Following last week’s interview with Loo An Ni about her experiences in designing and creating puppets during her stint at The Maker’s Lab 2021, I was interested in finding out more about No Disaster on This Land, a non-verbal performance that features Loo’s puppets.
What makes this production different from most puppet shows is its workflow. As the main focus of The Maker’s Lab is to nurture designers and makers of puppets, the production was created around the puppets created by Loo. This gives her the freedom to explore and experiment rather than worry about abiding by a pre-determined brief.
No Disaster on This Land 无灾难岛屿
There is no disaster on this land but it is the end of time. The body is defiled. Debris Girl meets Table Boy. In their hands, an effortful tug, an accident of air, a love story that ends with death.
To find out more about the show, I spoke to Director Myra Loke, who is also the co-artistic director of The Finger Players.
Puppetry has been part of The Finger Players’ DNA since the inception of the company. In your opinion, what is it about puppets that captures our imagination?
Puppets can be anything and everything. They can be so close to life that you can’t help but relate to them. At the same time, they are not bound by gravity, physics, logic, and social expectations.
This constant flux between reality and fantasy brings audiences to a level where you simply don’t wish to or can’t rationalize what you are seeing and feeling. And you ultimately just give in to your imagination and intuition.
Puppeteer Vanessa Toh testing a prototype of the puppet used in the show / Photo: The Finger Players
As No Disaster on this Land is created around the puppets by Loo An Ni, what were your first impressions of the puppets?
The primary material used is metal and we often relate that material to a cold and distanced feeling. However, the movements from the puppets were fluid and transformative, contrasting with what your brain tells you. It was as if I’m watching blobs in a lava lamp morphing into different shapes and images.
As there is no dialogue in the show, how was the general plot of the show conceived?
Oftentimes, we start with a script and the puppet design comes after to complement the story. But as part of The Maker’s Lab, we were interested in the reverse—to discover how a story can be inspired from the puppet design instead.
So at the start of the process, Ellison Tan and I met with An Ni monthly to understand her thought process and creative impulses. Then we moved on to a phase where we had a series of jamming sessions with An Ni and the puppeteers to develop characters or explore possibilities of a narrative. With the devised content, Ellison would piece them together into a script that is inspired and informed by the puppet design and the jamming sessions.
Puppeteer Hairi Cromo testing the makeshift handles of the prototype / Photo: The Finger Players
Could you describe the rehearsal process? What were some of the challenges? Were there any interesting moments that left an impression?
The puppet design and its manipulation method developed by An Ni are quite new to us. We were quite lucky that we had jamming sessions in the pre-rehearsal phase to give the puppeteers more time to be familiar with the puppets. This is so that we can concentrate on creating the physical score and visuals in rehearsals.
As this is a non-verbal performance, words are no longer the source of information. A huge challenge is to create imagery that is indicative enough for the audience to follow the journey or thought process of the characters. Yet, it must still be imaginative and leave some space for interpretation.
That involves a lot of trial and error in rehearsals, and it can sometimes be quite frustrating whenever we can’t “nail down” a scene. When that happens, I try to tell myself to be patient and there is no need to create everything at one go. This is something that I learnt through my journey of creating non-verbal performances.
Now, whenever I start a rehearsal process, I would pre-empt the performers and stage management team that there will be a lot of repetition, and that we may find ourselves feeling frustrated, and that is ok.
No Disaster on This Land runs from 24-27 February 2022 at Drama Centre Black Box.