Catching Up With Darryl, From His New Play ‘Colours’ To First Memory Of Life

I know you’re a human being and that’s all that matters.

By Alvina Koh

May 13 2019

Since our last interview with Darryl a few months back, the Artistic Director of Split Theatrical Productions has moved on from ‘Fourteen’ to ‘Colours’, a play revolving around the beauty of living in the present. Based on the deep-seated experiences of Darryl and his team, this piece encourages one to confront their inner turmoils and to learn to be okay with it. Hear what Darryl has to say about his new play as STYLEGUIDE talks to him about the conception and execution of ‘Colours’, along with some of his personal anecdotes. Read on for a surprise giveaway at the end of the post!  

Since our last interview in October 2018, what has changed about you and from your last production?

All of my scripts are based on my actors – when I have a different group, the stories that are told are different as well. In my perspective, this is what makes the stories organic, because in contrast to telling the stories from my perspective, I want to give a voice to the actors and actresses themselves.

For ‘Colours’, it’s quite special and different from the plays that I had created in the past because I had only conceived of the title – Colours – prior to recruitment and that was all to it. I got people in and heard them talk about their stories, based on their responses to a poem by T.S. Elliot, which talks about the drudgery of our daily lives and our occasional dreams to feel elevated and superior among the rest. From here, the theme ‘struggle’ came out, though many were rather apprehensive in showing this side initially.

In this sense, knowing the backstory of the actors and watching them exhibit their struggles through the play, be it through a metaphor or such, is very enlivening. For me, it is particularly exciting because it allows both the audience and performers to interpret the play in their own terms, in which both ways allow a unique and significant meaning to emerge.

I’m also doing my Masters right now and am currently researching on the Grotowski method of theatre. In this type of theatre, it speaks about the importance of the actors to gift him or herself on stage; and to that, self-fulfilment happens. It’s not a theatre about self-representation; rather, it is a theatre that talks about the encounters between human beings, and in my view, this is what I feel theatre should and can be about. In Colours then, I give a lot of free reign to the actors to devise their characters and own lines. I want the actors to translate their vulnerabilities into a form of strength by showcasing and owning it on stage, and to understand what is at the essence of being human – to be able to make mistakes and to also not judge those for making mistakes in their lives. I want to know what it’s like to be kind, amidst all the ongoing conversations and disagreements, and to look at people as a fellow being with flaws.

Most importantly, I just want the actors to feel represented. I believe that many who come to the arts are interested in expressing themselves, and I wish that theatre could be this place for them. And Colours precisely performs this function – it doesn’t conform to the norms expected in theatre and seeks to keep it relevant for the actors and audience themselves.

Darryl (blue) with his team. 

Tell us more about Colours. What is it supposed to symbolize and how does it relate to the local audience?

Colours is about representation; however, this representation has to be based on the true identities of the actors themselves. I do not wish to force any alternate identities onto the actors themselves, else it would seem unnatural. By doing so, the actors can accurately portray their own struggles.

I also incorporated a story known as ‘Jacob wrestling with the angel’, which talks about the grapple between man and god. In this story, Jacob is persistent in knowing the name of God – in which he continually posits the question “Tell me your name!”, to be certain about what he wants to know. However, Jacob fails to find out and, in the process, had his hipbone broken by the divine spirit.

To me, I find that it is not always easy and possible for us to be certain; what if there are struggles that can’t be named nor resolved? There are actors who have issues which honestly cannot be resolved and properly identified. To this, I pose the question – so what? I want to know if we are able to ‘break our own hipbone’ and not persistently try to be certain about our lives. I want us to confront the truth in us – that we are individuals with daily struggles, who can also be mundane at times. I want us to just accept that sometimes, we are just like that lor. Haha!

To get the 'colours' of life, which represents the nuances and details of our daily lives, the play aims to compel the audience to focus on letting go of the black-and-whites that we consistently pursue (getting a good job, doing well in school etc.) and instead pause to appreciate the small little things. Particularly in Singapore, we are constantly on the go, rushing to get and be the best thing. Students are swarmed with tuition – what are we chasing? I just want us to stop and enjoy the colours around us. Stop to enjoy the colours of life!

What is the biggest setback you have faced in managing Split Theatrical Productions and how has this affected you?

I have had a couple of failed relationships in managing Split. At the start when managing Split, I was more determined in creating art, and I found it hard to strike a balance between articulating my own perspective and accepting that of others, especially in one situation when an actor tried to step up to lead the play and had a different direction than I did. It was rather hard for me to find this sweet spot of managing both, and I did learn a lot from it. I saw this as a ‘mis-take’ – we took different directions, but it doesn’t mean that either one of our thoughts is wrong. I was able to grow and learnt to empathize, even when someone else had a different roadmap than I did.

After the first production, I also opened up Split to many ‘non-friends’ to diversify the team. In doing so, I realized that eh, I can’t act in any way that I want! I was afraid of judgement, and I felt that I couldn’t be myself for a while. I was also listening to the thoughts and advice of many, and I began to think that I was losing my own voice, through which the notion of being right and wrong took precedence. I struggled to figure out what were the necessary measures in keeping the group close and cohesive, and ensure at the same time that we were not ignoring the expectations of the stakeholders beyond the actors and directors ourselves – this includes the audience, designer, choreographer etc. We cannot be in our own world the entire time ma! Dealing with my responsibility to the team, as well as accountability to the other stakeholders and myself is thus something I’m still learning to balance till this day.

If you could switch lives with someone for a day, who would it be and why?

Honestly, must I? Haha! I don’t want to switch lives with anyone, because it has no meaning to me to just be in someone’s shoes for a day without understanding their journey. It’s the journey that counts.

What’s your biggest fear?

Wow. Well, this sounds very contradictory, but I think I’m most afraid that one day I’ll realize that everything that I’ve done or believed in so far, is wrong. I’m afraid that one day, someone or something can come and put a stop to all my actions, and proceed to tell me that my beliefs are my self-devised ways of escaping the wrong. It’s rather ironic but I think this is only likely if I’m currently living in some simulation. 

First memory of life?

When my brother and I were younger, I believe I was still in kindergarten then, we used to play “real-life” Street Fighter! We would actually go from room to room to fight each other! Each room represents different portals, where after either one of us loses or wins one round, we would proceed into another room to battle again. That’s how we mess up the entire house – haha!

Word of advice for millennials aspiring to delve into the arts scene, or theatre in Singapore?

Don’t let anyone say that you are wrong, and don’t change your voice for others. Meanwhile, stay humble, listen very deeply and closely to the people who really care about you. Don’t just hear; listen.

Amidst the drudgery of life, are we missing something subtle and beautiful? As we become fixated about what might have been, or about what's ahead for us, aren't we neglecting the very present that is a gift to us? Take a break, listen to us, and your inner voice, as we embark on a journey that you will never forget. Experience a story of your own, make your own meaning, and get in touch with your essential self as you hop onto the craft and ascend into the colours of your very own being.

Not sure what to do this Vesak Day weekend? Well grab a friend then, because STYLEGUIDE will be giving away 2 complimentary tickets to 'Colours' - either Friday (17/5) at 8 pm or Saturday (18/5) at 3 pm! Simply like and share this post on your Facebook page, and tag 1 friend that you wanna bring along to the play. 

Giveaway ends 16 May, 8pm. Be sure to check out Split Theatrical Productions on their Facebook page for more information!

All photos courtesy of Chen Zhi Rong

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