voices in a room with Ang Kia Yee, ants chua, Chew Shaw En, Helen Cai, Rice Tan, Teo Xiao Ting

Feb – July 2021
A project under our Labs programme

Excerpts from Post-mortem Zoom Call conducted by the voices in a room team [30 July 2021]

KY: Cool. Then we can shuttle on into the post mortem things. Is there a specific way you want to approach this or you just want to go by question, like start with the first question and see where it goes?

XT (aka txting teo): Question by question?

KY: Ok cool. So the first question is, how did you find the process of making voices in a room?

XT: I'm thinking about the initial, from the very first time we met in to eat at the kopitiam. That was the first time right? The first contact we even met each other in person as a group in the context of voices. And remembering...

KY: I'm remembering the pastries.

XT: Oh, those were really good pastries.

KY: You brought a box of pastries.

ants: I think that was like XT's first post-Tomoya day also?

XT: Oh, yeah, I was fresh. I was feeling very fresh as a new person. I remember feeling like there was I remember feeling that. Like the project wasn't really formed yet. There was like, I think KY came with, a notebook of possible questions. Well, first you asked us to think about our relationship And we came together thinking about that. So my... wait the question is, how has working on the project been, right?

KY: Yeah, I guess it's a very general like, how did you find the process of of making this, which is very open ended, so go wherever you want.

XT: I'm remembering that, right? Like coming with questions already at the back of our heads, but having a lot of space to go wherever we want to go. And also it so happens that the four of us have very So whenever we want to talk, like there is no... but I'm also thinking about – remember we were talking about what medium we are most comfortable in. For me, I'm the with body. And for shaw for example, with language, spoken language? I remember you saying sometimes we just talk talk talk, and you're like 'oh, my God what's going on', that kind of feeling. And I think, at that point I think I [also] responded that's how I felt when we did our first improv – like, 'omg omg, what's happening?

So I think we all had instances where we kind of like, have different pathways... But there's always this sense that we have a certain framework that we are free to [within]. Like it's not rigid, per se. I remember the sense that difficult conversations are easy to have. Right, the very first, I mean, the most obvious one I can think of was that conversation where we sat and talked and thinking about how to and . I think that's a very good example? There is a certain clarity and a certain desire to trust each other I think.

KY: Yeah, I remember feeling concerned, but not anxious, which is very specific. Like at that moment when we knew that we had to , it was very new to me, like that feeling, I guess that's why I'm highlighting it. That I was like, ‘are you okay’, but also like, ‘aiya, it'll be fine'. Like [I was] very sure that . Yeah. I think voices for me is quite interesting in that it was the first time I... I know I didn't give up a lot of control overall. But I gave up this much control, I think, over a process, especially working with a group of people. I think it was the first time I can actually say that I just , to an extent. And I'm still not sure. I don't think it was bad. It's just I haven't like fully processed that that happened yet, because it's, it's a bit unreal for me. In terms of my work, yeah.

ants: I think same here in terms of, not like giving up control in the sense of like, I'm powerless, but giving up control in the sense of like, I have , or how we're going to get there. No sense of what the day-to-day is gonna look like even. So I think, let me see, what did I write down? I wrote, “difficult, but does not mean not enjoyable”. And trying to.... I think, [it] felt very much like unpicking a lot of my conditioning around the kinds of structure that that I'm used to. And I do still think that having clearer and firmer structures will not be negative, it would be interesting. I feel that this particular process was open-ended and quite , but that is not a value judgment on my end.

XT: I felt openness allowed us to feel the kind of trust we actually instead of following a trust that is externally defined. And moving forward, I mean, this is also going to a later question, but you know, in the future that kind of thing, I think then, because we have the openness now we can have that firmer structure.

Shaw: Reflecting on the kinds of expectations I had coming into rehearsal was constant throughout the process. But it was also nice, because I feel like for me, it was getting to know all of y'all for the first time. And then being in a process where the framework was almost being made as , and executed as we decided on it. So it was very, just like with it, right. I think that the processing is still kind of like, on me. I feel grateful, though, about the reflection about control also, and just like what I expect in a rehearsal process, because I feel something we did right is that we did not have a very firm structure or end goal, but there was this, we could still . So yeah, it was loose, but at the same time there was some kind of focus. Yeah.

