剧评:PUPPET ORIGIN STORIES @ ONE-TWO-SIX

 

Image(s) courtesy of The Finger Players. Photos by Tuckys Photography



关于守护的问题——观“Puppet Origin Stories”


文/ 杨明慧


  

十指帮的Puppet Origin Stories 由三个不同的剧目组成,每一个剧目皆由一个或多个十指帮的历史文物展开(主要是木偶)。三位创作者以特定木偶的历史为基础,创造出崭新的剧目,为剧团二十多年来的历史和文物注入新生命,或者说是激活那些长久以来囤积、静待在 Toyogo 塑胶盒子里的灵魂与躯壳。该剧设于十指帮多年来的”—— 经禧艺术中心(Cairnhill Arts Centre),三个剧目分别在艺术中心的外围、十指帮排练室/道具室和黑箱剧场里演出。演出与演出之间,观众需移步到下一个地点去,而在这步行的过程中,十指帮团员担任导游的角色,为观众介绍经禧艺术中心的悠久历史。如同三个重新诠释十指帮历史的剧目一样,这个小行程亦尝试通过重游旧地,为这一直隐藏在山上某个昏暗角落里的历史建筑及艺术中心,打上新的一束光。剧团也在中心里设置了一个个小展览,在场的观众可以自行探索/重新发现更多剧团的历史。从节目形式和演出内容皆可看出,现阶段的十指帮似乎自觉地处在一种历史交界处,长达两小时的节目颇有一种反思自我,想要整装再出发的意味。 

 

十指帮现任艺术总监 Myra Loke Ellison Tan 表示,希望 Puppet Origin Plays将来能成为十指帮的常驻节目,每一季用不同的十指帮历史性木偶来创作新剧目。Puppet Origin Stories第一季便邀请新晋导演来重新诠释剧团历史(包括Becca D’Bus/Eugene Tan,以及第一次指导舞台戏剧演出的Hairi CromoTan Wei Ting),明显展现了剧团拒绝保守的传统主义,及其期望保持社会关联性(social relevance)的精神。而三位导演也确实透过他们独特的当代视角,从剧团的历史中延伸提出了不少剧团今后不可回避的难题。 

 

Tan Wei Ting执导的 Ah Ma,讲诉十指帮在2010年首演的剧目 Angels In DisguiseA.I.D.)里所使用的木偶——Ah Ma,即将被存放在博物馆里的故事。全剧着重探讨保存传统、展演历史的复杂性,过程中也分享了不少关于 A.I.D. 与木偶 Ah Ma的趣闻。例如,剧中博物馆策划人询问当年操作 Ah Ma的团员 Beng Tian,为什么 Ah Ma穿的是粉红色的衣服?Beng Tian 回应说,当时不像现在这样(指涉当时对于木偶的服装设计是否复制性别刻板印象并不存有太大的意识),而且材料方面也没有太多的选择。像这样的小情节提醒观众(与剧团),从前可能被视为微不足道或无关紧要的细节,尤其是关乎身份政治的细节,在反思历史的当下确已变成重要的话题;那些在历史里没有被注意到的,或是被覆盖、被遗漏的,往往是推进历史的破口。这其实正是一种逆向阅读(reading against the grain)的方法,即在阅读历史文献时特别留意主流论述或主流价值观的设限与盲点,以释放过去有意无意被遮盖或被忽略的声音。 

 

