This month, we chat with the cast of the Singaporean production of Women of Asia, a play that portrays the plight of Asian women through a series of stories combining dance, comedy and tragedy. Written and directed by acclaimed playwright Asa Gim Palomera, the play, which garnered rave reviews in Bangkok and Melbourne, opens in the city state with a stellar cast featuring Koh Chieng Mun (KCM), Nadia Abdul Rahman (NAR), Kimberly Chan (KC) and Nora Samosir (NS).
Compiled By: Chitra Santhinathan
ARE YOU EXCITED TO BE BACK ON STAGE?
KCM: It has been eight years since my last stage appearance, which was aborted mid-run because of my cancer diagnosis. I was looking around for a good comeback script and Women of Asia was it! I have a lot of room to practise my craft because of the fluidity within the premise of the role, so I’m really excited about this.
DO YOU FIND THEATRE EMPOWERING?
NAR: Absolutely. Theatre connects us and deepens our understanding of issues happening at home and in other places. There are common threads in humanity that we can all relate to regardless of where we are and how we live. Sometimes uncomfortable, but oftentimes rewarding, theatre challenges both the performer and the audience in their views on the human condition. I love the organic nature of theatre in that it is constantly evolving and subject to new interpretations.
WHAT DREW YOU TO WOMEN OF ASIA?
KC: The portrayal of a woman’s spirit as she struggles to find her own place in a patriarchal world, and the realisation that as women, our greatest critics and oppressors, at times, are not men, but women themselves. Many of the stories struck a deep chord in me as a young woman growing up in a very Westernised society such as Singapore, that the struggles for these women are very apparent in the world around us. I felt that this play could help create awareness of such plights and generate conversations that might in some way, promote change.
WHAT IS WOMEN OF ASIA ABOUT?
NS: Women of Asia sheds light on the struggles of women and girls in different countries who share one trait; they are disadvantaged through no fault of their own, but simply because of their gender.
TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR ROLE IN WOMAN ON TOP.
KCM: It’s about a woman who has an important and influential political status. It is a behind the-scenes look at the life of the powerful, rich and famous, and the character’s true feelings as she removes her mask that shields her from the public eye.
HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR YOUR ROLE IN VIRGIN SALE?
NAR: It is about the plight of young girls in Thailand who are sold off to teahouses operated by older women. Their bodies are sold off in exchange for money to help their families build houses. The girls are later sold overseas. To prepare, I spoke to friends from Thailand who were able to ask some girls in the trade about their lives. I also read interviews and stories about these women in order to get a clearer picture.
HAS YOUR DANCE TRAINING PROVEN USEFUL FOR YOUR ROLE IN VIRGIN SALE?
KC: Being a dancer definitely helps me to access the character from a movement point of view, to find the physicality of the woman’s experience and how different that is to my own. The nature of the piece is more movement based, to complement and highlight the text. Being a dancer allows me to fully communicate the things I cannot express through words alone.
TELL US ABOUT INDIAN DOWRY AND THE CHARACTER YOU PLAY.
NS: It’s about the traditional practice of dowry in which the bride brings with her money and property when she joins her husband’s family. The piece explores the young bride’s experience being an outsider and having to prove her worth, especially to her mother-in-law. The tragedy of this practice really is the perpetuation of oppression from generation to generation by the women involved, from mother-in-law to daughter-in law ad infinitum.
WHY DO YOU THINK THEATRE-GOERS SHOULD WATCH WOMEN OF ASIA?
KCM: It’s a must-watch because it presents women who have made it in a male-dominated society, as well as women who have not made it and how their plight is going to continue if awareness is not created. One way to create awareness is through the arts, and Women of Asia is one such vehicle.
WHAT ROLE DOES THEATRE PLAY IN ADDRESSING SERIOUS ISSUES SUCH AS SEXUAL EXPLOITATION?
NAR: It raises awareness, educates and becomes a platform to bring these issues to life. Theatre projects these issues onto ourselves through stories, and becomes the model for public discourse and makes us, both performer and audience, listen.
HOW DO YOU GIVE DIGNITY TO THE CHARACTER OF A SEX WORKER?
KC: I believe the character already has a great deal of dignity despite her unorthodox choice of work. Her journey is something that many people have negative pre-conceived notions about, and to be able to do what you need to survive requires a great deal of inner strength and resilience as a human being. I feel incredibly humbled that I have the opportunity to try and shed light on the industry she has become entangled in, as told by the words of Asa Palomera.
Women of Asia will be staged at Flexible Performance Space, Lasalle in Singapore form June 19 to 21 and 26 to 28, with once daily shows at 8.00 pm on Thursdays and Fridays, and twice daily at 3.00 pm and 8.00 pm on Saturdays. www.ticketmash.sg
Playwright and director Asa Gim Palomera takes travel 3Sixty° behind the scenes of Women of Asia.
I did a lot of research on the lives of women through reading articles, hearing stories and meeting women whose life stories moved me profoundly. The injustice of the situations they were in was the force behind the inspiration.
JOY OF DIRECTING
The first five minutes of the opening night when the house lights are out and the stage lights are up, I’m always filled with gratitude for my actors who are out there breathing life into the characters I’ve created.
My favourites would be Virgin Sale and Japanese Housewife in San Francisco as both reflect the eerie truth that we so often ignore.
TAKEAWAY FOR THE AUDIENCE
I want them to be moved and aware of the plight of people around them and be compassionate about it rather than prejudiced. Only then, can change happen.
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