“We do not fight hate with hate.”
Reviewer: Jocelyn Chng
Performance: 28 July 2016
International Friendship Day is an interactive theatre piece by The Necessary Stage, presented as part of the M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival by ArtsWok Collaborative. Peer Pleasure seeks to engage youths in the process of theatre-making, recognising their points of view as valuable within the larger arts scene. International Friendship Day is one of the standalone “Engagement Programmes”, but only one performance is open to the public (the rest being staged entirely for school bookings). Perhaps due to this context, the performance on the whole feels overly didactic for a general public audience.
The four actors introduce themselves as students and teachers of the fictional Marine Parade Secondary School (MPSS), following which the audience is immediately broken into groups, each led by one performer who remains in character throughout the discussion. The character tells us more about his background, and then asks questions such as whether we have friends who are not from Singapore, if we know of instances of racism directed at foreigners and so forth.
This section feels awkward, especially as the questions are too general to elicit forthcoming and meaningful responses from an audience used to sitting quietly in the dark. Although I can see its usefulness for a showing aimed at school students, such a pre-show discussion is perhaps unnecessary for the public showing as the relevant issues will become apparent through the play itself.
The scripted play, however, seems to me a little simplistic in its treatment of the scenarios portrayed – foreign students feeling left out of or not wanting to participate in activities with local students, being pressured to do things that they do not wish to, or facing bullying and name-calling. However, the time constraint perhaps accounts for the simplified presentation of issues (the scripted play lasts only about an hour or less). This is so that more time can be allocated for the interactive section that follows, in which audience members are encouraged to come on stage to try out different ways of managing or resolving a tricky situation presented in the play.
However, even this latter section begins to feel draggy after a while, reminding me of role-playing exercises at conflict resolution workshops, with participants who lack the experience or confidence to really carry their intentions through. This often results in contrived resolutions to the problems, which I doubt are an accurate enough approximation of real-life conflict situations to offer genuine learning points for a general public audience.
Regardless, the actors deserve commendation for their performance in a play that is demanding enough in its scripted part (each actor plays multiple roles), let alone the interactive section. The challenge of an interactive piece lies in its unpredictability, and the intense focus and responsiveness of the cast certainly helps them rise to it.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
INTERNATIONAL FRIENDSHIP DAY by The Necessary Stage
28 July 2016
Lasalle College of the Arts Flexible Performance Space
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jocelyn Chng graduated from the Masters in International Performance Research programme, receiving a double degree from the Universities of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Tampere, Finland. She currently freelances and teaches at the LASALLE College of the Arts.