Becca/Eugene指导的 Suck Sweat Dry, Baby! 更直接地体现了这种创作方法。该剧通过赋予十指帮的旧木偶全新的性格特色来放大少数群体的声音(尤其是在性别的场域里)。Suck Sweat Dry, Baby! 第一幕使用了十指帮2019年《恶魔日记》里的长桌。这长桌原本布满中文字,现在被黄色胶带包裹着(Becca半戏谑地说,这可能是因为现任艺术总监意识到剧团多数族群(majority race)的定位吧)。变装皇后Becca 躺在该桌子上,把自己的身体化作道具——一座山。侧躺着的Becca全程背向观众,展示因开场时穿着塑身胸衣而留下的痕迹。单眼木偶moon baby正爬着这座山,沿途向观众分享爬山时所遇到过的人,包括以父权主导的异性核心家庭等。戏后上网查询了关于moon baby的历史,发现该木偶只有一只眼睛的原因之一,是为了让它能够比较好操控。该剧第二幕转换了时空,来到了夜店。经常被用来服务建国叙事,且往往仅用来伴舞的红头巾木偶,与吸收能力超强因此具有无限可能,但也因此没有什么自我个性的sponge girl木偶,在这夜店里邂逅、做爱。如此对moon baby、红头巾,以及 sponge girl进行根本性的再创作,Becca/Eugene实际上是在反转几个十指帮历代女性木偶的核心特征,揭示那些原本偏向于屈从和被动的角色塑造/性格层面,并进而颠覆她们从前的角色定位,在一定的程度上尝试赋权于她们。Suck Sweat Dry, Baby! 显然是以女性和性别视角诠释十指帮历史,寄望于一种更直接表述或更直接正视少数群体声音的创作方针,就像最后一幕所展示的那样,表演者唯有把光集中打在Becca的身上,观众才能清楚地看见Becca曾经被紧拴过的痕迹。 




Image(s) courtesy of The Finger Players. Photos by Tuckys Photography


 

如此以逆向阅读的方式重新诠释十指帮历史,第一季的Puppet Origin Stories为该系列立下了值得延续的基础论调:再悠久的历史也是要批判性地去继承的,再感情深厚的往事也是要适时地去加以提问,使之与当代情境和当代关怀产生对话。新晋导演们对于剧团历史或许比较没有情感包袱,拥有批判性审视历史的必要距离;十指帮给予他们空间去自由诠释剧团历史,也是值得嘉许的。不过做为一个建基于历史的演出/项目,在观看充满前瞻性的Puppet Origin Stories时,我也不禁想起了guardianship 的概念。前瞻性的 guardianship是什么,如何实践前瞻性的 guardianship 

 

Guardianship,中文一般翻译成监护权。然而我总觉得监护二字不免重了些,颇有监控、控管、权力的意味。在最理想的情况中,guardianship并非占有或操控,更不关乎任何英雄主义或救世主情结(saviour complex)。重要的是它是一种承诺,愿意给予所需的关怀与支持以辅佐未能自立的个体健康成长,最终得以独立生活。其实Puppet Origin Stories的三个剧目在不同的程度上皆探索了guardianship的主题,提出值得进一步探究的相关问题(以下我姑且以守护来指称guardianship)。 

 

Ah Ma 探讨在十指帮已解散的想象未来里,守护木偶Ah Ma的最佳方式。究竟该把 Ah Ma存放在冰冷的博物馆里,让她能够继续被看见以至于继续被记得,但却丧失她原本存在的意义,还是让她跟随Beng Tian 回家,让Ah Ma有自由活动的空间,尽管这么做的结局终将会是被放进 Toyogo 盒子里,默默地与Beng Tian 一同老去?当然这是个寓言故事,引发观众思考守护新加坡木偶戏剧艺术,以及新加坡木偶戏剧历史的最佳方式。全剧着重于刻画博物馆与个人/剧团代表之间的拉扯,引发我进而追问,是否非得由一个剧团、一个博物馆,或个人来主导这守护的工作?我们是否能避免这样的僵持局面在可预知的现实未来里发生?另外,无论是在概念上或在实践上,我们是否过于依赖形式化的保存/传承方式?仿佛必须要有普遍认知里的那种博物馆,或是剧团的具体存在,新加坡木偶艺术及其历史才得以延续下去,正如Beng Tian在十指帮解散后便不得已需把 Ah Ma交由博物馆管理。该剧引发我们思考(及想象),在固有的形式外,还能创造什么样的渠道以守护木偶艺术在新加坡能够健壮成长,以至于独立生存。最后Beng Tian 联合博物馆保安成功偷走Ah Ma的躯壳,却把保存 Ah Ma记忆的零件遗留在博物馆的展示柜里。若真有必须做出这般取舍的一天,是该把资源倾注于保存/展示/练就新加坡木偶剧艺术的至高境界(但舍弃历史的部分),或是致力于保留历史记忆(却舍弃对技艺的追求)?我想这不仅触及宏观的守护/保留/传承的课题,其实也是往后的Puppet Origin Stories系列演出当进一步考虑的问题。 

