Eulogy from Mr. Lim Chin Heng

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With permission from Mr. Lim Chin Heng, I shared his eulogy here on this blog:

“I would like to put my eulogy in honour of the late Mr. Peng Tsu Ying, our Pioneer Deaf Educator, and my inspiring teacher & mentor. Mr Peng and I are both born in the year of Tiger.

At my age of 4 in 1955, Dad brought me to somewhere or a hospital that I always cried loudly. Upon arrival at Singapore Chinese Sign School for the Deaf that was established by a deaf couple, Mr & Mrs Peng Tsu Ying, at Charlton Lane, off Upper Serangoon Road in 1954. I was so shocked to see so many deaf children signing with their deaf teachers.

Mr Peng, the founding principal, was a well-built body and good-looking man with cheerful smile. He showed me a big book with pictures of animals and pointed at a picture of cow, using both “Y” signs to touch the sides of head. When my eyes were widened, this was my first one word I learned, comparing with hearing peers who already learned nearly 900 words.

From 1955 to 1967, I had been growing up with Mr Peng who helped teaching and guiding me before I left for USA. I had watched him struggling, fighting and running his school as he was shorthanded. He used his writing skills in Chinese and English language as powerful weapon to advocate our deaf education rights.

Before his Chinese Sign Section of Singapore School for the Deaf was phrased out, SADeaf sent him to represent Singapore to the 7th World Congress of the WFD in Washington D.C. USA in July-August 1975. I helped guiding him on the tour of Washington D.C. area and introduced him to a number of prominent deaf scholars, especially A/Prof. Frances M. Parsons who travelled globally promoting Total Communication Approach (TC).

Upon his return home, he made a lengthy report dated 3 September 1975 and recommended the SADeaf Executive Council to invite A/Prof. Parsons to give an inspiring lecture on TC Approach here. He and I saw the need for the implementation of TC Approach with American Sign Language and how together it has been a vital instrument in the successful education for deaf children in Singapore.

Mr Peng was a great mentor to me and other deafies. For that, our families are indebted to him and his family.

Let us take our hats off to the late Mr Peng Tsu Ying.”

DISCLAIMER: The author of the above article is the director and founder of ExtraOrdinary Horizons. All opinions expressed herein are thus the personal views of contributing individual authors. They are not indicative of any endorsement, political or otherwise, or lack thereof, either on the part of the organisation.

Purple Parade 2018 – THIS IS DEAF

SFDLE8057.JPGFor this year’s Purple Parade, ExtraOrdinary Horizons put up a choreographed dramatic dance performance, with a rendition of ‘This Is Me‘ from the movie “The Greatest Showman”, sung by Keala Settle and The Greatest Showman Ensemble.

The dance was choreographed by Donny Laurence, the Deaf performing artiste, with ideas and suggestions thrown in by the rest of us, former and current students from the sign language courses (across all the levels). He was mentored by Lily.

We rehearsed every Friday night, and despite our busy schedules and differing views, everyone was very dedicated and willing to put in our best efforts to put up a good show for the audience at The Purple Parade.

As shown in a dramatic introduction, the three Deaf students were being ostracized by the rest of the “normal” (Hearing) students. As the music progressed, the Deaf students eventually decided to stay true to themselves and ended up earning recognition from the rest.

The concept for the dance is that we want to showcase inclusive arts – the fact that Deaf can perform as well as the Hearing. Arts is a common language for us to express ourselves, and is a medium for us to reach out to others, sending a message that despite the loss of hearing, the Deaf can still find a way to live their lives as fully as possible.

As the chorus proclaims:

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me

Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

This song has been a huge hit ever since the movie’s release and has been used multiple times as an anthem by those who are rejected by society. When we rehearsed for the song, we decided not to be too strict on perfecting our steps, as we wanted to keep it as natural as possible.

Deaf was first priority. In my opinion, this performance did justice to the song and kept true to the meaning, that whether you and me are Deaf or not, we ought not to be afraid to show our true selves and live truly as we deserve.

