"Today, we worship the culture of convenience.” So says Alvin Tam, artistic director of Singapore’s The Necessary Stage group and co-director of its current production, Sanctuary. Powerful, confrontational words but these are adjectives that the show aspires to encompass. Made in conjunction with innovative Tokyo theatre group Hanchu-Yuei, the piece tackles the age-old question of the human condition and boldly states that ‘we are the data but the data is never ours’.
The work’s message is a warning to all about the darker side of the information age: “We are not aware of the price we are paying when we exchange our personal data for technological ease,” says Tam. The decision to work with Hanchu-Yuei is an inspired one. “We always look forward to the challenges of working with artists from a different culture,” Tam tells us. “Hanchu-Yuei is giving us the opportunity to work collaboratively across cultures, where the aesthetics of each theatre company can interact.”
The show sees a wealth of local and international talent bringing Sanctuary to life, including much-respected Singaporean theatre practitioner, Ellison Tan Yuyang. Talking about her role, she says: “I play Tracy, a human living in a time where the idea of communication has expanded beyond our current understanding of it.” A fascinating proposition for any actor and Yuyang seems to particularly enjoy this challenge. “[Tracy’s] development has been very exciting for me,” she reveals. “I think Tracy is very particular with her interactions. She is very cautious about not revealing too many details about herself. She also tries very hard to hide everything about herself, even in a world where nothing about a person is really a secret any more. I guess the challenge lies in her revelation and how it plays out on stage.”
Sanctuary fearlessly holds a mirror up to an always-online society where personal data has become a cheap commodity. It asks difficult questions and the subject itself is borderline accusatory as we are all guilty of being flippant with our personal information. But challenging the audience is something that co-director Tam isn’t worried about. “We hope the audience’s tastes and our threshold for more challenging works will continue to grow at a healthy rate,” he says, “so that we will not be paralysed by our affluence and continue to be fuelled by our own confidence in our cultural complexity.” So what does Tam hope the crowd will take away from this production? “Their sense of humanity and what of this humanity that we want to fight for today,” he says, “ so that it is not lost in our future.”