Divergent Path

February 2020

My name is Mitch Leow, and I have just wrapped on a production of Sally Cookson’s “The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe” at Nicholas Hytner’s beautiful Bridge Theatre by Tower Bridge in London. This marks the culmination of my 15 year stage career on the West End stage, starting with “Turandot” at the Royal Opera House in 2005, and then “The Lion King” at the Lyceum theatre the following year.

I have plans for the new year – mainly to develop my voice as a writer for stage and screen, as well as finding new roles to play in musical theatre. I am an activist for representation on the world stage. There are offers for participation in workshops. I enrol on a playwriting course for budding writers.

I accept a job at a top-tier gym in London, aiming to find a separate occupation to pay the bills whilst I navigate through new terrain in the theatre scene.

 

March 2020

13th March Friday

An ominous Friday: Announcements by government officials regarding the measures adopted by the UK government play on a loop in news cycle everywhere. ‘Herd immunity’ is the topic of discussion on everyone’s lips. I stare, knitting my brows together, at the screen as the official says the words, “Many families, many more families, are going to lose loved ones before their time.” The language of war rhetoric in the address is obvious. I cannot quite believe what I am hearing.

16th March Monday

The events of this week will result in a complete scramble for the citizenry in the UK. The governing body decides to lockdown the country in stages, starting with schools first. There is a panic as impending lockdown shifts into gear.

I am informed by my gym that I will not be starting my new job until further notice. Several projects are put on hold. Auditions and castings are halted in light of the rising concern over the infection rate of the virus in London itself.

Theatres report rising level of sickness amongst cast members in shows, resulting in a concert version of a West End show being shown instead of a show with a full cast.

I get messages and calls from family and friends in Singapore wondering about my situation in London. Am I safe? Am I going to be looked after? How will I fare if I had to go into lockdown in my tiny rented room in London that I share with several other city workers who are already working from home at this point in time?

A friend who works in Singapore Airlines contacts me and strongly advises me to consider taking the trip home to Singapore to shelter this storm. I book the ticket the same evening and contact a fellow Singapore compatriot who had his masters studies halted in the midst of this pandemic. I tell him when I am flying and he is put on a wait list for a flight out of London.

23rd March Monday

I get on the phone and say goodbye to a few friends whom I consider to be a second family to me in London – they are my lungs and my heart; my support system. I tell them I will miss them, and that I cannot wait to see their faces and hug them again.

I get to Heathrow airport and check in. My Singaporean compatriot gets a call from the MFA and confirms a seat for him on the same flight as myself. He packs and rushes to the airport in the span of four hours.

As we are boarding the plane, UK officials are announcing the lockdown of the entire country that will start the next day. When we leave the ground, as we are borne into the air by a Singaporean vessel leaving behind London soil, I feel a gathering heaviness in my heart. I know I am safe, but I cannot deny the kind of pain I was feeling, tearing myself away from the life I have been living for the past 20 years.

 

April – May 2020

I go through a 14 day quarantine when I get home, and am directly ushered into a Circuit Breaker here in Singapore. I understand the vulnerable situation that my parents are in. Throughout this time, I can never see my mother in person – she is a stage 4 breast-cancer survivor. I live, and breathe, and dine, in a separate part of the flat to my father who has high blood pressure.

I am impressed by the measures rolled out by the Singapore government to assist all of their citizens in this uncertain time. I am even more impressed by the scientific approach to shielding, contact tracing and isolating that is happening on this island. Through all of this, Singapore has tried to leave no man behind in the fight against this pandemic.

I keep an eye out for the news in the UK. I mourn for the theatre and arts industry that was once the envy of world. Theatre companies are going into liquidation. Employees in theatre related jobs are put on furlough, and are facing redundancy. Most of these people are my friends. All casting news slowly diminish to silence.

Most days I wake up, and stare out the window at the pool outside the flat. It is out of bounds. Most days, I wonder what will happen if I decide not to move from the bed and just allow myself to wallow in my sorrow.

14th May Thursday

I unceremoniously, but graciously, turn 40 on this quiet Thursday in the midst of the Circuit Breaker. My sister comes over to the flat with a tub of vanilla ice cream and a candle, making sure that she has her surgical-mask on all the time. Vanilla ice cream is my favourite thing to have in the hot tropical Singapore weather. She dials her mobile, and there on Facetime is my mother, my nephew and my niece. She lights the candle and there is a cacophony of “Happy Birthday” in English and Mandarin.