(VIDEO LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98KRAf3_yIY)

 

DISCLAIMER: The author of the above article is a volunteer with ExtraOrdinary Horizons. All opinions expressed herein are thus the personal views of contributing individual authors. They are not indicative of any endorsement, political or otherwise, or lack thereof, either on the part of the organisation.

Calling for the Singapore Sign Language to be recognized as the official Sign Language of Singapore

This email was sent to the Straits Times and TODAY ten days ago. So this is assumed that it was rejected after its stipulated period. It was then published here on the blog.

Written by Lily Goh

Singapore has been advocating for inclusion since 1981 when Disabled People’s International held its first world congress and elected Singaporean disability advocate Mr Ron Chandran-Dudley. Since then disability inclusion has been celebrated in the Purple Parade, Purple Symphony, the National Day Parade, as well as the National Council of Social Service’s “See the True Me” campaign.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong even made a commitment towards building an inclusive society in Singapore in his swearing-in speech in 2004. To realize this goal, the Enabling Masterplan was launched in 2007, as the national road map to improve lives of the persons with disabilities. Even, Prime Minister Lee spoke in Singapore Sign Language during his National Day Rally 2016, “Count on me Singapore”.

What does inclusion mean to you? According to the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda, “inclusiveness speaks to the notion of empowerment and the principle of non-discrimination”and the belief that “no one is left behind”.

In keeping with this spirit, the United Nations declared the International Day of Sign Languages will be celebrated annually across the world. The inaugural celebration was held on Sunday, 23 September 2018, under the theme, “With Sign Language, Everyone is Included!”

The Singapore  Association of the Deaf hosted the Singapore Sign Language Week 2018 at the Red Box from 24 September to 29 September. Stories, jokes, poems and dramas by different Deaf people were presented to the public, in the celebration of Singapore Sign Language. It has been advocating for Singapore Sign Language and is a strong, unifying identity for the Deaf community. 

Now, as a Deaf advocate I call for our Singapore Sign Language to be recognized and validated as the official sign language of Singapore. American Sign Language was declared as the official Sign Language of America in the 1960s, and it has opened doors for other countries to follow suit.

I call on your support to strengthen the linguistics landscape in Singapore because it has been ignoring the Deaf communities’ native sign language. It focuses on the mainstream society only, forgetting the Singapore Sign Language that is supposed to be part of it. Singapore Sign Language has been developing for 60 years, compared to Singapore’s 53rd years’ independence.

Once Singapore Sign Language is declared as the official sign language, it will become the official mode of communication used in educational, institutional, translation and state matters involving those who are Deaf.

I believe with the official recognition of Singapore Sign Language, the concept of inclusion will become stronger and better.

(420 words)

 

DISCLAIMER: All opinions expressed herein are thus the personal views of contributing individual authors. They are not indicative of any endorsement, political or otherwise, or lack thereof, either on the part of the organisation.

Deaf is a disability

Hey you hear me
No I cannot hear you
Why cannot you hear me
I am deaf
Huh, what is deaf
Deaf is the disability that I have
What kind disability is that
It is the loss of hearing residue

How can hearing be lost
Hearing can be lost through different ways
Like what ways
Born deaf, high fever, fall, etc
How can that be
Nobody knows

Is it a sickness
No it is not a sickness, just a disability
Still why cannot you hear me
I have said I m deaf
So what is deaf
I have said it out already

Deaf or not I don’t care
You don’t care
Ya I don’t care
Sure
Ya sure

Wait till you grow older and older
Why is it so
Your hearing will fail as you age much further
How is it so
You will know when you reach the old age…

~ By Misako Pearl Lim W. S. (2011, September 19)

 

DISCLAIMER: The author of the above poem is Deaf. She posted her poem on her Facebook on 19 September 2011 and it was open to the public.
All opinions expressed herein are thus the personal views of contributing individual authors. They are not indicative of any endorsement, political or otherwise, or lack thereof, either on the part of the organisation.

SgSL Week 2018

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Yesterday was the last day of the SgSL Week 2018, that was organised by the Singapore Association for the Deaf. It hosted this series of events for 6 days, since 24 September 2018. It has presented various jokes, stories, poems and theatrical dramas in #SgSL.

