Gary Tang and Tan Cher Kian to perform the piece in Singaporean Cantonese and Malaysian Cantonese respectively.
Just like the original project, this version of My Grandfather’s Road is also about renewing relationships. The main reason he wanted to present the monologue in Cantonese this time is so that his mother – who is Cantonese – can understand better. But it is also a chance for Kim Seng to reconnect with his childhood through language.
As he puts it: “I would like to use the Cantonese version of the monologue to renew my relationship with a language that has been imparted to me as a child, and had never gone away but relegated for a long time because of personal and societal circumstances.”
|Title:||My Grandfather’s Road|
|Date:||19-21 November 2015|
|Venue:||Block E #03-32 Goodman Arts Centre|
|Playwright:||Neo Kim Seng|
|Director:||Neo Kim Seng|
|Cast:||Bjorn Lee Verella|
|Title:||Decimal Points 810|
|Date:||25-26 April 2014|
|Venue:||The Substation Theatre|
|Director:||Neo Kim Seng|
Chang Ting Wei
Chin Rui Yuan
The Vault: My Grandfather’s Road sees independent theatre-maker Neo Kim Seng revisiting his 2015 work My Grandfather’s Road. Kim Seng refreshes his original English text with translations into Singaporean and Malaysian Cantonese in an exploration of regional variations within the language. The Vault: My Grandfather’s Road is presented 23 -25 November 2017 at Centre 42 Black Box. Find out more here.