Forum theatre performance 'twentythirty' gives youths a voice to speak out about racism and xenophobia.
I had my fists clenched and my forehead was creased with my endless frowns. Just five minutes into the performance, I started to feel restless in my seat.
Throughout the 90-minute production, I felt like I was being confronted by the reality of Singapore's current social climate, as well as my own deeply embedded issues.
A forum theatre production co-presented by Singapore Kindness Movement and *SCAPE, twentythirty explores the subject of integration between Singaporean and non-Singaporean students.
Just like any other production, all the actors in the forum theatre are in character. However, we also had the chance to turn from passive to proactive spectators, by stepping in where necessary.
twentythirty, produced by Drama Box, is presented in two parts: the first being the play itself, which featured extremely uncomfortable and problematic situations, such as characters flaunting their xenophobia with pride while trying to pass it off as a joke.
The second part identifies these situations and gives the audience a chance to intervene.
THE FOUR MAIN CHARACTERS IN TWENTYTHIRTY.
The play features four characters: Hakim, the passive people-pleaser, often going out of his own way to ensure the comfort of his friends, and his best friend Ben, a jokester with nationalistic views. Danielle is the hard-headed leader of the group, cemented in her xenophobic views and ways, while Meng is a foreign student from the People's Republic of China.
Throughout twentythirty, Ben and Danielle expressed their xenophobic views and casual racism freely while Hakim, clearly bothered, watches on silently.
Meng, who is trying to find her way into the group, is ostracised, when she found it difficult to step out of her comfort zone. Ben and Danielle’s unwillingness to make her feel welcome did not make things easier either.
The first part of the forum theatre often left the audience feeling uncomfortable and helpless. We gasped in unison and shared comments in concerned whispers. However, the play ended on a worrying note, leaving all problems unresolved.
And then, the second part begins.
The entire play was repeated. This time, the audience was encouraged to yell "Stop!" whenever a scene made them feel uncomfortable, so that they could intervene in whichever way they choose.
THE AUDIENCE, MOSTLY YOUTHS, SEEMED EXCITED TO TAKE PART IN THE SECOND HALF.
Despite being shy at first, most of the spectators took the opportunity to express their views by intervening when they felt the cast members were behaving inappropriately.
I, too, had a chance to participate in a scene. I replaced Hakim and turned him into someone who would defend a foreign student and call his friends out for their racist and xenophobic actions, instead of being a passive onlooker who avoids confrontation at all cost.
I felt compelled to do so, because I wanted to share with the others that it is okay to stand up to your friends when you are bothered by their problematic actions.
What I enjoyed most about twentythirty's forum theatre format was the hands-on experience. We got to observe the different ways of handling awkward situations, allowing us to reflect on our decisions and the eventual outcomes.
I do wish that twentythirty had ended with a firmer learning point. Due to time constraints, it wrapped up with the idea that xenophobia is okay. However, I left the venue with a strong belief that it should have been nipped in the bud.
Still, forum theatre is a brilliant way to expose oneself to different perspectives, encourage open conversation, and confront real issues. I would love to see more forms of forum theatre that touch on topics and issues that are close to the hearts of Singaporean youths.
twentythirty is now showing at *SCAPE till Oct 28. Head here for more details.