I had the luck and privilege to attend the last full dress rehearsal of Theatre Practice’s Four Horse Road last night, March 24, 2020.
I was free. Literally, freed, released, cut, or retrenched. There’s no other way to call it such when your entire industry goes dark. My rehearsals had been cancelled, because the show postponed indefinitely.
While waiting for Four Horse Road to start and for the briefing to begin, I called a good friend I hadn’t seen in a while, who was seated about 3 meters away from me. We were spaced out quite thoughtfully and regimentally, it would have been rude of me to shout across, I would have felt worse if I didn’t get to check in with her. So I gave her a call on her mobile, and we chatted a bit until we could actually get closer.
Truly, the team at Theatre Practice did such an excellent job in systematically responding to the increasingly stringent measures trickled slowly onto the scene. There was so much space, so much distance, so much ventilation.
And so much heart. As soon as the first scene started, immediately I understood viscerally why I felt so much excitement and heartbreak at the same time. The government had just announced that all theatres are to be shut till the end of April from 11.59pm on March 26. The news was dropped 20 minutes before my friends had to standby. This would be my last theatre show until the covid19 threat passes.
Yes, all these measures will pass, I have been quietly resigned to the situation, even as it peaked these few days: as an actor, getting told that rehearsals are henceforth cancelled, 3 times within two days; being tested in my levelheadedness and my ability to orchestrate a crisis communication response not only coherently but also strategically for Teater Ekamatra’s future beyond its own series of cancellations.
It has taken me a while but I think I am able to name it and feel it now: grief. I am heartbroken because I know while this crisis will pass and we will come out alright, there is an indelible psychological mark left on myself and my colleagues. The anxiety will last for a while. I cleaned up my resume a few days ago, and applied to a corporate job.
Four Horse Road opens tonight and closes tomorrow tonight, less than 2 hours before all the theatres in Singapore will go dark. I only got to see one track (the grey track), but the epic nature of Jonathan Lim and Jian Hong’s vision was not lost on me, in fact, it was very comforting.
You feel like a voyeur, peeping stepping into time passed, one minute you could be in a the 1800s, the next minute 2017. You realise how small you are, how vast time is, and what is permanent and what isn’t. You understand that in this stream, you are merely dipping your toes in, the water will pass through you. You can choose either to give into its force or not, and that is comforting for me during this time. This was the significance of theatre. I don’t think I could have been so transported if I did not feel viscerally that movement of Space and Time.
When I embarked on freelancing 8 years ago, I told myself the moment I can’t financially support myself, I will have to give up this dream. That will be my baseline. I am looking at no work for the rest of the year, with only some teaching.
But I look for meaning. I am looking for wisdom. I am not looking for career advice anymore. I think times like these requires extraordinary thinking, extraordinary reflection. This is an interregnum.
In theatre, whenever a blackout is used, it usually means something significant is about to happen – the start of a show, the end of a chapter, a means to change the scene. A blackout is hardly a moment of stasis. But it could also mean the end of the show. So as the lights in Singapore theatres goes to black, I want to be able to say, I’m standing-by, and ready for when the lights fade up.
I’m going to be sitting at home for a while. I’m going to attempt to answer this question 14 times, honestly, with the same rigour I apply to my artistic questions: Why does it matter that I am in theatre? 14 times over 14 days….well, no promises it will be consecutive. But 14 times.