At twelve midnight, I receive an international group video-chat. My best friends from college are calling me from their various locations in the world – London, Scotland and Brooklyn. Gemma is busy doing DIY on her flat now that she has all the time during lockdown. Liam finds himself in his old family estate in Glasgow with his parents. Chloe is heavily pregnant at 8 months, and is glad that the hospital in NYC will allow her husband into the hospital with her when she goes into labour.

A friend sends me well-wishes on my birthday along with this message:

“Be part of this year’s historic National Day Parade 2020! We are looking for good brave dancers ready to commit for two months starting from 10th June 2020. If you think you have it, please contact us with your name and details as well as an audition video for the duration of the Circuit Breaker.” – Zaini Mohd Tahir

My friend knows that I have danced for Zaini before – twenty years ago. I give myself a few days to consider this. Over this period of isolation, I no longer feel agile and flexible. Even my heart feels brittle. I wonder if I am able to produce something on video that will allow me to be seen by the choreographer.

I get out of bed. I decide to go for a run. I feel heavy and uncoordinated, having spent so much time indoors. Still, I feel good from running. I keep this up for a few days. I start to take my phone with me on my runs. In the absence of people, I film myself dancing. I clear the floor in my bedroom of furniture, and I summon the lessons of so many dance teachers, instructors and mentors. They respond like a beautiful memory, awakening my body to the moment of action. I recall my Graham teachers saying, “Dance is glorified behaviour. A dancer is an athlete of God. To dance is to say to the world – I am here; I exist; watch me fly.”

 

June 2020

Audition

I walk into the huge studio in MDC Nee Soon Camp. Immediately, I see the familiar faces of the choreographer and producer. I wave empathically at them. In the expanse of the enormous studio with a high ceiling, wide mirrors and a luxurious clean dance floor, my mind explodes into the space. The moment of relief is the most beautiful thing I have felt in the last couple of months. All through the audition, I am uncertain – I keep questioning myself; I am like a newborn giraffe trying to stand on its barely formed legs. However, the rush of air into the lungs feels good, and the oxygen that is finding its way into the heart and the brain is refreshing and exhilarating.

I get home and I have no idea what will come of the audition. But it is the first time in months that I have felt hope. And I sense that it is good.

I call my friend in London and tell him, “I feel like myself again.”

Rehearsals

We are in the midst of rehearsals, setting movement to a piece of music by singer-songwriter, Namie. Zaini talks to us about musicality, dramatic intention in movement, and improvisation. He asks us to consider, evaluate, and push the boundaries of our own artistry in this process.

I am meditating on the movement for the piece. I am at one with my breath. My body is ready to react to the instant.

I hear the words of the song as if she is saying it to me.

“A lone bird stood still

In the middle of the flock

Wings over its face

Unsure of its place

Should it stay or should it go?”

I marvel at the artistic soul and its pursuit to express the universal – how wonderful it feels that the words that express my own anxiety is captured by another artist. My vision becomes hazy. I realise I am welling up.

I look around me at this collective group of dancers. Some – like myself – are vocational artists who have followed their paths for years. Our lives have all halted so dramatically during this time of crisis, mostly with no salvation in sight. Others – the younglings – are just starting out, learning the ropes, and relishing the experience of being in a group and moving together as one. All of us, with different disciplines, different paths in life, suddenly finding ourselves together for this one purpose.

“Can you just imagine

Birds of different feathers

Flying in a flock together”

I wonder how best to honour my journey as an artist – as a dancer, a singer, an actor and a storyteller – at this present time. I understand so deeply what a dancer is. A dancer is a human being living his life to the fullest. A dancer is a body capturing the music, the rhythm, the vibe, the intention of the narrative. A dancer is an exemplar of behaviour and action. A dancer is a testament to discipline, dedication and long, long, long hours of hard work.

The West End theatre industry that I was immersed in for the past 20 years is in stasis. There is no lifeblood. All activity is currently halted. The governing body is not offering any help. Theatres are shutting down. Thousands and thousands are losing their jobs. We are waiting for a resurrection that may not come.

This strange and unique show of resilience on our little island by a small group of 50 dancers gives me hope – that with intellect and know-how we can resurrect the arts. It is the most marvellous mission of protecting the arts with all of the scientific measures that we have, and all of the precautions that we can take to still allow this precious living thing to breathe life again.

This National Day, upon my own reflection, does not feel like a celebration. The world we live in today is drastically changed. Change is one of the most uncomfortable things to deal with, to tolerate, much less to celebrate. However, in the struggle of recent months and the triumph of the measures taken by the Singapore governing body and its citizenry, it definitely calls for an occasion to display our collective spirit as Singaporeans, to commemorate the efforts by all Singaporeans, to be united in our national effort of recovery. The hard-earned success that we have attained at this time is the result of planning, caution, and an immense level of care in all sectors, including the work by all performers involved. There is no better display of resilience, endurance and persistence than that embodied by the dancer – who has spent every ounce of energy, every waking minute, every dream and aspiration to make these moments on the stage and in front of the screen come true.