There was a full morning of presentations from four speakers. About education, experiences and linguistics. It was exciting to have the short stories by the students of Lighthouse School for the first time. This was their good avenue where they can showcase their talents. Also, it could help increase their self-confidence. Cheers to those who are behind this children’s showcase!

Then, it was an afternoon when the SgSL instructors from the Singapore Association of the Deaf shared their experiences in different forms. Apart from the SADeaf, Lily Goh had presented her four poems. This reached to the public, as well as the deaf communities.

We hope to be part of the next SgSL Week 2019!

 

International Day of Sign Languages

This month of September is going to be exciting for d/Deaf around the world.

Firstly, we would like to share a bit of information about the World Federation of the Deaf and its international advocacy.

“We are excited to attend a series of events this month to commemorate the first International Day of Sign Languages.

Next week, WFD Vice-President Joseph Murray will be in UN Geneva on the 12th and 13th September 2018 to deliver presentations. English, International Sign and Captioning available via UN Live stream at http://webtv.un.org.

Follow us the entire month to get updates on where we will be to celebrate this day.”

You can watch the presentations on the above-stated link (when you are free).

You can see, many of us have been sharing posts about #SgSL. The Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf) posted 15 gifs; one sign for one day, till 15 September 2018. If you wish to learn more about them, you can come down to Toa Payoh HDB Hub Atrium from 11am to 7pm. Or we encourage d/Deaf signers to share different signs that will be posted on its Facebook on the day itself between 12:30pm and 2:30pm. This helps better in documentation for research and development that is necessary to improve our daily lives better. For future generations.

The budding Deaf Singapore Lah has initiated to publish its videos on local and international deaf achievements, as well as sign language videos. This Deaf-led company aspires to share information on food, lifestyle and travel in #SgSL through its media.

Lastly, we’re glad to share our #SgSL short live videos occasionally from this month onwards. We are still at the exploration stage of using live videos. And, we hope you can bear with us. At the same time, we really hope you have fun learning from us together.

Alright, let’s mark 23rd September 2018 to celebrate Sign Languages around the world.

C’mon and keep on signing all the way!

UPDATE: Deaf Resources & Network in Singapore

Today, we’re pleased to see more d/Deaf entreprenuership growing with more individuals who have their aspirations. Some of them established their businesses many years ago, such as Patsfield Services Pte Ltd.

Just updated the webpage on Deaf resources & network in Singapore. You can check it out.

If you have any information related to deafness in Singapore, you can drop us an email at contact@eohorizons.com.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2018

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Please mark 17 May 2018 to celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day! #gbla11yday

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is an awareness day, focusing on accessibility, often emphasising on web accessibility. (SOURCE: Wikipedia)

Apple has a tremendous initiative of hosting the Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) in their Retail stores and offices around the world. It organises its series of events to raise awareness, to educate public on accessibility, and to host invited guests from the PWD community to share their stories/experiences at the Apple Apple Orchard Retail store (270 Orchard Road). #todayatapple #appleorchardroad

Details as follows:

Date: Friday, 18 May
Time: 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Lily Goh is the founder of ExtraOrdinary Horizons, a social enterprise that teaches sign language and provides public services. Lily is a seasoned artist who performs song-signing and mallet percussion.

To register: https://www.apple.com/…/music-lab-lily-goh-6400782977525515…

Date: Sunday May 20
Live Art: Figures and Caricatures with Isaac Liang
Time: 4:00pm – 6:00pm
Join deaf illustrator Isaac Liang for Global Accessibility Awareness Day and learn about his journey around the world, sketching and painting with iPad Pro. He’ll share the fundamentals of figure drawing. Then you’ll get hands-on with iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, using lines and colour to create your own caricatures. The session will be facilitated by a sign language interpreter.