 

另一方面,Suck Sweat Dry, Baby! 通过对历史性木偶与道具不敬的(irreverent)再创作,反思以原本面貌的形式守护这些历史文物的意义。该剧引发观众反思,如果这些文物(道具与木偶)被完好地储藏仅是为了保存它们原有的作用与意涵,那守护的深层意义是什么?如何避免把完好无损地被冻结的时光最终幻化成不可诋毁的神话般的存在? 守护的是谁的记忆,不敬(irreverent)的再创作又是否让谁有了被冒犯的感觉,为什么会产生这种感觉,如何把这感觉转化成有建设性的、促发成长的自我省思?同样的,以身份政治的关怀重新诠释历史是否让谁有了政治正确疲乏(political correctness fatigue)的感受,为什么某些人会产生这样的感受,我们又能如何有建设性地解构(unpack)与转化这种感受? 





Image(s) courtesy of The Finger Players. Photos by Tuckys Photography



 

最后,论及守护(guardianship,必然联想到孩童。Hairi Cromo指导的剧目Jabber主要表现孩童第一次经历复杂情感的心理过程。剧中,孩童(Peng 木偶)因为在课上即兴演凑音乐而被老师取消当学生长官(prefect)的资格。孩童因而产生自己无法表述也无法明白的复杂情感,而也正是此时,一个鬼魅或心魔(faceless maiden 木偶)出现了,频频诱发/逼迫孩童正视、挖掘,以及表达内心那难以琢磨的情感。Hairi Cromo指导的剧目揭示刻板的主流教育体制对孩童自由心灵的摧残,同时也表达了成长过程中必须面对与克服的未知与恐惧。换个角度来看,若把焦点放置在该剧的校园元素上,我们其实不妨从一个后设的角度进而提问:虽然十指帮早已不是专为儿童演出,但仍重视校内演出的十指帮可以如何为一个已和从前截然不同的孩童群体继续服务?在一个《芝麻街》(Sesame Street)已落伍的时代(Ah Ma 提到,从前向学校宣传十指帮,只要提到《芝麻街》,校方便能立即明白和接受十指帮的表演性质),木偶剧之于新加坡的孩童,能有什么较之其他戏剧/媒体形式更为特殊的吸引力、召唤力,甚至是疗愈性?木偶剧可以如何守护我们的孩童,孩童们又可以如何守护新加坡的木偶艺术? 

 

我其实很喜欢Puppet Origin Stories的构思。让不同背景的创作者重新诠释历史与文物,且将之发展成常驻项目(配合线上文献库 https://fingerplayers.com/puppet-origin-stories-fundraising/),确实是较具有前瞻性的、实际的守护方式,无论是对木偶,对木偶剧艺术,或是对新加坡木偶剧历史而言。做为观众的我也期待更多以剧团和木偶历史为基础的新剧。在这刚起步的时刻,Puppet Origin Stories或许还在探索发展下去的方向。目前最显著的挑战,在做为观众的我看来,或许还是在于形式方面的构思:如上所述,如何拿捏技艺与历史/再创作的比重,或如何取得平衡,或许是剧团需进一步探索的。另外,尽管观众戏后可以自行上网搜索关于剧中木偶的历史资讯,但我想对于一个主打十指帮历史的节目来说,语境化(contextualization)应该可以做得更充足一些(例如,我事后才发现原来Jabber里的鬼魅是十指帮的历史性木偶)。剧目与剧目之间的小行程其实也挺缺乏说服力,开场白及导游分享的故事并没有让观众感受到剧团对该艺术中心的情感归属,有些反讽地削弱了整个节目想要呈现的十指帮故事及其历史情感。期待未来的Puppet Origin Stories越做越好,实践可持续性的,前瞻性的守护。


关于演出:2022118日,8PM (full-dress rehearsal) Cairnhill Arts Centre,The Finger Players 呈现


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About problems surrounding guardianship: Thoughts after watching Puppet Origin Stories



Theatre review by Yeo Min Hui

Translated from Chinese to English by Ellison Tan Yuyang


—"This translation has been done to offer the reader a foundational understanding of the beautifully written Chinese review, and some key nuances might be lost in translation. The translator apologizes in advance."