MitchLeow (68 of 228)-Edit

Photo by Cristian Piccini

 

Global Enlightenment

The problem is systemic and historical. The problem is injustice, unfairness and inequality.

The reason that it has catalysed and set off a movement THROUGHOUT THE WORLD is that at this present time, all countries suddenly find themselves in the same natural crisis, and it has exposed every citizen to policies, to news, to media and to how their governing bodies value their lives.

It is not a problem unique to one country. It is a problem that has roots so deep that it has repercussions throughout the world.

Unfairness. Injustice. Inequality.

These are things that incite our emotions because innately we know that the values of fairness, justice and equality should never be disrupted in favour of an oppressor.

We sit in silent meditation, in prayer, in temples and churches, asking that ALL BEINGS EVERYWHERE be blessed with peace, harmony and love. At some point we have to mean it – that it applies to ALL BEINGS; that goodwill extends to those EVERWHERE; that our intention is truly to find peace and harmony and love with other beings.

This is why you need to make a stand.

Our black brothers and sisters, ALL OVER THE WORLD, need our help in this time of global enlightenment. Understand what it means.

How hard is it to perform with Puppets?

During this time, I have had the opportunity to answer some questions that theatre graduates had pertaining to Puppetry in Theatre. Some of my response to them are copied below:

Bunraku Puppet

Bunraku puppet in “Madam Butterfly” at ENO as designed by Blind Summit Puppet Theatre.

Puppetry and prop manipulation are definitely a craft unto their own. Experienced puppeteers will always tell you, “It is one thing to move a puppet through space like an object, but it is another to give it life, and yet another to give it a sense of purpose.” As we are in the business of story-telling, perfecting puppetry means getting the puppet that you are manipulating to tell a story.

This craft is certainly difficult to hone, but it is an essential tool in story-telling. If I can breakdown the challenges of working with puppets, I will list them as these points below:

1. Weight and Core  – to be able to manipulate a puppet, you must be able to first pick it up, so the strength in your body to hold onto, or to sustain the weight of the puppet, and to carry it for the duration of the performance, is crucial.

Eg. Think about the Phumba puppet in “The Lion King”, where the actor has to wear the puppet through all his scenes from the end of Act One, and all the way through Act Two. Consider the giraffes in the ensemble, which require each cast members to be on stilts and remain in an inclining forward position with a puppet head strapped onto the crown on their heads. This requires an immense amount of control in the body to move and carry the puppet, and a strong core to sustain this shape for a long time.

Eg. In “The Lion,The Witch & The Wardrobe”, the “Aslan” lion-pagoda-puppet is manipulated by a team of 7 puppeteers. The puppet appears and remains on stage for long durations in Act Two, demanding incredible strength and endurance from the cast.

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Aslan in “The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe” at Bridge Theatre as designed by Puppet Director Craig Leo.

 

2. Dexterity & Grip – even the simplest of puppets or props require the manipulator to touch/hold onto them in manageable fashion to enable controlled motion. The ability to understand how, and to physically hold onto puppet elements and articulate them is important.

Eg. In a chase sequence across the stage, miniature versions of the Phumba and Nala puppets are mounted onto long staffs which the actors have to carry with them as they leap and dance around the stage. It is important that the actor is able to maintain a steady grip on the staffs so that the puppets remain in the upright configuration and are able to suggest the movements of a wild boar being chased by a lioness.

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Original Aslan puppet designed for Leeds Playhouse by Craig Leo.

3. Breath, Speech and Life – what puppet directors look for in puppet manipulation is the ability for the puppet to appear to have a life of its own, and for that to fit into the scheme of the story that is being told. The ability to convince the audience to suspend their disbelief, and to trust that the amalgamation of paper and string on the stage is an actual living being, depends on the commitment of the actor to simulate breath and life-like movement in the puppet. The actor also has to align the puppet action to verbal cues, and also match the puppet speech with spoken text.

Eg. The “Zazu” puppet operates on a system of triggers, and in order to get the bird to “speak”, the trigger has to be pulled in sync with the words that the actor is speaking. This gives the audience an impression that the sounds are coming from the bird’s beak and not from the actor’s lips.

