Being Pangdemonium’s first physical play since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Girls & Boys, a one-woman play portrayed by Nikki Muller, sets to bring the audience through a journey through the lens of one lady. The artjam magazine gets in touch with Director Tracie Pang and Nikki to find out more about the play.
AJ: Girls & Boys is Pangdemonium’s first physical play since COVID-19 forced theatres to close. What has changed since the theatres have closed due to pandemic? Are there any new challenges and how did you overcome them?
Tracie: I’ve seen loads of challenges, [challenges] that we’ve been dealing with all through last year. I don’t know if that’s necessarily specific to Girls & Boys, I think that is just as a company — and many companies, not even just theatre companies, have struggled with many different challenges throughout the year. For us, getting to a place where we could present Girls & Boys, we had to have the security, and even “go ahead”, from the government. We had to go past the whole sorting out, you know, how many bubbles of audience members we can have and how we’re going to seat them. We had to do a lot of research in terms of looking at our data for past productions to see how people were buying. So we looked at how people are buying, basically, like they were in singles, pairs, threes, fours… so that we could actually try to predict what sort of seating plan we could put out.
I mean, there are other challenges as well that we’re facing, things like limits on how many people we can have on stage. That doesn’t just include the actors, [but also] stage management, crew, anybody backstage — so we’re limited to 30 people. So that in turn has a knock-on effect to how we design, how we create the show.
And once we get into theater, I would normally sit and watch the show every night and then give notes, but because of the new COVID rules, I cannot sit in the same space as the audience, and what we were told at first was if I’m in front of the house I cannot go backstage. So the two areas cannot mix, which would mean that I would have to kinda give Nikki notes via Zoom or something, which is a bit weird, but we’re finding different ways to manage it.
AJ: Is this your first production since the whole COVID thing, Nikki?
Nikki: Yes. It is my first stage production since I worked for them for Fun Home, which is now three years ago — 2017 or 2018. I don’t know when that was, but it was a long time ago.
AJ: What was the inspiration behind Girls & Boys and who is the target audience that you would like to focus on?
Tracie: For me, I had to make the decision to choose the piece. Prior to that, I kind of read it, and it took me on such an emotional journey.
When this decision to take on this piece was set in place, it was before COVID actually came knocking on our doors that we had already decided to do this piece. I feel quite lucky that we had chosen it and got it there. Because it’s in the place that we are now as a community, we need to be doing these more personal talks, documentation of life. I think this isn’t the ideal moment, it’s not going to be a “let’s all go and fun” play in the sense of the journey that it goes, but I hope it’s a play that you can kind of go to and come out of and feel like you have been taken on this immense journey of understanding humanity.
Also, being a one-person play, it’s going to be tough but I love that challenge.
AJ: How do you think COVID has changed what people want to watch now? Do you think that there’s a difference?
Nikki: One thing COVID — and many people are talking about this — COVID has brought out and exposed, whether it be personally, professionally, business, everybody’s vulnerabilities. Nobody was spared; whatever wasn’t quite right was completely revealed. And in some wonderful way, it also strips away a lot of the pretence, all the things that really didn’t matter in your life. You start to see it right through this immense reflection that people have gone through forced reflection for most of us. But it is something that you go through.
So one thing that’s really great about this particular monologue, or this particular play, is that you can sense that this woman is very raw and very real. And, I feel like with her, she is longing to connect. This is her story, she is sharing a very difficult but very wonderful, very funny, a very real world and life story with you, which I think as an audience is quite cool and quite relatable at this point in time. You hopefully will walk out feeling like you’ve known this woman for a very, very long time. You will feel empathy, you will feel like she was a part of your family in some way. So human connection, humanity, relatability, no pretence, no bullshit. I think that’s what’s really great about this play.
AJ: What do you think Singaporeans who watch it can take away from the play?
Tracie: Well, there are definitely spoilers in this piece that we don’t want to be put out, so I’ll just put that on the table right now. […] But what do I want them to take away? I want them to be moved by this journey. It’s very easy to look at another person’s life and just be, I think, distant from it. And you know, it’s like voyeurism — you just kind of see things in a newspaper, and you can comment about them. But when you’re in the play and watching a play like this, there’s a connection in a theater that you cannot get away from, and I want people to be connected to this character.
Nikki: It’ll probably be the longest 90 minutes of your life and it’s really personal. It’s very personal, I think they will feel, ideally, if we do things right [in] each scene, because the way this play is so interesting, all the scenes, there’s, you know. She talks about her love life, or sex life, her professional life or family life. In some form or fashion, we will all be able to kind of sense that we’ve had some similar experiences; her’s are completely wild, but it is something we can all relate to. The lead asks some really good questions, too. I think ideally, the audience will also be going, “Hmm, I wonder what she said about this issue right? What would I do?”. It gives me a little bit of reflection there too. But ideally, having left feeling like you really made a good friend and you wish her well, that sort of thing.
AJ: For Nikki, what is one thing that you like about acting as the character you are portraying?
Nikki: Again, I might sound like a broken record here but I like that she’s so, so real. I like that about her. It’s refreshing. She’s foul mouth, which I personally am as Nikki. I mean, I used to, time to time, but this is like the extreme, extreme, extreme version of what I’d ever consider myself to be. So even I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable reading it out loud. I like that there’s so many layers to her. One thing I’m actually very excited about is from the audience perspective. We haven’t started rehearsals, so I’m not sure where we’re going. But I’m assuming that we’re going to be breaking the fourth wall. As an audience member, we kind of just say that “You do the play, I sit here I’ll enjoy, you do you.” Here it’s like, “No, no, no, you are part of this. In this story with me, I am talking to you. I’m not talking to myself.” So that’s going to be very interesting,
AJ: Can you describe Girls & Boys, the production, in a word or phrase without revealing any spoilers?
Tracie: I think I would use the word ‘brave’. Because for the role, I think Nikki has to be very brave to do it. I think the character is very brave to even open up about what she’s talking about. It’s just this brave, female character; that for me kind of really sums up the piece.
Nikki: The word of the day for me with her is ‘raw’. This piece is raw. And what’s cool is I don’t think she has a name. There is no name. That’s it, she has no name. So interesting. I’m playing a character with no name.
AJ: Lastly, is there anything else that you guys would like to share with the readers of our magazine, regarding the play?
Tracie: Come and see it! It’s a real opportunity, this play is so fresh off the West End and Broadway. We are the first company to get the rights to it outside of the US. It was first performed in London, and then it transferred to Broadway in the West End. We got it and nobody else has had it. Since, it’s been to London and the US, and that was just one production. We got such a wonderful opportunity to get the rights to this play before anybody else, and the Singapore audience has a chance to see this play before most of the world gets to see it. We are very lucky to [both] get a chance to see it and to also work on it.
Girls & Boys will be shown at the Drama Centre Theatre from 25 February to 14 March 2021.
Tickets start from $30.
For more information, visit https://pangdemonium.com/production/girls-boys/