I instinctively told myself he was not Oliver when I spotted him as I stepped inside the wooden hut constructed just outside of Marina Bay Sand’s main entrance. He was, in that moment and space, an actor performing a role in this durational performance in SIFA 2016 entitled Time Between Us.
I walked around the hut before entering it. Its wooden wall was chalk-scribbled words that I later found out to be part of texts by Fernando Rubio – the Argentine artist who created this piece with Oliver. I peeked through the windows of the hut and saw some people inside the hut. I walked in and saw Oliver (who was not Oliver) and some other random people. There were more chalk scribbles inside the hut, a bed, benches and some photographs pinned to the wall. Oliver (who was not Oliver) moved about in the hut quietly. So were the others. I sat down on the bench intending to soak in the ambience but a lady took out her phone and placed it inches from my shoulder to take a photo of the chalk scribble behind me. She was oblivious to my discomfort of such closeness and stayed there for quite a while trying to secure the best picture she could take with her phone camera. She finally moved away and I managed to sit there watching people outside the hut looking into the hut on me, Oliver (who was not Oliver) and other random people. It was not long before Oliver (who was not Oliver) walked to the door and said to everyone: thank you, while pointing towards the outdoor. We stood up and left the hut. End of Part I.
Oliver (who was not Oliver) shut the door behind us. I looked up the performance schedule and learnt that there would be a conversation between Oliver (who was not Oliver) and Natalie Hennedige – Artistic Director of Cake Theatrical Production, in 30 minutes time. At some point I ran into Oliver’s wife, PS, who told me there were still tickets available at the door for the conversation. I bought one and was brought into the hut again when the time arrived.
Hennedige came in with a small suitcase after all audience took our seats. She sat in front of Oliver (who was not Oliver) and started by explaining her plan to work with Oliver using some props she brought with her and some characters she prepared, as well as her usual process of working with actors. It might have been a minute or so into her explanation when Oliver (who was not Oliver) abruptly asked: who are you talking to? Hennedige looked surprised but swiftly pointed to a scribble on the wall which wrote: Oliver Chong. That moment seemed to reveal a mismatch between whom Hennedige was expecting to meet (actor Oliver Chong) vs who was in that moment (Oliver, who was not Oliver). It set me wondering what was the brief given to both. Subsequently, this session did not go smoothly, to neither party nor this audience. Hennedige tried hard to convince Oliver (who was not Oliver) to proceed with some actions/texts she prepared for her characters. Oliver (who was not Oliver) seemed to struggle for quite a while before deciding to go along with Hennedige’s instructions. Even then, he was merely executing the instructions in near robotic manners. Props which Hennedige prepared included a wig, a piece of clean white under-pant, a red lipstick which she used to write ‘Save Me’ on Oliver’s (who was not Oliver) body after he took off his t-shirt on her instruction, as well as a small container of ping pong balls in various colours. I remembered her characters and texts were related to topic of suicide. It was apparent to me that Hennedige was planning to have a ‘conversation’ with actor Oliver, but instead getting Oliver (who was not Oliver) responding to her characters.
Finally a series of quick knocks heard on the door. That was the cue for Hennedige to pick up her suitcase (which she packed in all the props she brought) and stood to leave. She turned before exiting to say: Good Luck to Oliver (who was not Oliver). She said something further to the effect that she thought it was great Oliver was doing this performance but she doubted she herself would be able to stay in this hut for five days without turning suicidal. End of part II.
Oliver (who was not Oliver) shut the door behind us. I looked up the performance schedule and learnt that there would be a performance on texts by Fernando Rubio. I bought a ticket and waited for the daily light show on Marina Bay to be over before being let into the hut again.
After audience took the seats, Oliver (who was not Oliver) grabbed a camera hung on the wall and took a picture of a random audience. He pulled out the instant photo and pinned it onto the wall. He took a chalk and scribbled more texts onto the walls, before starting his verbal delivery. According to the performance introduction material:
He tells a story reflecting upon the place where he once belonged, the different ways to leave it behind and observe it, the passing of time and events, and the transformations that may be possible.
It was not an easy text to digest, as it was not a linear narrative. The text was poetic, and not entirely conversational. Some transcript of the text can be found in Ng Yi-Sheng’s blog here.
While the text was rather non-Oliver, the delivery was. The way he broke the sentences. Crisp. Matter-of-fact-ly. Made me stayed alert to try catching every word. Not always successful. I was seeing both actor Oliver and Oliver (who was not Oliver) in the space. It reminded me what Hennedige said during her conversation session earlier, in her attempt to persuade Oliver (who was not Oliver) to go along with her plan, that an actor will always carry a part of themselves on stage no matter what characters they are playing.
Yet there was an unfamiliar depth/range of emotions which I didn’t remember seeing in Oliver’s past performances. Not fully grounded yet, but refreshing. At one point in the text, he walked to me and placed his hand on my shoulder and said: I’m alright. In that split second, I was debating if I should respond as a friend of actor Oliver or an audience of Oliver (who was not Oliver). I decided on the later and looked back to him quietly.
He continued and increasingly emotional. At some point, he wept. He had that familiar controlled craft of actor Oliver while also moments of letting go. Moments of unleashing a beast within him. Moments.
What triggered that? The text? The space? The duration? The watching of people inside and outside of the hut for 5 days?
The storytelling ended when Oliver (who was not Oliver) opened the door and sent us all outside. He reappeared on top of the hut and shouted to us: It doesn’t end here!
End of Part III.
There was a huge crowd outside of the hut catching Pokemon throughout my visit to the performance. I managed to catch three new Pokemon for my collection while waiting to enter the hut for the performance. It was the first time I witness the size of mass gathering lured by Pokemon Go. As I wormed through the crowd with faces lit up by their mobile phone, I wondered what sort of beasts were hidden inside them.
PS. The following song was played by Oliver (who was not Oliver) on his laptop during his storytelling session.