4. Dedication & Humility – working with an extraneous element can be frustrating at the best of times. When you’ve spent years perfecting certain skills in your skillset, it is a big ask to take on another craft in order to perform a role. However, with puppet work, it is essential that the actor is committed to creating the illusion with the puppet. This ensures that the storytelling comes to life. Above all, the actor has to work harmoniously with the puppet, and even step aside to allow the puppet to take the limelight. The puppet is a design creation. As an object, it will always be more interesting and demand the audience’s attention. Actors who understand this and dedicate their energy to making the puppeteering craft work actually experience more success.

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Lioness puppet headdress from female dancers in “The Lion King” designed by director Julie Taymor.

Eg. The lionesses in “The Lion King” each have a vessel/mask-like lioness face puppet fastened onto their heads. As dancers, they are challenged with high energy, precise, technique-driven contemporary choreography. An ornament or object that throws a dancer off-balance can be the most frustrating thing for any professional mover. The dancer that is constantly trying to make this design factor work, putting aside her ego, and practising to perfect the choreography with the puppet, displays not just a high level of skill, but also a acute sense of professionalism.

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Aslan puppet on stage at Bridge Theatre in puppet rehearsal. Designed by Craig Leo.

Let me see the world…

close up photography of bronze bowls

Photo by Magicbowls on Pexels.com

 

I’ve thought about what I miss most from the world I used to know. The thoughts are usually fleeting, but I decided to put it down in words when I unexpectedly shed tears in a yoga session whilst reciting a mantra along with an online instructor. It was the sound of his Indian accordion, along with the singsong manner of the mantra, followed by the collective resonant vibration of a full studio of yogis vocalising in different vocal registers droning along – all of it culminated in a sensorial overload that triggered  my emotional brain, and led me to think, “Oh, how I miss this experience.”

I remember the cityscapes of my life – the concrete jungles teeming with life; the hustle and bustle of the streets in the city, often fearing for my own life as I tried to negotiate my way through; people going about their day with places to go and people to see. I love – LOVE – running into people in the city. Over twenty years of friendships, acquaintances and relationships with then-strangers-now-familiar-faces making a cold, unfriendly place finally feel like home to me. When I recall these instances, there is a palpable joy that I can taste at the corners of my upturned lips.

I can almost feel the sunlight streaming through lush treetops whilst I stroll through parks, listening to the hysterical screams of children playing and running circles around their minders. In my mind, I see the long shadows that buildings cast onto their counterparts as the day is ending, and the city folk unwind in the cool of a pub or an outdoor bistro. Even the unpleasant squeeze to get to the bar, with stoic and unmoving customers in your way, seem to have its own appeal now. It has taken all this time to learn to not carry my life everywhere with me in a backpack or a duffel bag, especially when I go to a place packed to the brim with people and inertia.

I can still giggle at the mad scramble that happens at the beginner’s call of a show – watching from the wings as fellow colleagues magically pop into their costumes in a matter of seconds, whilst I have spent all of the past thirty minutes painting on a face, concreting my hair, and fastening my costume to my body.

Some weeks are better than others. Some days, I can get centred, and I feel like I am on the right track looking after my body and my mind. But there are days when I feel like I am staring down the dark depths of a well, not knowing if there is water at the end of that shaft. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

I hypothesise that the human creature is a social being, and that removing us from social interaction is having a cost on us. I feel less than. Each one of those days make me feel less like the person I know myself to be. It would be so interesting to assume from this that I define myself by the roles I play to other people, and not by a solid foundation within myself. But think about the roles we have played from the very inception of our lives – the hope of a new generation; the child to a parent; the doting subject to a master; the rebel and the surprise; the expectation of a lineage; a brother, a sister; a lover; a partner; a rock; a wailing wall; a pillar; a soothing balm; a calm in the centre of a storm. Very few of us experienced this world in isolation from others. Our identities are largely made up of the kind of relationships we have had up to this very point.

At some point this week, I will have to dance. I will have to create something for work once lockdown is lifted. Dance is something I have participated in throughout my adult life – from a teen until now. But I somehow feel like I am in unfamiliar territory, as if I don’t know who the dancer is, especially when the context of dancing has changed so drastically. I once danced to be part of a group, or a company – to feel the sense of belonging to a community that has a strong faith in the performing arts. I’ve also danced for work, performing for an audience. I’ve been out dancing with close friends, and indulging in what we call ‘dancing for ourselves’- something that is completely private; a sense of shared camaraderie. Trapped in a room by myself, feeling disconnected from the world, some of the initial fears of the pandemic slowly dissipating, I am trying to recall what it means to dance – and not so successfully.

I miss the excuse to escape it all. The thrill of riding magic carpets and dragons, visiting foreign and exotic lands, dressing up like pristine creatures perched high on pedestals, only have their appeal when life is running you into proverbial corners and you need a fantastical wardrobe to walk through.