KY: I think actually, for me, what you're saying is making me... basically, I think one of the end goals for me for the project was not to make something, but to how to work together with you guys. And that's why it was quite easy to just sit in the process because the end goal was already occurring all the time. Yeah. Yeah, it was something that I was told this year, which I think I'm still like, sitting with is that a lot of your first work with new people is just learning to work together. And it's not the work.

XT: Okay, so it so happens that for this particular project, the learning to work together is the project?

KY: Yes. I guess, in a way, it was also more than that lah. I think a lot of our desires, our collective desires, were articulated. Like our were articulated.

XT: Yeah, we went from, “What's our relationship with language?” to “, and how?”

KY: I'm curious to know about the hard parts. If it's not too early in the convo, I'm curious to know what was like difficult or , like things that you have not expressed? Or, like, they are not major discomforts in like, oh that was bad, but kind of was there, kind of thing. That's what I'm curious about.

Shaw: I think a very clear one for me at the beginning was not knowing what language to use. Or like not knowing what was like the tone of... Yeah. The beginning. But the discomfort became just a learning point for me. Like for me, after voices I'm a lot more confident with speaking.

XT: You found your voice.

Shaw: Don't say it like that. It sounds corny, but yeah it really...

KY: I think something that I'm still thinking about is that a lot of reasons why we could speak so easily, I think at least for XT, ants and I, was that we had read a lot of theory, or we were familiar with theory as a mode of language and reading and absorbing things about the world. And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. But I'm quite conscious of that mode. Because I did feel like at certain points when we weren't sure, or we were looking for , we often defaulted to quite textual and academic texts, even if they weren't explicitly academic. Like they demanded that you had a background in academia. So that's just something that I'm sitting on, I feel like the process was not so open for other people, or maybe even for Shaw that was something, I don't know, if it was something quite...

Shaw: Alarming, like ah! But y'all felt like nice and kind so... really!


XT: Just read your essays.

Rice: I think I also agree with what Shaw just said, even though like, I wasn't that involved in the process, but I agree with what Shaw said. And then the nice people part also.

KY: You didn't have to add that!

Rice: It's like nice people with , I don't know.

ants: My new tagline.

XT: Nice people with big brains [laughs]

KY: It's so funny, like you accepted that you agreed with what Shaw said, but then you said, oh the nice people part also, indicating that you didn't actually agree with that previously!

Rice: No, no, no, no, it's just...

Helen: I think for me, it was pretty similar also, like the part that Shaw said about the language being a bit different. But I think for me, there was a lot more to adapt to, in a lot of aspects. One is because previously when I was doing theatre it was just in school. So it was very much directed by the teachers, especially in terms of all the artistic styles, [the] presentation... like students were mainly involved in execution rather than [at] the ideas stage. But I think for voices, it was mainly the ideas instead, not the execution part. At first I was also a bit like, I can't really understand what's going on, but I don't really know what's the problem here?

KY: Yeah, I understand. Yeah. I'm sorry about that. I don't think it’s inherently a bad mode. But I think it's, for me, personally, it's not great that people in the process are like – even if we're nice people, even if we're the best people in the world, I would not like to be languaging in a way where you feel like you're outside.

XT: Yeah, because then my curiosities are, how might we bridge [it], how to make it less intimidating, maybe? Like a different framing, a different languaging? Or is that the question not to be answered now?

KY: I have a preliminary answer. My preliminary answer is that I feel like as the people who read, who are reading the theory and have the background of reading, we should be, you know, in a way responsible for it. Before we come into the room. Whether that is into an or into like, some kind of more, you know – not read the text, but “I read this text and this is what I gathered” in simpler words. And then this is an exercise, you know, like doing the translation steps before, it's something that I feel like I want to do. I don't know if that's necessarily the only way to do this, right. But that's something I want to do more, instead of coming in with the PDF.

