Over the past four months, a group of theatre-loving volunteers have been assisting a local non-profit arts company, Emergency Stairs, with their annual production of Southernmost. The small volunteer team, consisting of students and adults, was started by Lingjie, a full-time NUS Arts and Social Science freshman with a palpable passion for theatre. 

Lingjie  saw himself as someone who loved theatre but, like many, was unable to commit to the experience full-time. The lack of suitable platforms in the theatre industry led Lingjie to approach Liu Xiaoyi, a founding member of Emergency Stairs, with the conundrum. Lingjie asked about the available platforms for part-time theatre work and through discussions, the volunteer group was born, allowing students and adults to engage in behind-the-scenes theatre work and to support Emergency Stairs.

The group now boasts 15 to 20 members who help out in areas such as front of house, marketing, hospitality for international artists, and assisting the Artistic Director. The workflow is casual; volunteers who are free solve issues when they arise and, importantly, they are not expected to be available 24/7. By working so closely with the theatre, the volunteers in Lingjie’s group are able to witness how a production is born, from idea to communication to action. Lingjie currently hopes to expand the volunteer group and wishes to invite other likeminded people to be a part of their volunteer group.

As the founder of the group, Lingjie and two of his friends coordinate the volunteers’ interest and willingness to take on the available roles, overseeing the activities of the volunteer group. “It feels more like an internship because I can observe the process, understand the techniques in play and contribute to the success of the performance.”

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Emergency Stairs, is a local non-profit arts company founded by director Liu Xiaoyi and producers Chong Woon Yong and Jo Lim. Xiaoyi shares some of his thoughts in a short interview about Southernmost.

How did Southernmost, a process-centric theatre festival, come about and how does it differ from a traditional arts festival?

The main focus of Southernmost is intercultural dialogue, and it was inspired by the One Table Two Chairs format. Originally, One Table Two Chairs (1T2C) was a standardized form of set design in traditional Chinese opera. Different arrangements of the furniture onstage would represent different settings, scenes and characters. 

Today, 1T2C has been adopted as a metaphor for dialogue, and evolved beyond just a way of arranging furniture on stage. Recognised as a revolutionary and experimental way to approach theatre, it has been used by many artists to engage in cross region, cross-disciplinary, and cross-cultural dialogue. Until now, more than 100 artists have been commissioned to participate in this project of trans-regional, cross-cultural and interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration.

Borrowing the spirit of 1T2C, Southernmost is a dialogue between different theatre languages, different art forms and different cultures. One Table Two Chairs is a symbol of intercultural dialogue in our festival.

I have been working on intercultural projects since 2011. Today, Southernmost becomes part of the international One Table Two Chairs movement which includes Zurich, Hong Kong, Taipei, Shanghai, Nanjing, Tokyo, Yokohama and Singapore. Emergency Stairs aims to develop Southernmost into a vital part of an international circuit for intercultural dialogue.

How has Southernmost as a festival moved forward since last year and what are some things that Emergency Stairs has learnt from this festival as well?

Creating a festival is an experimentation. We learn from the past and the others. We grow through criticism and self-criticism.

Last year, we invited six speakers to share their thoughts in the Open Forum. We also conducted a festival debrief with the audience members. Because I believe that the discussion amongst the speakers and the audience members is as important as the interaction amongst the artists.

On the content level, all these helped me to form a larger picture relative to what I’m doing. I understand better about what has been done and what has not been done from the historical span and international span, from the perspectives of the artists and the audience. This leads to the changes we have made for this year’s Southernmost. 

One question incurred during and after the Open Forum is how Southernmost stands in relation to Singapore. Although I always remind myself to look beyond Singapore and the framework of CMIO culture, I’m also interested to examine and understand more of this city. Therefore, I break the conventional format of One Table Two Chairs by casting seven artists, including four from Singapore.

On the format level, curating and observing the Open Forum also made me think of one of the possibilities of developing a festival. Last year, I borrowed the format of One Table Two Chairs performance to frame the Open Forum. It was very inspiring. Is this the potential format of the festival of the future, a platform for true dialogues?

What are the future plans for Emergency Stairs and Southernmost?

We are in the middle of preparing our third instalment of post dramatic series with Huayi festival 2019. The weekly training program, Shelter, is ongoing and eventually leading to our 2nd version of Off Stage. I’m also working closely with Sato Makoto to develop an Asian artist network in Yokohama. I will be also working with Danny Yung to continue develop a Singapore - Hong Kong cultural exchange platform and think tank.

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Southernmost: One Table Two Chairs Project 2018 is happening between 3 and 11 November. To find out more about the theatre festival and associated masterclasses, visit their facebook page.

If you would like to join the volunteer group and assist Emergency Stairs, contact Lingjie at lingjie@emergencystairs.org, or for more information about arts opportunities within NUS, write to creativecampus@nus.edu.sg.