Puppet Origin Stories by The Finger Players (TFP) is a triple bill, and each piece is an expansion of a historical artefact of the company (in this case, mainly puppets). The three creators drew inspiration from their chosen puppet’s history, or rather, activate the shells and in turn these souls, that have laid quietly awaiting in their Toyogo boxes for a long time.

 

The production is set in TFP’s longstanding artistic home – ONE-TWO-SIX Cairnhill Arts Centre, and each piece is performed in different spaces - outdoors, in TFP’s rehearsal room/props storage space and a Black Box space. In between performances, audiences move to the next venue and along the way, a member of the company takes on the role of a tour guide, introducing audiences to the history of ONE-TWO-SIX Cairnhill Arts Centre.

 

Just like the three performances that re-imagine TFP’s history, this little journey is an invitation to the audience – to look at this venue, steeped in history, with fresh lens and in turn a new light, as they retrace their steps on this arts centre that has been tucked away and hidden in the shadowy corners of a hill.

 

The company also set up a mini exhibition, allowing audiences to go on their personal explorations, re-discovering the histories of the company. From the format and the content of this performance, it seems that TFP is highly self-aware of its position at an intersection of history, and the two-hour long programme has a deep sense of introspection and a sense of being equipped and ready. 

 

Current Co-Artistic Directors Myra Loke and Ellison hope that Puppet Origin Stories can be a mainstay in the company’s programming, and for different puppets from the company’s history be used for each iteration to create new works. For this first iteration, they invited new Directors to re-interpret the company’s history (includes artists such as Becca D’Bus/Eugene Tan, and first-time theatre Directors Hairi Cromo and Tan Wei Ting), fully expressing the company’s refusal to maintain a conservative and traditional status quo, and its hope to continue being socially relevant. The three Directors rise to the occasion, and by expanding on the company’s history and their perspectives, they tease out unavoidable and tricky questions that most, if not all theatre companies would inevitably have to face. 

 

AH MA is written and directed by Tan Wei Ting, and it tells the story of Ah Ma the puppet and its impending fate of being placed in a museum, having first been created and used in a 2010 performance of Angels in Disguise (A.i.D.). This performance explores the complexities of preserving tradition and performing histories, and throughout the performance we get quirky insights to the show that is A.i.D and the puppet Ah Ma. For example, when the Museum Curator asks Ah Ma’s puppeteer Beng Tian, why is Ah Ma wearing pink? Beng Tian’s response was that today’s situation is unlike the past (hinting at how there wasn’t much awareness about how puppets’ costumes were furthering gender stereotypes), and there weren’t much options when it came to fabric types. This might just be a small detail, but it reminds the audience (and perhaps the company), that details perceived as minute or inconsequential, especially pertaining to personal politics, become important conversations when we reflect upon history; and details that we miss out in history, or that are left out or deliberately shrouded, are more often than not, gaps in history. This creation method is essentially reading against the grain, where the viewer is guided to scrutinize and analyze limitations and blind spots of mainstream narrative or values, in order to draw attention to the voices that have been deliberately or intentionally, neglected or hidden. 

