The small stage of the World Music Hall looked vast with only some old books, a stool covered with black cloth, a huge white wicker chair, and other remnants scattered in its corners. Artist-in-Residence Ang Gey Pin, a short woman full of life and energy, emerged on stage and told a dramatic short tale of love and woe. After concluding the story, the house lights came on and Ang asked viewers if they thought this tale was a good idea for a short story.
“I will show you a good time,” Ang said. “This play has everything.”
These sort of actor-audience interactions characterized last weekend’s world premiere of “By the Way,” created and performed by Ang.
From dancing enigmatically around the stage, to sitting in her giant wicker chair pensively, “By the Way” was a glimpse into the life of an actress working to reclaim and celebrate her roots and culture. The idea of a door and doorkeeper was the central theme Ang employed to explore her ideas of possibility, potential, and memory.
Throughout the performance Ang changed personas and donned different accessories, creating many personalities and manifestations of memory and culture.
“I am an actress,” Ang said. “It is my nature, I will do as many roles as I can.”
Most of the performance was in English, but certain texts and songs were in Mandarin Chinese and Chinese dialects. Ang has spent lots of time studying these languages and working to resist the active suppression of the dialects from her birth place in Singapore where they were restricted from use in public during her childhood.
Ang started her formal theatre career with an apprenticeship at the Practice Theatre Ensemble in Singapore in 1986. After that, she received her B.A. in Theatre from the University of Hawaii, and in 1995 co-founded Theatre Ox, where she created new and innovative performances. Recently, she worked in Italy at the Workcenter and has traveled the world performing her original works. She was awarded the Young Artists Award from the National Arts Council of Singapore in 1999 and won Italy’s prestigious Ubu award for her play, “One Breath Left.”
In “By the Way,” Ang showcased her amazing singing skills, chanting Buddhist meditations as well as original scores written for this play. Her unusual acting and singing style included constantly fluctuating between pitches and keys as she raced around stage, picking up props and demanding the audience to follow her every move.
“Since I’m in Gey Pin’s workshop class, I was not unfamiliar with her style, though certainly in a different context,” said Annie Paladino ’09. “After seeing the performance, I was struck by the balance she maintained between apparently spontaneous exploration and meticulously scored action.”
Even though “By the Way” was first performed at Wesleyan, Ang worked on material for it in Singapore over this past summer. However, the play really crystallized when Ang was able to finally start rehearsing in the World Music Hall.
“The World Music Hall has its own characteristic in its architecturality,” Ang said. “So, to see it in terms of possibilities of lighting, its acoustic, the nature of the physical space… and finding ways to make it all work theatrically.”
This past Wednesday at lunch, Ang invited the Wesleyan community to watch her rehearse and discuss questions they had from the weekend performances. Students seemed most interested in discovering how Ang created her work and how she related to the audience. Also, many audience members asked about the eclectic songs and texts scattered throughout the performance.
“There were certainly points where I did not understand what was literally occurring on stage, even after seeing it several times, especially the songs in Chinese,” said Nick Benacerraf ’08, a lighting designer for the show. “But that did not bother me because so much of the performance is aimed at eliciting an emotional response, which her songs accomplished without any problem.”
Ang explained that while she listens to the audience reaction and speaks directly to the audience, she cannot work her piece around the audience or it will get sloppy and slow.
“I found her relationship with the audience to be genuine and even refreshing,” said Dylan Marron ’10. “Audience interaction with the performer is often limited to a stage-y conversation, but in her performance I felt as though she were not only breaking down the fourth wall but almost denying that it ever existed.”
Ang welcomed the audience into her performance and showed actors and audiences alike that theatre is an evolving process that, at its finest, is a beauty to experience.
“In our profession, we have our craft, our skill, our acting score (like any music score),” Ang said. “To fight to keep our creative life alive each time we perform is our task.”