I feel stuck – like a fly on sticky paper; like a butterfly in formaldehyde, pinned down on a display with a label, and covered with a sheet of glass; like a whirling snow storm in a crystal clear globe going around and around with little effect on the exterior weather conditions, and maybe invoking the memory of one.

photo of assorted butterflies

Photo by Cátia Matos on Pexels.com

Let me fly on the backs of Hippogryphs.

Let me through to Narnia.

Let me see dragons breathing fire again.

Let me see the world again.

Mx

 

Ropeburn

I am in the midst of an online ‘yoga retreat’, and several thoughts have arisen in this time. Of course, I am aware that I am lucky enough to have the room to practise, a steady enough connection to the internet to stream these yoga workouts, and to have the grace of time to embark on this journey. These are all privileges which others may not be able to enjoy. However, it is unlike a real ‘retreat’ from the everyday in that we each find the other in similar circumstances of confinement, and being in lockdown with my father is not akin to being in a yoga facility with fellow like-minded yoga enthusiasts. As much as it is possible, I try to observe a schedule of how I go about my day, and how I approach the sessions and the meditation on this 7 day program. But I also have to ignore the noise, and the peculiarly loud telephone conversations my father tends to make on his phone.

Having a task each day helps to get me out of bed, and gives me something to look forward to. The instructor, who is also the meditation guide, is incredibly insightful, and the long yoga sessions are truly a full body workout. I am no stranger to meditation, but the 20 to 30 minute sessions are a challenge, especially at this time. I suspect that they are doing more good than any harm. The myriad of thoughts that have arisen whilst listening to Travis Eliot (instructor) and in the midst of meditation is eye-opening.

The prevailing thought of today was a ‘letting go’ of things we hold onto in our lives. This notion is especially triggering given the recent upheaval of life with the lockdown. The material things that once seem to dominate my own life have been abandoned. I left my belongings in a room in London, taking a last flight home to Singapore. I left my career, my livelihood, possibility of future work, and even my heart in a city that I flourished in for the last 20 years.

Travis speaks eloquently about how when we grow attached to material things, we develop a habit of ‘grasping’ for what we mistakenly believe to be valuable. All things are transient. All matter and beings arise and dissolve away. We have conditioned ourselves to our way of life, and hence, ‘grasp’ tightly to what we think are essential things, but they turn out to be things that will slip away. We try to hold on tighter, and in the process, hurt ourselves and all those around us even more. He calls this ‘ropeburn’. You’re slipping, but you won’t let go – you’d rather lose the skin on the palm of your hands, then let go and land somewhere less precarious.

I’m beginning to see how I have clung on to my work and career as an identity which I wear to show people who I am. Much of what we do in theatre takes on that trait of ‘show and tell’.

Even in the events of a day, I am slowly understanding that I have to let go of certain reactionary conditioning. I read something unjust and outrageous online – instead of raging, come to terms that all idiocy is impermanent. Noise and crashes in the household whilst I am practising – it is all meaningless and the sounds of another human being trying to get by. The strangest process is learning to let go of what I perceive myself to be, and what I expect myself to achieve. There are no illusions at this point in time – there is no industry, no work, no salvation from the descent into modern day poverty. There is a slithered of hope – the kind that reins you back from the edge, reminding you that if you survive the day, you might see the rewards of the flowering of this idea and aspiration of the future, as long as you stay alive for the future.

Learning to let go of myself is much akin to forgiving myself, and all the pressures that I have placed to create this imaginery form of “Mitch”. I have to let go, and land in whatever catches me – the ocean, the universe – because there is no skin left in the game, and there is no skin left in heart of my hand.

MITCH-8

The Transformative Power of The Arts (And Why It Will Persist)

The Transformative Power of The Arts

I am putting these words down because I truly believe that words matter. In recent days, I have decided that my words did not belong in the heat of social media, or political debate. When this crisis struck, I became very aware of the fragile nature of the theatre arts.  I think everyone who works in theatre, and everyone who cares for it, have had their nerves frayed and their spirt shaken. This invisible enemy has thrown such a curve ball that it has stopped life as we know it in its tracks.

With the time suddenly forced upon me, I find myself reflecting on my choices and my career, and wondering if there is some deeper meaning to our work in theatre. As luck will have it, I am sieving through all these thoughts in my old family home – the place where I grew up, where I started my theatre and dance journey, and essentially where this dream started. I have never been a person to boldly share his dreams with other people. This may stem from a early childhood fear of being ridiculed, or an ingrained discomfort of being humiliated. Growing up in a place where practicalities and means obliterated any flight of fancy in their path, dreams of being on a stage and pursuing the beauty of craft soon got smothered under pressures of school and society.

