Lost and found

Lost and found
With/Out by Loo Zihan will kick off the M1 Fringe Festival 2014.

The spectre of loss can take many forms - a haunting ache where something used to be, a sharp dagger to the heart or a thorough sense of desolation which banishes all rational thought.

Explore its numerous, different facets next month at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, which centres on the theme Art & Loss.

The 11th annual festival returns next year with a new artistic director at the helm. Theatre practitioner and educator Sean Tobin, 42, has taken over the reins from previous co-directors Alvin Tan and Haresh Sharma.

Despite the sombre-sounding theme, Tobin assures that the festival will not be all doom and gloom.

"The theme of loss is explored in a host of ways and means, with a real wide range of languages and styles," he says. "There is plenty of play, humour, absurdity, belief and restoration amid the sense of sadness, grief and loss."

The festival, which runs from Jan 14 to 25, will feature a total of 18 arts events from eight countries, spanning a range of genres including dance, theatre, photography and installation.

Tobin has been appointed to head the festival, presented by theatre company The Necessary Stage, for a three-year term and he hopes that during that time, he can build up trust among audiences in local artists and their works.

He will continue to wear his other hat as head of the School of the Arts' theatre faculty while running the festival.

He says that while selecting the works for this edition, he "gave special attention to local artists who I think are showing real dedication and growth to their practice, and who have a unique angle, vocabulary and method that's worth sitting up and noticing".

He is also keen to provide local efforts a space to gestate and mature into fully realised works.

All the home-grown pieces in the festival have been shown before in some iteration, except Noor Effendy Ibrahim's performance piece The Malay Man And His Chinese Father.

Tobin says: "Too often, our local work is placed in festivals alongside international work that's well seasoned and we end up looking inferior. And too often, our work has a short incubation time and shelf life. The simple solution to that is to ensure we keep investing in our own development."

While this year's theme was handed to Tobin by the festival's former directors, next year's theme - Art & The Animal - is something he has picked himself.

"I think it invites a little more 'wildness', which we can benefit from, in the Fringe and Singapore. I am quietly a little wild and a bit of an animal," he says with a grin.

'A play starring a vacuum cleaner and a cockroach'

A little round robot vacuum cleaner can keep your house clean, but in the world of The Duchamp Syndrome, it is also an insubordinate actor.

"We are now able to control it, but when we started developing the piece, 'it', or should I say 'she', seemed to have a life of her own," says Mexican Antonio Vega, the show's co-director, playwright and actor.

"She seemed to be angry with us, as she would behave perfectly when we rehearsed, and then she would act really odd and funny when we had an audience. Maybe she or it just gets nervous."

The robot vacuum is just one of many odd characters in The Duchamp Syndrome, a theatre creation by Por Piedad Teatro, El Trapo Teatro and The Play Company. The first two companies are from Mexico and the third from the United States.

The other characters include a foul-mouthed cockroach, assorted toys and marionettes. They are all the companions of Juan, an imaginative Mexican janitor living in New York, who feels so lonely he starts creating his own friends out of bits and bobs.

However, when his mother obtains a tourist visa to visit America and sees for herself her son's success, things start to get complicated.

The show explores the notion of art, loneliness, the American dream and the innate desire in people to make their parents proud.

Artistic director of the festival Sean Tobin says: "The spirit of the play, imagination, heart and soul in this piece is so wonderfully child-like and artistically genius all at once. The sadness and loneliness, the sense of loss and failure are explored with such fun and beauty."

The show reflects Vega's own life as well.

The 39-year-old says: "I filled this piece with issues that are obsessions of mine: The need to be fully appreciated by my parents and the need to make them proud, the feeling of getting smaller when you face overwhelming situations or before great beauty.

"The solitude of the immigrant is also a key theme... I chose to explore all of these themes because this being my first original play, I felt I could write only about what was really close to me."

Vega earned a degree in performing arts from the Jalisco School of Theater in Mexico and has also trained at the American Institute of Comedy and the Actor's Centre in London.

The Duchamp Syndrome is named after Marcel Duchamp, a French-American artist who gained both fame and infamy when he submitted a urinal to a Society of Independent Artists exhibition in 1917.

However, even Vega himself is hesitant to explain what the syndrome of the title of his play refers to.

"I honestly don't know what it is. I would love the audience to answer that, but what I can do is to venture an answer.

"I could say the Duchamp syndrome is the condition by which one comes to understand art in a personal way and because of that understanding, he or she becomes some sort of artist as well."

He adds that although Juan is chasing the American dream, the sense of longing and wanting a better life is universal.

"Everyone knows what that means. Whether it is easily achievable or not is a different story," says Vega.

"I hope that anyone, regardless of his nationality, can relate to Juan and the other characters of the play. After all, everybody dreams of a better life."

Book it

THE DUCHAMP SYNDROME

Where: Gallery Theatre, Basement 1, National Museum of Singapore

When: Jan 14 and 15, 8pm

Admission: $22 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

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