Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Drama 1st Years helped launch NLB's READ! Singapore programme today with their dramatic reading from "To Kill a Mockingbird." It was interesting to compare our performance with the other 3 items because it was certainly different in style and genre. The most obvious difference was that our performers read from text that they carried on stage whereas the others were actual performances. We went for realism: movement that had definite motivational cues, the others went abstract and stylized. It's not so much a case here of which performance was better than another, but it seems like we were the odd ones out.

This fact became quite pointed when during the shmooze session, a lady representing a local Chinese drama organization commented with good intentions that our item was a bit static and could have used more movement. I totally agree. If we had been off-script, there could have been a more detailed study of the characters in terms of gesture, traffic pattern, anything other than a repetitive stand-sit-stand make-contact-break-contact kind of interaction; but considering the scenario we were playing and the style we were presenting in, I chose to move only when there was a real need to rather than move for the sake of moving; to not overkill a scene by playing around with light and sound; to bring in new elements without precedent; and to have characters stand around waiting for a line without having a reason or purpose to appear onstage other than to deliver it; all for the sake of giving the audience something to look at so they don't get bored. No wonder I don't win awards for my directorial attempts.

Anyway, this READ! Singapore programme aims to get everybody reading a common set of books -- a canon comprising 3 specific titles for each of our 4 national languages -- and then start book clubs wherever we are, work or neighbourhood or in transit, to discuss them.

"Eh, Seng, you read "Tequila Mockingbird" or not?"
"Ya, that Ah Tikus is my ou xiang. Now I wan' to study lor...!"
"But that May-la, dam' b**ch one, ok? Mei you liang xin for the black guy."
"Ayah, black people always very poor thing lah. But Ah Tikus fight for them, that's why I like him!"
"Actually, I'm more of a Bo guy..."
"No lah! Carrie will be the next American Idol!"

I feel so literate already. Oh, well, at least we're talking.

But seriously, it may be idealistic, but I too am buying in on the need to read. We live in the too-much-information age. What info we access is so transitory, so rapidly mutable, that it affects the way we think and the way our belief structure works. We learn quickly that nothing in our world is permanent and apply this attitude to things that do need a sense of the long-term, our values and our relationships, for example.

Reading for pleasure helps us slow time down. Unlike information, the stuff in stories does not change, and we get horribly upset if someone tries to do just that. A work of Fiction may have all the descriptive details thrown into the text, but our imaginations fully engage to fill in the gaps where language proves inadequate. This is how we exercise our ability to dream, and dreams are in short supply in this place.

Ironically, the kind of industry our country is moving into is named "knowledge-based," but we'll never survive just providing information alone 'cos it's too cheap and too easily available anywhere in the networked world. We should sell dreams instead -- they are from an unlimited source, our minds -- and we have the facilities, technology and know-how here to turn them into reality for other people. It's a more fun and rewarding business to get into, besides.

So here's my 2 cent's worth for READ! Singapore: Go grab a book and learn to read for fun; can you afford not to?

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