I remember sitting in a garden party one beautiful English summer evening, trading stories with a few theatre practitioners on how each one of us realised that theatre (or dance, or music) was the fuel that fed our passion. For myself personally, it had always been the transformative power of the theatre that captivated me. As a boy, I watched my sister perform a dance in which the little female dancers were embodiments of plants coming alive in springtime and blossoming into flowers when kissed by the warmth of the season. I was so fascinated that I went home and plucked plastic flowers out of my mother’s vase and started prancing around, much to the dismay of my father. The crux of the matter is that I BELIEVED. I believed I was a plant sleeping in the winter, or a seed in germination, or a flower bursting forth with as much enthusiasm and gayety as my young mind could understand.

My journey and subsequent career on the world stage are unimportant to this piece of writing, suffice to say that I had indeed achieved this dream that I once dared not dream. I am amazed at how quickly it becomes a distant memory when life is pared down to the bare essentials.

However, being here in this space and being haunted by ghosts of the past, I remember what it was like to secretly fall in love with dancing as a boy, and I recall the lure of the theatre and all its wonder for me as a teenager. More importantly, I can almost evoke that joy of simply practising the craft for the love of it.

I was always aware that a thriving arts scene is wholly dependant on the wide-spanning stability of a rich and vibrant economy. When a society is doing well and able to indulge their senses, the theatre community thrives. Productions of huge musicals, concerts touring large arenas, feats of unimaginable human ability are able to take centre stage in a place where the population are fed, watered, sheltered, and are able to spend. In this additional wheel riding on top of a healthy economy, the arts industry go on to generate more income and wealth for the country.

Let us have no illusions that when systems start crashing, the arts is one of the first to be fed to the lions. And yet, even in the midst of this trying time, we are realising how much our mental well-being depend on the richness of the arts industry. It brings viewers so much comfort to be transported away from the woes of their current predicament for the duration of a play or a concert.

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The Faith That Persists

Sitting here in this old house, watching the world go by on my mobile as I check on my friends around the world, I can confidently say this: what you believe in will not go away – the world cannot take your essence away from you. If you truly believe in the transformative power of acting, or dancing, this faith stays with you forever. If you hold true to the joy that the arts bring you, it shines forth in a picture, or a recording of your voice, or a snippet of choreography. This feeling stays with you in your darkest hours, and it will push you, when you are strong enough, to write, to sing, to dance once more in the confines of your little room.

Billy Porter said this once and I will quote him, “If you’re not bothered about doing theatre in someone’s living room, you shouldn’t be bothered about doing any theatre at all.” What he meant at the time was that your creative spirit should be committed to making art, regardless of the payoff. The end result is not what an artist should be focused on. The artist’s sole concern is to create, to practise the craft, to learn more along the way, even if the destination is unknown. At this point in time, we all know that the destination is not a theatre. These venues are shut. They are not safe for us, nor for the patrons, even though they were, at one point, our transcendental paradise. But the journey is still there – or here – and as creatives, as the people who have decide to take this path, we have a great responsibility to keep moving forward. Only by doing so can we keep the craft alive.

Being on a stage is a privilege – a huge, immense, unthinkable, overwhelming privilege. Martha Graham calls it “glorified human behaviour”. The nature of the profession means that only the best of the best get a chance to step onto the stage and perform for a paying audience. The exclusivity of the experience is something that myself and my peers have understood for a long time. It is not a given. And truly, all this has been taken away, leaving us to assess how much we truly love and appreciate that experience. However, a few things persist and will not fade away at any time – storytelling, and the act of sharing. Friends who are dear to me have always imparted this wisdom – the components of theatre story-telling are always at our fingertips. We are the fortunate ones who fell madly in love with this craft. We now have the unmitigated challenge of carrying the torch and making sure the flame does not go out in this dark time.

Keep burning bright.

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After Life

Obviously, like the rest of the human race at this very point in time, I have had an abundance of time to dwell in my state and to reflect. Being in such confines with only my own thoughts has forced me to take on practises to mediate the anxiety of not knowing the eventualities that we are facing. One thing stands out for certain – loss.

We’ve already lost a large number of people around the world to this disease. Yesterday, I found out that our theatre community lost one of it’s most loving and compassionate members. This comes along at a time in my life when I have lost quite a number of very special peers and mentors. I have also, very recently, been confronted with subject matter that discusses the human obsession around an afterlife – a life beyond the one on this plain that we perceive.