KY: I feel like we've touched on different things. Maybe we can move to what kind of structures or agreements did we have in place, and whether they were clear and supportive? And if we work together again, what would you like to keep and what would you like to change or throw away?

ants: I think, building on what Shaw said about acknowledging labour, I really liked when we had a very clear list of things to do, and a very clear list of who was going to do them by when. I don't know if that's something that came about because that was just the stage in the process that we were at lah, as opposed to the earlier bit where it was a bit more like, ok . I definitely think that giving the tools [for] the so-called two pairs, more autonomy to do their thing and then come back and share, rather than all four people at the same time trying to do the thing. Yeah, I did enjoy that kind of, take home, take homework, and then present it next time, instead of always sitting in the same four people configuration, I guess.

XT: I think all our stuff was nice, you know, when we first came in. And then I'm also thinking where we started this process with, how we want the thing to feel like, what we don't want and what we want. And then I think someone mentioned something about no toxic positivity. Like that kind of for the process. I think that was nice. Checking in is a very nice way of . I think I would want to keep checking in and checking out for everything that we do in the future. I think there was also a period of time before rehearsal, we would heads up, XYZ, heads up XYZ. I think that was also quite nice. And I think that it would be nice if it was whenever comfortable, whenever the impulse comes out, to get a sense of where everyone is.
Erwin Wurm, One Minute Sculpture (Taipei)

And then I think there was just one rehearsal where after that, then KY you were saying that you felt off and you apologized for something like that. I feel like that my reply to that was only possible because we did a whiteboard process from the start, where we said that we want to welcome all kinds of responses instead of trying… I can't remember the exact phrasing, something about ugly emotions are ok too. Having that whiteboard thing, and then grounding it certain, throughout the process to remind everyone, whenever we forget, like keeping each other accountable to that we did at the start. Yeah.

Shaw: I think as XT was talking, my thoughts went in the opposite direction. I wonder if we can have more tangible structures and to spend less time and more time . Because I feel like we spent a lot of time negotiating. But at the same time, I also really appreciated it. And I also enjoyed that ability to break away from the regular rehearsing structures that that I was familiar with, but at the same time, I'm like, okay, . I think it links to what ants mentioned at the beginning. Because I also believe that there are some structures I liked because it worked very well. So I wonder how that can be implemented? Not in a prescriptive way. But in a like, okay, we see value in this, and we are consciously going to use it, because it works for us, way.
KY: I think that resonates with me in that I would have liked to do more making and less ideas and talking. And I think that also for me ties back to what ants say about enjoying the pair work. In that it was like, ‘Okay, now we do, and then all I need to do is the thing’, and not so much like ‘how are we going to do the thing’? But I feel going back to what shaw said, you're asking about how we could have brought in more of those structures, or more making. I feel like that was limited by the fact that we didn't know what the thing was. We were constantly trying to figure out what was. So we had to ask each other a lot of questions like, what is this thing? What is this thing?

XT: I wonder if the structures that you're talking about would happen naturally, because we already did the groundwork of the intangibles.

ants: Could you elaborate?

XT: I'm thinking like, initially, we kept talking and because we didn't know each other in that way yet. So there was a lot of clarification, a lot of trying to build a . And now I feel like we have built sufficiently at least to talk in a way that we can understand better, then the making part is the natural progression.

ants: I don't... I agree partially, I think. I think definitely part of the reason why so much time was spent like talking, ideating and whatever was circumstantial in terms of both, it's our first time working together as well as due to the we were in, we kept having to kind of . And also because... how to say. I think the shifting to horizontality was also threw a different tenor into the mix. I think there were a lot of things moving at the same time, which made it necessary to spend that time building a sense of stability within the group. Which I mean, I think it's not necessarily a bad thing. But I do think that like, on some level, yes, we communicate much easier now because we've had much more practice. But also, I think, when I say the words , I don't think it is something that necessarily comes like, organically, I think it is something that we have to intentionally be like, ‘Okay, today, I will make this in this way’. And obviously, within that structure, you can make it in any particular way, right? Like I can rehearse this line 50,000 different ways. But...

KY: You have to make a conscious decision.

ants: Wait, sorry, I don't understand that reaction.

XT: Oh, because I literally didn't know what structured making was until you said that.

ants: Okay, okay. Yeah, I feel like we were talking with the same words, but meaning different things. I think, for me, I think that the next step that I'm interested in is that, now that we know how to talk with words, what does it mean to talk in other ways, which is also my response to the ‘what do you want to do next?’ question at the end.