To register: https://www.apple.com/…/live-art-isaac-liang-6398202376968…/
Interested to know more about Apple products? Do check out the schedules below:

Date: Tuesday May 15
Basics: Using iPad and iPhone with Hearing Loss
Time: 3:30pm – 4:30pm
To register: https://www.apple.com/…/using-ipad-and-iphone-with-hearing…/

Date: Friday May 18
Basics: Using iPad and iPhone with Hearing Loss
Time: 5:00pm – 6:00pm
To register: https://www.apple.com/…/using-ipad-and-iphone-with-hearing…/

Date: Sunday May 20
Basics: Using iPad and iPhone with Hearing Loss
Time: 2:00pm – 3:00pm
To register: https://www.apple.com/…/using-ipad-and-iphone-with-hearing…/

For the full line-up of GAAD events at the Apple Orchard Retail store, you can check them out at this link: https://www.apple.com/…/collection/accessibility-collection/

A New Makeover of 2018!

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This website got its new makeover at the same domain this year!
There are changes in our workshops and courses. The cost remains the same till the end of this year. You can check it out.

As some of you have been to the Peninsula Shopping Centre for the workshops, courses and other activities, we would like to inform you that we will no longer occupy there with effect from 16 April 2018. We do not have any physical or permanent location. For our workshops and courses, we try our best to book classrooms at Blk 261, Waterloo Street (Nearest MRT: Bras Basah MRT, Exit A) for our workshops and courses.

Look out for our MailChimp updates!

#throwback: SDEA Theatre Arts Conference 2017

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I had always wanted to share my learning experiences about this event, and finally I posted this blog entry today!

I was the only Deaf participant there, with the sign language interpreter accompanying me for 2 full days. I consider myself as the art practitioner in Deaf ways, and I’m exploring different possibilities for my future Deaf Singapore Theatre. In the meantime, I’m the trainee with Project Tandem led by Mr. Peter Sau. If you wish to know more about this project, you may check this link out.

For the first time, I came to know different methodologies, research and experiences from hearing practitioners. I remember that Dr. Julie Dunn’s concept of children’s dramatic play was popular among the participants. I had no chance to attend her session at that time. Her studies has shown that the concept could possibly contribute to imagination, creativity, language development and narrative skills. Technology should not be included in it.

I remember two sessions by Ms. Nazreen Osman, and Ms. Kang Chee Hui (from SACSS) respectively. Ms. Nazreen shared her experiences on integrating drama into her school’s English Language curriculum/syllabus. This was quite eye-opening to me, though it may be common to the others. Ms. Kang got her students to showcase their performance about how social media affects relationships among the students.

After I learnt about the conference, I feel that there are some possibilities to apply the “mainstreamed/hearing” tools in Deaf ways…

What do I mean by the Deaf ways of theatre arts? These ways revolve around sign language that is visual and gestural. Yet linguistics. This could have similarities with mime or physical theatre. Beyond that, it adopts visual vernacular that is “a theatrical art form of physical expression, storytelling with strong sense of body movements, iconic signs, gestures, and facial expressions” (Ishtiaq, 2016).

At this moment, Mr. Peter mentors me for his project. I learnt many new things from his team, and I have been grateful since then.

 

DISCLAIMER: The author of the above article is the founder & director from ExtraOrdinary Horizons, and she is bilaterally profound-severe Deaf. All opinions expressed herein are thus the personal views of contributing individual authors. They are not indicative of any endorsement, political or otherwise, or lack thereof, either on the part of the organisation.

Sharing my experience in Deafine Your Horizons Event

27th May 2017, 3pm-7pm, Star Vista Shopping mall 

This one-day event, Deafine Your Horizons, was our first collaboration with a group of Hwa Chong Institute (HCI) students which aims to raise awareness about ExtraOrdinary Horizons at Star Vista shopping mall. HCI student set up booth activities, such as learning to sign Numbers 1-20, and getting others to try lip reading while wearing headphones with music to simulate how some Deaf feel when they cannot hear us speak. This also showed how lip-reading is a skill that can be hard to learn and may not be always be accurate as some words form same shape on the lips. It is like trying to differentiate “I love you” from “colourful” only through lip-reading . These two sentences can sound different, but they form similar shapes. So the lip-reading has its own limitations too.  This event also provided a platform for OriLove, which is founded by young Deaf Entrepreneurs, to sell their handmade merchandise.