 

SUCK SWEAT DRY, BABY! Written and Directed by Becca/Eugene employs this method of creation much more directly. This piece gives completely new personalities to the puppets of TFP, and magnifies the voices of a minority community (more specifically, in the field of gender identity). The first scene of SUCK SWEAT DRY, BABY! featured a long table that was also used in the company’s 2019 production of a A FIEND’S DIARY. Chinese words are written all over the table, but it is now covered with yellow tape (Becca quips, half-jokingly, that this might be because the current Artistic Director is mindful of the company’s identity as a majority race company.) The Drag Queen Becca lies on this very table, and allows her body morph into a set piece - a mountain. She back faces the audience while lying on her side, baring the marks left behind by the tightening of her corset in the opening scene. A one-eye puppet, Moon Baby, climbs this very mountain, and shares with the audience the types of people it meets along the way – the patriarch in a heteronormative nuclear family etc. After the performance, I read up on Moon Baby’s history online, and realised one of the reasons it had one eye was so it would be easier to manipulate. The next scene of this piece is in a different time and space, in a club.

 

Two puppets meet in a club. Samsui Woman – normally the second fiddle, frequently called up to further pioneer generation narratives, and Sponge Girl – so absorbent it has infinite possibilities, but therefore also having not much personality. They meet, they make love. This fundamental reconstruction of Moon Baby, Samsui Woman and Sponge Girl is a reversion of the core identity of the multi-generations of “female” puppets at TFP, unveiling these usually submissive and passive character personifications and identities, subverting their past roles, and giving them agency and power. SUCK SWEAT DRY, BABY! is a way of looking at TFP’s history, from a female and gendered lens, in the hopes that marginalized voices can be part of the creative vision in a more inclusive and direct manner. One is reminded of that last scene, where audience members can only see the marks left behind on Becca’s body, after performers shine their headlamps on her.

 

By reading against the grain and re-interpreting TFP’s history, it feels that the first iteration of Puppet Origin Stories has created an essential foundational tone that is worthy of continuation: History, regardless of age, requires us to inherit it critically, and any memory, no matter the richness of emotion, requires our repeated questioning, so that the concerns and contexts of our times can relate with each other. These new Directors may not have the emotional baggage of the company’s history, and therefore have a necessary distance from which to engage with its history critically; TFP gave them space to freely reinterpret its history, and that is indeed commendable. But as a production steeped in history, when viewing Puppet Origin Stories and its ambition in being forward-looking, I can’t help but think of the concept of guardianship. What does forward-looking guardianship look like, and how can we put that into practice? 

 

Guardianship is normally translated into “the right to guard” in Chinese. But I do feel that “guard” is slightly heavy in tone, and has a sense of being monitored, controlled, and wielding power over. In the most ideal scenario, guardianship is not about possession or control, and not about heroism or a saviour complex. It is most essential to see it as a sort of promise, a willingness to give care and support, in order to assist in the healthy growth of a being to eventually be independent. The three pieces in Puppet Origin Stories explore the theme of guardianship to different degrees, offering related questions up for unpacking. (I will henceforth refer to “guard” as guardianship.) 

 

AH MA explores an imaginable future, where TFP has folded, and offers a best way to guard the puppet Ah Ma. Should Ah Ma be placed in an ice cold museum, so that she can be forever seen and in turn remembered, but lose her initial reason for existing, or should she follow Beng Tian home, with space to roam, even if this means that she will eventually be placed in a Toyogo Box, and age together with Beng Tian, never making another sound? Of course this is but a fable, one that provokes the audience to think about the best method of guarding Singapore puppetry arts, and the history of Singapore puppetry in general.

 

The entire piece was focused on the tensions between the museum and the individual/theatre company, which led me to ponder, can the role of guardianship only be taken over by a theatre company, a museum or an individual? Can we prevent such a stalemate from happening in the foreseeable future? On top of that, are we too dependent on formalized ways of preservation and legacy, on both conceptual and practical levels? It is as though Singapore Puppetry Arts and its related histories can only be long lasting, if a tangible entity, like a museum or theatre company exists in our consciousness, like how Beng Tian was forced to hand Ah Ma over to the museum for preservation after TFP closed down. This piece led us to reflect (and imagine), outside of existing frameworks, what other channels can we create to protect the healthy growth of puppetry arts in Singapore, and allow it to be independent? At the end, Beng Tian corroborates with the museum security guard and successfully steals the Ah Ma puppet, but accidentally left behind Ah Ma’s memory jewels in the exhibition case,

 

Should we have to make this choice one day, should we devote our resources to the preservation / exhibition / allowing of Singapore’s puppetry arts to peak (but negate history), or persevere in preserving historical memories (but give up on pursuing artistry)? I believe this is not just a macro issue in terms of guardianship / preservation / legacy, but something worth further considering for future iterations of Puppet Origin Stories. 