One thing is true of most losses – it is the people who are left behind that are caught in the circumstance of suffering. Our memories of loved ones, our desire to cling onto them, result in our suffering in this realm. With each passing year, it becomes more and more clear to me that we cannot dismiss these memories of affection, love and desire – these are the experiences that make up our human condition. Humanity requires from us empathy and compassion and love. If we turned away from any of these, we cannot live fully.

However, I have also come to respect that living fully requires from us the ability to let go – to surrender control when we know that a situation is truly out of our hands. We may mourn the passing of someone we love, we may commit ourselves to their memory and we may even promise to continue preaching and sharing what was shared between us, but we also have to relinquish our firm hold on suffering, sorrow and pain as a way of remembering them.

There is so much uncertainty at this time. We do not even know how life is suppose to resume once this period is well and truly over. A great change comes. And with that comes the pain that is associated with metamorphosis. We also need to find the time and space to mourn the ones we have lost.

May all beings everywhere be safe.

May all beings everywhere be blessed with health and with support.

May all beings everywhere be at peace.

black and white flower dandelion minimal

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SEXxxT

white smartphone

Photo by Cristian Dina on Pexels.com

 

A small figure stood alone in the back garden in the dark, staring up at the lights in the house. From his vantage point, Joseph thought to himself, “We have all of this… Why would you throw it all away?”

He recalled getting up this morning and making coffee for the both of them. The kettle was boiling and he had set out the French press cafetiere before loading the strong earthy ground coffee into it. The alarm on the mobile phone went off inside the bedroom, down the hallway, where the door was left slightly ajar from earlier when he left the room. Joseph let the alarm continue ringing for about half a minute, smiling to himself.

The switch for the kettle sprung off when the hot water was ready. Joseph poured the steaming liquid into the French press and watch the swirl of the dark concoction rise in the glass vessel. He was putting the lid on when he heard the alarm go silent. Aidan was in the kitchen a few seconds later.

“You could have helped me turn the alarm off.” Aidan said groggily through his sleep-laden eyes, gesturing with the mobile phone in one hand.

“You’re the one that needed to get up for work, lazy!” Joseph replied as he got a peck on the cheek from Aidan.

Joseph fished two mugs out of the overhead cupboard.

“Coffee is almost ready anyway.”

“Fine. I’ll take a quick shower,” Aidan yawned, absent-mindedly slipping the phone onto the kitchen counter before plodding away to the bathroom.

Joseph was pouring milk into the two large mugs of coffee, when a text message alert pinged on the mobile. He took a quick glance at the screen of the phone and his expression shifted from his usual morning bliss.

He recognised the name immediately.

He was not so much affected by the sender of the message as he was by the image that followed. There, on the screen, was an unmistakable picture of the sender’s phallus in its early morning awakening. At the bottom of the image was a series of three x’s – “xxx”.

Joseph froze for a second.

He blinked away his moment of dread and stupor, replacing the milk back into the refrigerator. He then brought the two mugs of coffee out of the kitchen, into the living room and set them on the table. Swiftly, he propped opened his laptop, which had been left there from the night before, and started to work on his writing for the day. From where he sat, he could hear the rushing of the water in the shower as Aidan freshened himself up. A few minutes went by, and soon he heard the taps being turned off and the water trickling away down the noisy drains. This house has always surprised Joseph with its groans, creaks and internal acoustics. Joseph sipped slowly on his coffee, ignoring the taste, and focused his eyes on the screen of his computer. His face was contorted into an frown of concentration on his laptop, but his mind followed nothing that was in front of him. He was still thinking of the three small x’s at the end of that text message.

He heard Aidan step out of the shower and pad his feet on the carpet all the way to the bedroom. Within minutes, Aidan popped his head into the living room, shirtless and only a pair of sweatpants on.

“Coffee’s ready. Drink it whilst it’s still warm.” Joseph offered, not looking away from the soft glare of his screen.

“Thanks, sweetie.”

Before he walked away, he peered around the room, “Hey, have you seen my phone?”

“I don’t know. Did you leave it in the shower?” A white lie – a little one. Joseph quickly looked up at Aidan, blinked angelically and looked back at his screen – that much he could manage. He also knew that he had to do enough to keep this act of innocence believable. He was completely aware that his actions stemmed from a basic protective instinct for himself.

Aidan walked away from the living room. For a few minutes, Joseph pretended to be busy typing away on his keyboard. There was a feat of energetic banging on the keys of his computer, but Joseph knew that this was more a diversion than creating actual content on the word processor.

“Found it!” Aidan exclaimed with a big grin as he popped back into the living room.

“…Cool.” Joseph let his voice trail off just enough to suggest that he was engrossed in his work for the day.

Aidan picked up his coffee.

“I’m going to take this into the other room. Got to start work for the day.”