It’s a heartfelt experience for me to see our audience trying and learning to sign with us during song signing and signing alphabets. Being on stage alone is something I am not used to. It’s the connection with this group of audience through their zealous participation through the games and song signing and the support from my friends that gave me the courage to do my best in song signing on stageOne of the audience said that he cried when Lily Goh song signed the song,  “If You Were In My Shoes”.  The lyrics in this song is written by Lily Goh (& Hina Liang), and the music and video production is made by Audris Ho and many other people credited in this link below. Listen to it here.  When I first listened to this song, I was also moved to tears as it reminded me of how one of deaf friends which I am close to felt. I am a hearing myself, so I do not really understand how it feels to be Deaf in this world. So, it really warmed my heart when I saw the audience embracing Deaf culture and learning to signing along with us. So, it is in hope that more events can be organised to promote Deaf culture, to support Deaf entrepreneurship, to learn sign language, and to bridge the gap between Deaf and Hearing.

 

DISCLAIMER: The author of the above article is a volunteer with ExtraOrdinary Horizons. All opinions expressed herein are thus the personal views of contributing individual authors. They are not indicative of any endorsement, political or otherwise, or lack thereof, either on the part of the organisation.

Subscribe to Arjun’s YouTube channel


We’re pleased to share the YouTube channel of our volunteer, Arjun. He posted his first video, to celebrate the International Day of Cultural Diversity today.

“The day provides us with an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the values of cultural diversity…”
SOURCE: United Nations

You may wonder why Deafness is part of culture. Generally, you have a common knowledge that Deafness is a hidden disability. We, the members of the Deaf communities around the world, see Deafness as our Deaf Culture. Sign Language is the heart of the Deaf Culture. Also, we view it as our deafhood that we experience since our birth or early discovery. Here in Singapore, we do have our Singapore Sign Language that is called “SgSL” in a short form. You can know more about SgSL.

We advocate to protect our identity, culture, language and pride in our Deaf Culture. We prefer to be called “a big D Deaf” as proudly identified within this culture. Why do many people call us “hearing impaired“? This “hearing impaired” label is often used in a medical or audiological view. We are not comfortable with this derogatory label as we do not live with our problems in hearing sounds or conversations every day (or most of the times). Have you ever listened to us with a open mind and heart? Since very young, we have been fitting ourselves to a mainstreamed society upon our parents’ wish or hope that we could behave like them. Their “hope” is derived from a lack of knowledge and understanding on Deafness. Compared to other countries where a strong Deaf culture has its long history (more than 100 years), Singapore is quite young. We struggle with poor accessibility in arts, access, education, employment and technology for many years. Though Singapore signed the UNCRPD in 2012, there have been slight improvements in our Deaf issues and needs. Now, we hope to improve our needs for a better future, especially for our younger deaf generations.

Today, we encourage you all to embrace cultural diversity.

DISCLAIMER: The above article is written by Lily Goh, a deaf advocate. All opinions expressed herein are thus the personal views of contributing individual authors. They are not indicative of any endorsement, political or otherwise, or lack thereof, either on the part of the organisation.

Illusion or(of) Reality: Off Kilter by Ramesh Meyyappan

By Arjun Vadrevu

Growing up in Singapore, there is one common experience—one unifying factor—that we can all relate to: rote. We believe in the tried and tested; we revel in structure; conformity is our greatest aspiration. We rely on being able to predict the future, a reliance based on the assumption that the world is fundamentally predictable. However, it may simultaneously be observed that from the days of Apep in ancient Egypt, right down to Dickinson’s theories of international relations, mankind has understood that the world is inherently anarchic. All matter, all structure, is born only of that chaos.

The sole way we, as humans (or specifically, Singaporeans), can safeguard our comforting structures is by imposing control, which, when postured against the inherently ‘natural’ chaos of the world we live in, must logically be artificial. This control is imposed in two ways: time and space. And in his one-man play Off Kilter, Ramesh Meyyappan explores the boundaries of these impositions.