 

On the other hand, through the irreverent re-creation of historical puppets and props, SUCK SWEAT DRY, BABY! was an introspective investigation into the meaning of guarding these historical artefacts in its original states. The audience is led to reflect – if these artefacts (props and puppets) were stored perfectly solely to protect their original purpose and meaning, then what is the deeper meaning of guardianship? How can we avoid a pristine moment in time becoming an untainted fairy tale? Whose memory are we guarding? And when we incorporate irreverence in our creation, are we inciting feelings of offense in anyone? If so, why do these feelings arise, and how can we turn that into self-reflection that’s constructive and promotes growth? At the same time, when we observe a political correctness fatigue in reinventing histories because of our investment in identity politics, have we considered why certain people have such feelings, and how can we unpack or transform these feelings constructively?

 

And finally, when we talk about guardianship, it is inevitable that we think about the young. JABBER, directed by Hairi Cromo, mainly expresses a child’s first time experiencing any sort of complex psychological journey. In the show, the child (the puppet PENG) was stripped of his prefectorial position because he had improvised playing music in class. Because of this, the child finds himself developing complex feelings that he’s unable to describe nor understand, and it is at this exact moment, that a spirit or a demon (Faceless Maiden puppet) appears, repeatedly inviting or forcing the child to confront, delve into and express that inexplicable emotion.

 

This piece directed by Hairi Cromo unveils the stereotypical mainstream education system’s torment to a child’s free spirit, as well as the uncertainty and fears that one has to endure throughout childhood. From another perspective, if we place the spotlight on the educational institute element of the show, we could perhaps look at it from the perspective of: even though TFP no longer performs solely for the young, school performances are still of importance to them, so how do they continue serving this sector when it has transformed into a different company from what it used to be?

 

In an era where even Sesame Street is no longer in fashion (Ah Ma mentioned that in the past when she promoted TFP to schools, a mere mention of ‘Sesame Street’ would achieve immediate understanding and acceptance from school personnel.), can puppetry performances attract the children in Singapore in a profound manner, or have soothing qualities that no other theatre/art form can? Can puppetry performances guard the young, and how can the young guard Singapore’s Puppetry arts? 

 

I actually really like the concept of Puppet Origin Stories, to let creatives from different artistic backgrounds re-interpret history and artefacts, and letting this be a mainstay program (together with an online repository https://fingerplayers.com/puppet-origin-stories-fundraising/). It feels like an extremely forward-thinking, and pragmatic way of guardianship, whether to puppets, to puppetry arts, or to Singapore’s puppetry history. As an audience member, I too look forward to more original work that centres around histories of puppets and the company. As a starting point, Puppet Origin Storiesmay still be finding its feet. For me, the most obvious challenge might be on a conceptual level: as stated above, a careful balance of artistry, history, and re-creation might be something worth exploring for the company. At the same time, while it is up to the audience to satisfy their curiosities by searching for the puppets and their histories online, but as a show that has history as one of its key selling points, contextualization could be done better. (For example, I only found out after the performance of JABBER, that the “Spirit” puppet is one of TFP’s oldest puppets.”)

 

The little journey in between pieces were also not very convincing, and the opening introduction as well as the little stories shared by the guides did not let audiences feel the company’s emotional attachment to the arts centre, and ironically seemed to undermine the emotive quality that the entire programme was going for, in terms of presenting TFP’s story and history. I look forward to Puppet Origin Stories’ future successes, that it be a practical, sustainable and forward-looking way of guarding.


Performance watched: 8th November 2022, 8pm at Cairnhill Art Centre (Full-dressed Rehearsal)

Presented by The Finger Players






Image(s) courtesy of The Finger Players. Photos by Tuckys Photography


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