Meet Mark, Elizabeth, Kenneth and Ezzat Alkaff of Let’s Get Back Together – a play by theatre company, Red Pill Productions.
Its 4-day run is 100% sold out, as of tonight’s Opening Show. It has been through the power of verbatim theatre which has forced the team and cast to intently craft a script based on simple honesty.
We meet these 4 members of the cast in a Q&A to discuss further.
What is verbatim theatre?
Mark: Verbatim is a form of theatre where you interview all sorts of people and you collect the testimonies to form a script.
Lizzy: So 80% of what you’ll watch at Let’s Get Back Together are transcribed interviews – real words from real people, word for word, and the other 20% are the excerpts that we asked various people and whom Mark was inspired by from Facebook, from blogs, from whoever could help bring together the themes and issues we want to tackle with this play.
What’s so challenging about it?
Kenneth: With verbatim theatre, you realise that you have so much power in your hands. We had to ask ourselves: when we are editing and cutting words from the script, are we in a sense, cutting out a part of them as well? So that was definitely a challenge, alongside many sleepless nights.
I noticed the cleverly hidden acronym in (L)et’s (G)et (B)ack (T)ogether. So why is this play called Let’s Get Back Together?
Mark: One reason is, in light of the rising tension between different parties (whether religious or political), this was an unprecedented year for LGBT rights. A greater polarisation of voices has happened in Singapore. For instance, the NLB saga, the whole ban on Ah Mei, Pink Dot and Wear White.
So in response to these events, Let’s Get Back Together aims to capture what we’re trying to do: which is to bring together people from all sides of the issue, to really just stop shouting at each other, and to just start thinking about what the entire issue is really about.
If you were being intentionally selective, what kind of stories were you looking for?
Mark: We had over 50 hours of interviews. And then we, as writers, had to go back to think: How can we condense it and make it into a play that’s worth watching, and engaging at the same time?
Kenneth: Where is our central narrative? Because the nature of verbatim theatre is that we had to keep it open – it was more impromptu. We asked a few key questions and for the rest of the interview, we just did it according to where the participant wanted to take the discussion to, which we felt fulfills the ethical part of verbatim theatre. So when we had all the material, we had to sit down and think: Ok what is the central narrative, what is the common thread that runs through the entire issue?
So how does verbatim theatre effectively communicate ALL THIS to the layman Singaporean?
Kenneth: I think Mark and I realised that you know, when you speak to Singaporeans, they understand issues like ‘this person cannot get married’, or ‘this person has legal problems’, ‘this person has unequal rights to healthcare’ – Singaporeans understand that.
But when you tell people things like ‘heteronormatives’ or ‘cisgender’, they think it’s a very elitist concept. They feel like, “Okay, it’s not my zone anymore, it’s foreign to me, I’m just an average Singaporean. This one is for the ministers and the scholars to talk about. It’s just not my thing.”
But when you humanise these people, when you humanise their stories – saying I’m a Mother, I’m a Father, I’m a Brother first, THEN a gay man, a lesbian, a bisexual – they get that. It’s a strange dynamic, but that’s how we moved forward with the direction of the script.
(To Ezzat) I understand that you are made to play different characters who have different points of view.
Ezzat: Sometimes it’s tough because you have to switch characters really fast. But people’s beliefs tend to overlap. What I mean is that when I listen to two particular audio clips of the two characters I have to internalise, I have trouble remembering which one of them said this, and which one said that. I guess it’s partly because people go through the same things as they were growing up, which links back to how I was saying that these issues are universal, and they are not just for the LGBT community.
What can the audience expect out of this play?
Mark: We want them to be challenged, and to feel positively uncomfortable watching it. We hope to not just make the show a one-off thing; we want to also be able to provide closure. So we’ve tied up with all the other LGBT help groups to make sure they can answer any queries, or address any concerns anyone has.
Lizzy: We’ve got the help groups to link people up, that there are avenues for help for some people, and also for like other people who don’t know. Coming from a Catholic community, I found it really interesting to find out that there were groups like SAFE who include parents who are journeying with their child to find their sexual identity.
Kenneth: It’s fine if you come to the play not believing in equality – it’s fine. But we want to make sure that when you come to the play, you hear the other side of the story. Now you know both sides of the story, now you’re free to choose – we don’t want to impose it on you either.
And finally, (to Mark) what is your one wish for Singapore?
Mark: My one wish is that citizens in Singapore will stop being treated like babies, that we are given a bit more credit than we are due to be able to make responsible, ethical, and meaningful stuff that should be done.
Let’s Get Back Together starts on the 2nd of September and ends on the 5th of September, and will be staged at the Central National Library’s Drama Centre from 8 PM onwards. All tickets are sold out, though unclaimed tickets are sold on a ‘first come first serve’ basis at 7.45 PM every night.