Grace Khoo on the making of And Suddenly I Disappear…The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues

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‘And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues’ is an international theatrical dialogue of difference, disability, and what it is to be human, from opposite sides of the world, written by award-winning playwright Kaite O’Reilly and commissioned by Unlimited (delivered by Shape and Artsadmin). As the show prepares to embark on a four-date UK tour, starting at Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival on 5 September, Associate Producer and performer, Grace Khoo gives us the inside story of the production’s journey.

And Suddenly I Disappear...The Singapore 'd' Monologues

Grace Khoo, Ramesh Meyyappan and Peter Sau. Photograph by Wesley Loh of Memphis West

During one rehearsal, director Phillip Zarrilli said to me, “our work here is a reflective performative intervention that invites people into a space for a discourse about diversity.”

I remember the moment when I quietly told myself that I would never be the same again after working with the dazzling trio Kaite O’Reilly, Phillip Zarilli and Peter Sau. That was nearly two years ago when the four of us met in London.

Over coffee in the Wellcome Trust café, the gestation of ‘The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues’ began. There I was, a Singaporean student reading her Masters in Applied Theatre at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, at the cusp of graduating and jumping straight into working with a triumvirate of legends!

Legends I had studied and quoted since my undergraduate days. Legends whose books sat on the most accessible height of my bookshelf till this day. Legends whose work I witnessed on stage over and over again. I knew what we were embarking on was going to be very important and evolutionary for my own theatre practice. And perhaps beyond.

More Skype and physical meetings across the UK followed in the months to come. I basked in the warmth and generosity of fellow performer Sara Beer in Cardiff. I was irrevocably infected with the charm and disarming magnetism of Visual Director and fellow performer Ramesh Meyyappan in Glasgow.

After a rigorous, nail-biting 3-month application process for an Unlimited 2017/2018 International Commission, good news arrived in my inbox.  We swiftly celebrated our first successful step, but naturally, a shared mountain of producing legwork lay ahead. Without the good people at Unlimited sharing our strong belief in quality disability-led work, this journey would not have materialized.

In August 2017, the UK based team of Phillip, Kaite, Sara, Ramesh, the brilliant star that is Sophie Stone and myself gathered in Llanarth. It could not have been a more productive and magical weekend, full of experimentation, discovery and camaraderie.

After our initial meeting in London, two-week R&D process took place in September 2017 in Singapore at Centre 42, where we had a three-night showcase for invited guests. That was followed by our sold-out world premiere and five-show run at the National Museum of Singapore in May 2018. Finally, we come full circle at the South Bank Centre with our UK premiere of And Suddenly I Disappear: the Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues.

To take on a second role as performer, I feel like I have been living and breathing every aspect of this production for the longest time. My mind never strays far from the ethics of accessibility and the aesthetics of access.

Working through international time zones and geographies, building supportive and agency-driven relationships in the rehearsal room and co-creating new theatre vocabularies about access, our UK-Singaporean exchange has spawned a significant community of emerging artists, designers, production crew and audience members who received our simple message loudly and clearly.

Peter Sau, Grace Khoo standing in front of projection of Sophie Stone

Peter Sau, Grace Khoo and a mediated Sophie Stone. And Suddenly I Disappear: the Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues. Photo Wesley Loh Memphis West

A young country like Singapore must discover the significance of the Social Model of Disability. The most pressing call for action is to reflect on current charity-based practices and strive to embody best practices. There is also urgency in our call to smash stereotypes and go beyond mainstream representations of disability. It’s a complicated conversation and process. I found myself personally changed and surrounded by a strong collective desire for change.

Within my personal capacity, social enterprise Access Path Productions was born out of a necessary response. By producing the Singaporean premiere and regional live-stream of And Suddenly I Disappear, my partner Natalie Lim and I found ourselves facilitating conversations about access in the arts with various stakeholders.

Talking the talk naturally led to walking the walk. There wasn’t an accessible ticketing platform in Singapore, so we simply built one on our website. The company could not travel to the city of Mindanao to perform at the La Salle University for its Deaf and disabled beneficiaries, staff and students, so we gathered a team and pulled off a quality live-streaming event which reached hundreds of audiences in the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Personally, the significance of our work for me is this: while some are working hard and knocking on doors about inclusion, pushing Deaf and disabled people to rise up and be subsumed into the mainstream, we work differently. Deaf and disabled people have always been around. Inclusion, when you follow the social model, is a given.

We celebrate differences and diversity in experiences, physicalities, voices and energies in the theatre. We are who we are, and we make the work that reflects our process, our camaraderie and common humanity. With And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues’, we have made something that refuses to conform to the mainstream gaze and unconscious bias about what theatre should be.

I cannot be more excited to be reunited with my ‘d’ Monologues family again in the weeks to come as we go on tour. Our family has grown bigger with the inclusion of Macsen McKay and Garry Robsen. It will be yet another challenge, with a tightly packed multi-city schedule.

The one word that director Phillip and lead artist Kaite constantly use is “onwards” and the singular drive to overcome all obstacles keeps us moving forward together. So onwards we shall walk with our feet and roll with our wheels. With a spirit of solidarity and love, our company warmly welcomes all to come share the ‘d’ monologues experience in the theatre with us this September.

And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore/UK ‘d’ Monologues is at Southbank Centre, London on 5-6 September, with additional performances at The Old Fire Station, Oxford on 8 September, Attenborough Centre, Leicester on 9 September and Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff on 11-12 September.

Watch a trailer for the show here: