Interview with Oliver Chong, star of Time Between Us

Ng Yi-Sheng

August 6, 2016

Meet Oliver Chong, director/playwright/performer with The Finger Players, who's starring in the one-man durational performance Time Between Us! 

The show's conceived and principally devised by Argentinean director Fernando Rubio, but he doesn't speak thaaat much English, so Chong got a lot of creative leeway. It's showing at the Event Plaza of Marina Bay Sands from 12 to 14 August at various timings. Besides buying a ticket, you'll have to register for a slot here.

NYS: How did you get involved in this project?

Oliver: Keng Sen approached me some time late last year, I think towards the end of the year when I was still in Korea on holiday. And he emailed me.

NYS: What, he just said, “Would you like to be in a box for five days?”

Oliver: Sort of.

NYS: What have rehearsals with Fernando Rubio been like?

Oliver: We’ve been through a first phase of rehearsals in February when he was here in Singapore, very briefly for one week, because after that he had to fly back already. And it’s been very interesting, because of the whole concept of it—then it was still quite nebulous to me; I’m not exactly sure what it was, but what I gathered from then is it’s not so much of a performance art piece—remember Fu Kuen’s piece? It’s not so much like Fu Kuen’s, if you would call that a performance art piece. 

[He’s referring to Singaporean artist/curator Tang Fu Kuen’s work Home (1999), in which he lived in a wall-less temporary structure in the Substation garden for a few days. Can’t find an image of it.]

Oliver: It’s definitely an installation performance but not a performance… there is a very scheduled, structured timing whereby I need to perform some activities during my stay there. 

But of course, the interesting thing is this man who is me, forsaking my identity and my reality as me, as Oliver Chong, [going] out of my own life to be this man. So the way I see it is I’m taking a vacation from myself and my whole being in life. So I forget my life I forget me to be this stranger who lives in this house for five days. So that’s how I see it, this piece.

NYS: Wow. That’s even scarier than what I thought.

Oliver: And it’s not so much me playing a character. I’m more a persona than a character, if that makes any sense.

NYS: You mean there’s a person speaking through your character? Would that be you or Fernando?

Oliver: I suppose it’s both. Both me and Fernando and everybody else. Because this man speaks from memories of people whom I know, whom Fernando knows, or from books, or from plays, from different characters from different people. So basically his man is an embodiment of many, many personas in this person’s body. 

NYS: How do you feel about the location of the house [at the Event Plaza of Marina Bay Sands]?

Oliver: It’s got a very nice view. It’s just beside the LV store. The big fountain is just behind my house.

NYS: Then you’ll have to put up with watching the Wonder Full last show every night!

Oliver: Three times a night… so that’s 15 times!

NYS: Were you involved in choosing the location, by the way?

Oliver: I was in an earlier stage when we were recce-ing for places, including Fort Canning Park—but very few people go up there. And there were other places, but they were not so suitable because the human traffic or the space is not big enough. 

NYS: The program says it’ll be built out wood fragments from houses that no longer exist. That’s pretty cool. Where are we getting our materials from in Singapore?

Oliver: The houses that were built in the previous showing of this piece where it was touring Europe were actually made up of wooden planks that are collected from different houses that were abandoned, torn down. But for the house that is built in Singapore, it’s built all from new wood. I don’t know why.

NYS: Then it’s false advertising!

Oliver: Maybe metaphorically? I’m not sure why it’s not built that way in Singapore.  Maybe it’s restrictions, bringing different pieces of wood from outside. SIFA is building it. So the drawings, everything, are from the original plan. So they’re just building it.

[UPDATE: SIFA has clarified this issue:

"In fact the house for Time Between Us is not being built in Singapore - it was built in Chile and transported to Singapore. It was very difficult to source the right kind of wood locally, and very expensive.  It proved more cost effective to have it built in Chile even adding on the freight costs. It was built by the original carpenter who built the first house from various types of wood sourced in Chile."] 

Oliver: And there’s no toilet inside. So Every time I have to wash pup or relieve myself I have to use the toilet in MBS. So that’s the only time I’m allowed to leave the house.

NYS: How is this performance different from the original version of Time Between Us?

Oliver: Every time Fernando goes to a country to tour it, it is an actor from that place. 

NYS: Whoa, so there’s like a dozen different versions already? Each one devised by a different actor.

Oliver: But of course there is telling a story. That’s one of the things that is scripted. And then of course played by different actor it would be different every time.

NYS: Were all the actors men?

Oliver: Yes.

NYS: I guess it balances how the actors in Everything by My Side are all female.

NYS: Have you ever done anything like this before?

Oliver: As in a durational performance? Never.

NYS: How have you prepared?

Oliver: I don’t know how to put it in words, but definitely I have been running it in my head for the past one month already. But of course you can’t preempt. It will be on site. People can come in and go out. I don’t know how people will respond to this piece when they see this man. I suppose I’ll just have to be in the moment.

NYS: What worries you the most?

Oliver: If I’m able to come back as Oliver Chong. That’s something that I find scary about it. If I’m able to really come back in one piece.

NYS: You should check with the other actors who’ve done this piece. Have they survived?

Oliver: Fernando asked me to do that. But I said, maybe not. I can have a post-show dialogue with everyone!

NYS: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

Oliver: We’ll be doing a show website. And on this show website the public will get to see this schedule. What I’ll be doing at what time slot outside those slots that I’ll be doing a storytelling, and there’s the conversation slot as well. And during these different slots, sometimes I’ll do this podcast thing. And people can go onto this show website where they can see this podcast, where I’ll be talking and sharing  stuff, playing music.

I’m also not every sure if the audience knows what we’ll be doing during the conversation. I’ll be inviting five guests to come and talk. They are what you call experts: they speicalise in five different areas: they are a visual/conceptual artist, philosopher, a sociologist, a theatre playwright/practitioner, and either someone who’s from the literary world or someone who’s a filmmaker. Basically, these five specialists, they’ll be coming in to talk to me and the audience to whatever topic they want to talk about related to the play. We are still trying to confirm these five people. 

And one thing interesting is I will not know what these guests will be doing during these sessions. Fernando will be meeting them, and I will only get to see them once as an introduction and that’s all. So I will be as surprised as the audience members. 

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  • 2016