“Ok, sweets. Work hard.” Joseph offered a quick kiss as Aidan bent over him with the coffee.

It took the better half of the morning, and a lot of editing, but Joseph finally got back into the swing of things. Every so often, regardless of the source of the sound, Joseph would react to the ping of a mobile alert in the house with a blank stare at the wall opposite from where he sat. By the afternoon, any emotional reaction to the stimulus was quashed and he resolved to carry on with his day. When the evening rolled up in the most glorious of sunsets they had seen from the balcony of their home, Joseph was almost sure that any curiosity about the source of that early disturbance had been eliminated. Yet, after a lovely dinner which Joseph prepared, and Aidan volunteered to clean up, all through which they exchanged such playful and affectionate pleasantries, Joseph found himself outside in the darkened garden.

He saw Aidan’s figure in the kitchen turning off the lights, and his shadow move into the next room. Tears immediately rushed up from the unfathomable depths in which they had been hiding. In that moment, Joseph experienced an avalanche of emotions like none other – disappointment, heartbreak, and utter disbelief – and it completely choked him up. Moreover, he was surprised at something else that he felt – a searing sensation of anger. He felt incredible tension at the back of his head, hunching his shoulders, and encouraging the clenching of his fists. The thoughts in his head twisted like a snow flurry for a moment, making them difficult to hold onto, but once he was able to slow them down by steeling himself, one thought kept repeating in his mind –

“I could leave him.”

Before he knew it, he was kneeling on the grass of the back garden. He imagined Aidan’s shadow fleeting through the house, stealing little moments to engage on his mobile device in the cover of so many nooks and crannies in the house. His eyes were streaming with tears now, and they were shut to the streets and the starlight. All he had were his thoughts.

“I could leave him. But will I?”

silhouette of trees under clear night sky

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Your role in the world

It is time to rethink your significance in the world.

Today, I chanced upon a friend’s argument for punitive measures if citizens are found flouting the isolation rules. I whole-heartedly agreed that if incentives (and indeed, the mere consideration for one’s own health) could not persuade a person to do the right thing by his fellow man, then a punishment for breaking the rules should be sought. However, he made a distinction about not letting the one or two ruin it for the ones who are abiding by the regulations.

In no way attempting to be benevolent, I must point out that it will just take a handful of people to make this thing last longer, and be even more painful for all of us involved. “All of us involved” – that’s THE WHOLE WORLD. Imagine that! The heedless actions of the individual can shift the trajectory of this situation for this entire planet.

We are so tightly bound in this that it begs belief. Without arguing about privilege, or accessibility to care, and policies put in place to protect the citizen, it is baffling that we are faced with this crisis that truly unites all of our collective destiny. And it does not matter if a greater proportion of us are doing the right thing. It takes the few to continue spreading the infection through vectors, and perpetuating this critical environmental condition for a longer time. It will not just take MOST of us to make it work. it will take ALL of us to make it work.

So, I say to you this: It is time to rethink your role in the world – your significance in impacting the planet.

We have had warning signs before. We have had the forest fires, and the global warming, and the pollution alerts. But this is like none other. Your very actions will dictate the welfare of those around you in the most direct of fashions. We cannot continue running around like children without a care in the world, for the world. The world is giving us a timely smack on the bottom to remind us to think about our actions.

Anything else translates to selfishness.

And in today’s terms, ‘selfishness’ does not translate to ‘greed, gluttony or material gain’. It is a matter of life and death for some.

Stay home.

This thing is costing lives.

hush…

The silence was the strangest thing.

 

He’d been around when it was quiet before. Maybe a passing car, or the occasional child screaming in the backyard. But this was something completely different. This was an unquiet at the highest intensity – it was a deafening silence.

 

The air seemed impregnated with the weight of sorrow. He felt if he moved, he would be making very little progress, like wading through treacle. Every particle hanging in limbo seemed to cling onto him, willing him not to move. “Stay put,” they implored him. “Stay still.” Slowly and with considerable effort, he stood up from his bed. All he could hear was his breathing – his heavy, cautious, meek cycles of breath.

 

When he got to the window, his worst fears dissolved. The world outside was as it seemed the day before, and the day before that. But something else was amiss. Nothing seemed to stir. There was no wind dancing in the trees, rustling through the leaves. The colours, although present, seemed static and emotionless – cold, even. He listened intensely, willing a noise of any kind to emanate through the estate.

 

Nothing.

 

A dull, high pitch ringing, perhaps. Just the resonant ring in the cavity of his ears. But otherwise, silence. Silence – like he had never heard before; and a sound that seemed to promise to stay with him for a long time after.