Interview: Gabriele Goh on White Bird

What is a calling? How does one know for sure that they have been called to fulfill a particular destiny?

Recent NUS Theatre graduate Gabriele Goh performs his semi-autobiographical work, White Bird, at HCAC on 30 and 31 July 2016. He shares a bit more about himself and his work.

Tickets for White Bird are available at this link.

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1. Tell us about yourself.

My name is Gabriele Goh. I graduated from NUS Theatre Studies in 2015. I’m one of those theatre practitioners with multi-hyphenated identities: Actor-Playwright-Director-Educator. Still trying to find my niche. I graduated from the young and W!LD programme under W!LD Rice last year and just ended my run of Geylang in the Singapore Theatre Festival 2016. From May 2016 to April 2017, I’m also a mentee of playwright Jean Tay under the NAC’s Mentor Access Project and I’m working on an epic play called Leopolis. Aside from these, I also just concluded Phase One of Project Understudy by Thespis. Phase Two is projected to start in September. Project Understudy is a collaborative piece of writing in which seven of us write a sequel to Tan Tarn How’s Undercover (written in the 90s), with each of us writing as a different character.

2. What is your one-man show, White Bird, about?

I decided to practise theatre because I found my calling when I was interning at the Substation. So my one-man show is about this whole idea of an artistic calling: does one create art because he is called to it? Or does one create art just because?

I believe that everyone is here in this world on a mission. The question is, what? And how do you know that is indeed what you are called to do?

3. What inspired you to perform this piece?

Can I attribute that to Kamil? Hahaha. I finished school and started my journey as an artist last year. I met Kamil while auditioning for a short film which HCAC was creating. It was a period when I was quite down, and I came back from a trip where I was confronted with the question of whether I was really supposed to do theatre for the rest of my life. Kamil gave me that challenge to create a one-man show and I said yes.

I also think a large part of my inspiration came from my spiritual beliefs and practices. I am always thinking about how to bring them into my art. I think we don’t have enough of that in Singapore, and I really want to infuse that magic into my performance.

4. How did you go about conceptualising it?

I knew from the get-go that I wanted to do something which talks about spirituality. So I kept writing scenes. I didn’t have any direction as to where I was going at first; I just wrote and decided what to do with them later.

I finally had an idea of where I was going after numerous consultations with Kamil and my director Olivia. Then I stylised it in order to embody and represent the spiritual aspect of the piece.

5. Did you find any aspect particularly challenging?

The problem with writing something autobiographical is that you don’t know what is important and what is not. I had an extremely difficult time for about 5 months because of that. I didn’t have a clear direction at the start as to where I was going, so I had to keep rewriting, resequencing and re-editing.

I also had to deal with a couple of creative projects at the same time as well, and that was very taxing. There were many times when I had to press on with the writing to about 4am and wake up at 8am for my classes the next day.

The other problem was weaving the stylistics devices. There are so many ways to do it, but I needed to find ways to fit the aesthetics of the play, and that was not the easiest.

You know, the thing about writing autobiographies is that, people usually do it after the fact. That is, they write about events which had happened to them after they had happened to them. I realised rather late in the process that I was writing about something that hasn’t finished happening yet. So how do I end my story?

Of course, I found a way to do that. Eventually.

6. What would you like your audience to take away after watching you perform?

I don’t really know what I want them to take away, to be very honest. Perhaps I would love for the audience to be able to take back the whole idea of calling. What is their soul’s mission and calling? What’s is the one thing which kept coming into their life which their soul yearn for or have they been ignoring that soul’s yearning all these while?

But more importantly, I just want them to partake the journey with me.

7. As an artist, what is the biggest lesson you have learnt in your creative journey so far?

Discipline. When I was younger and less matured, I used to believe that art is about self-expression. I believed that as long as your intention to express is pure, it’s enough to make art. Now I think that was a terrible mistake. No matter how pure the intention is, without the discipline to train the skills and hone the instrument of expression, one’s art would only manifest itself as the artwork of a toddler. So really, discipline.

8. What do you think is the greatest challenge young people face in pursuing the arts?

Opportunities. I think the arts scene is quite saturated in Singapore now. That’s why younger artists increasingly need to take on a multi-hyphenated identity. Unless you are super duper good in a particular craft, I would say there’s no way one can run away from being adaptable and versatile.

Let’s talk about acting, for example. You want to be an actor, but most theatre companies these days would rather hire actors they have worked with before, actors who are usually better and more experienced in the craft than you. And there are so many actors these days, trained and untrained, so why would a director choose you? What makes you unique? So to survive in this industry, young people these days need to learn to be adaptable and versatile.

9. What do you think it takes to be an artist or an actor in Singapore?

Haha. You mean other than the commonsensical, such as discipline and talent?

I think anyone who wants to be an artist or an actor really needs to know why they are doing what they are doing. Saying that it’s all about passion is not good enough. Saying that it’s all about interest it’s not good enough. To be an artist or an actor, one needs to find that sense of vision and calling. It is when they say, “there’s nothing else I want,” “my identity as a person depends on it” and “I cannot not do it.” That is when it ceases to be about interest and passion and all about the calling.

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