It is 2021 – the world is plagued by disasters brought about by global warming. Brexit and its full effects are being felt. Donald Trump has been re-elected. There’s war in the Middle East. West Africa is plagued by famine and unceasing terrorist attacks.
This may sound like a pessimistic forecast of the world we will soon be living in. But short of being an armchair prediction, this set-up feels believable because of what we know about the state of the world today – war, xenophobia, extremism, climate change, and so on. And, it is also the realistic premise of local company Pangdemonium’s latest play Dragonflies.
Amid such trying times, the story goes on to explore the repercussions of an immigration ban that is implemented as a countermeasure against these dangers.
Its protagonist Leslie Chen and his family are evicted from their adoptive home, England, and forced to move back to their birthplace, Singapore. Confronted by a reality that is starkly different from the one he knew as a child, Leslie is left to question the meaning of home and the lengths he would go to to protect his family.
Speaking to The Pride, veteran actor Adrian Pang, who is co-director of Pangdemonium and stars as protagonist Leslie Chen in Dragonflies, pointed out that hate and xenophobia have long existed within communities, but are increasingly bubbling to the surface.
He said: “With the world’s political landscape increasingly becoming more toxic, it’s almost as if it has given license for people to show their innate prejudices. Dragonflies highlights the need for us all to face up to these issues, have honest dialogues about them, and make a concerted effort to take some action to address them.”
He cites a desire to explore our common humanity as his motivation for the play.
“Exploring the dark and light and every shade in between makes us pause to think about how we can do something to make our shared earth a little better, by making ourselves a little better.”
Pang, 52, is hopeful Singaporeans can preserve and improve Singapore’s state of racial harmony. He said: “I do think that we as Singaporeans tend to take a lot of things for granted, and that we have a lot to be grateful for. But that is not to say that we can be complacent and inert, and certainly not apathetic to changes within our society.
“Prejudices and protectionism are innate to us all, but — without being in any way self-righteous — I do believe that we can all make much more of an effort to bring out basic human decencies like kindness and empathy. Our world is in such a fragile state, surely it is worth the effort now, for the sake of our children’s future.”
As a dedicated father of two sons, Pang worries about the future and legacy that is being left for the next generation.
“I have a family which means the world to me, and the idea of losing it would be utterly devastating. What Leslie, my character in Dragonflies, goes through in losing significant parts of his world, is very resonant to me and I certainly share his fear of leaving my two sons to a world that is selfish, intolerant and full of hate. But, like Leslie, I am also doing my best to make sure my boys are growing up to be resilient, respectful and compassionate.”
Despite this, however, and the fact that his boys, Zack and Xander, are teenagers, Pang still worries for them.
“I suppose it’s normal for a parent to constantly worry!” he laughs. “My sons were born in the UK, and there are times I wonder what life would have been like for them if they had grown up in London,” said Pang, who moved to London in 1987 to study law and psychology in Keele University. He also obtained an Advanced Acting Diploma from ARTTS International in the UK.
“In my 14 years acting and living in the UK, I was never subjected to overt prejudice. As an Asian actor in the UK in the 90s, however, there was a distinct sense that I had to fight a little harder than everyone else in order to be seen; to shout a little louder in order to be heard. With the current changing social landscape, I am hopeful that my boys will not face the same issues I did.”
This underrepresentation is also something Pang tries to tackle in Pangdemonium, which he started with his wife Tracie eight years ago. “We try to be as colourblind as possible, to choose the best person for each job, no matter their colour.”
Pang admits he is lucky that his two worlds, his work and family, often mesh as one.
“My love for my family is what drives my work. Love informs me and Tracie about the kind of work we want to do and the change we want to achieve. We hope our plays change the world in a small way. Maybe just by encouraging the audience to be gracious and empathetic, and to instil these same values in my two sons.”
Tracie Pang, who directs the play, pointed out to CNA that the notion that the youth are passive in such social issues is not true. “We’ve had some of the young demographic who enjoy how the pieces of work we present challenge them. We’ve had comments on how they want to be pushed or want to see a world outside their bubble.”
Pang agrees, saying: “There are people out there who want their theatre experience to be stimulating and even disturbing and disruptive. And contrary to assumptions, many Singaporeans – a lot of them young – do want to engage.”
And here to help is Pangdemonium, which Pang hopes can prompt varied perspectives and facilitate importance conversations.
“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that a lot of people take a voyeuristic perspective on world issues. There exists a community of complainers that sound off on social media, who don’t actually try to empower themselves by doing something about these issues. Pangdemonium itself cannot change the world. All we can do is present different sides of the world to the audience. We want to provoke them, to make them feel uncomfortable, disturbed, or even outraged.
“Things – horrible things – are happening around the world right now and we cannot exist in our bubble,” says Pang. “We must believe in compassion, kindness and hope. We each have to find it within ourselves to make someone else’s life a little better, even if it means a simple gesture to make one moment in one day a little happier.”
Dragonflies first premiered during the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) in 2017. Its second run opened at the Victoria Theatre last Friday, May 18 and will end on June 3.
The play offers a dynamic and fresh look on current affairs that aims to enrich, surprise and stimulate its audience. But overall, the message of Dragonflies is simple: build bridges, not walls.
To learn more about Dragonflies, please visit this page.