We’re introduced to the notion of time from the very get go. Ramesh’s character, Joe Kilter, is surrounded by alarm clocks that ring repeatedly. Contrary to what one would expect, though, he doesn’t show any signs of annoyance, rather revelling in the system he has in place to deal with his clocks. We are introduced to his other systems as well, such as the order in which he gets dressed and ready for work. It is clear that he finds great comfort in these mundane but finely-tuned processes. The impact of rote methods is also highlighted here, as evidenced by Kilter going to great lengths just to touch his toes, an action rooted in the belief that mechanical repetition invariably leads one to success.

During the play, Kilter is seen to thrive on audience interaction, bordering on participation (we’re all given a copy of the letter he receives). But this is so much more than a mere breaking of the fourth wall—a device I feel too often verges on the meretricious. At times, Meyyappan would repeat an action, or pause, until a desired reaction was elicited from his audience, thus supporting the notion of routine as performativity, and highlighting the importance of an audience to such an end. After all, what is performance without appreciation?

To me, Kilter thus far represents all of us—society—and the ruts we’ve subconsciously got ourselves stuck in. But then everything changes.

Kilter receives a letter. We don’t yet know who it’s from or what it’s for, but its delivery is done with such grandeur and persistence only befitting of a life-changing entity. After an agonisingly long period of grappling with the very existence of the letter, Kilter rips it open, much as one would rip off a bandaid, and we learn the truth: after 18 years of working in the same job, he’s been fired. In the time that follows, the audience processes this news with Kilter. We’ve only known him for 20 odd minutes, but we feel his pain. He signs, “I’ve worked for so long. Now it’s finished,” (a phrase that has far more impact in British Sign Language) over, and over, and over. Even in his emotional expression he is repetitive, indicating how ingrained repetition is in our psyche.

All the while during the performance, there is one clock out of anyone’s reach, and it is this clock that sees the audience through the play—it doesn’t follow any intelligible pattern or logic. However, even upon Kilter’s termination, the clock doesn’t stop and the ticking noise—one that the audience becomes all too familiar with by the end of the 50 minutes—reverberates through the theatre. Thus, at some junctions, its message is clear: time goes on.

Life as Kilter knows it, though, does not. His routine isn’t just thrown off course; it’s obliterated entirely. We thus become privy to his coping strategies, many of which are compulsive in nature. He taps on the table, obsessively cleans his glasses, continuously rearranges the stationery on his desk, and generally becomes perfectionistic to the point of paranoia. We see a gradual unravelling of his reality, to the extent that he performs his ‘getting ready ritual’, but in reverse this time. Yet the lack of structure is most obvious when he tries to throw his keys into a cup, a trick he performs flawlessly each morning—the clatter of the keys upon the wooden floor is almost jarring. This unlearning of new habits, a prerequisite to adjusting to a new reality, is a painful experience to witness.

Thus we enter what I am referring to as the “Twilight Zone” segment of the play. Imagine reality on steroids: the entire time-space continuum is thrown out of whack. We’ve already established that time is arbitrary, but its chaotic nature comes to the fore at this point, as Meyyappan displays great mastery of theatric timing (ironic, isn’t it?), portraying Kilter’s actions in a ‘pause-and-play’ sort of sequence. Space, too, is shown to have no limits in this world—shelves slant, cookies regenerate and then grow to great sizes, some things disappear, while others multiply. The tapping that Kilter clearly found solace in now becomes erratic and panicked. Logic, boundaries, systems—such ideas are irrelevant in this universe.

The most devastating part of witnessing such a degeneration is Kilter’s helplessness through it all. Stapling the letter to the desk only results in him stapling his own finger, just as stabbing the paper with a pen barely harms the letter itself, injuring his hand instead. Possibly what Meyyappan is trying to convey is that, in trying to impose control on nature, we only end up hurting ourselves.

As sound, action and lighting climax, Kilter makes his choice: he shreds the letter to pieces. As they rain down around him, the audience comes to understand the implication of this decision—that he has chosen to deny reality; that he is to return to the world of schedules and systems, of structure and chains. By doing so, the inconvenient reality Kilter battled with for the better part of the last hour…is now lost.

The most striking, and I dare say defining, segment of the play was its ending. The audience had entered the theatre with the following poem in hand:

…I live like a cuckoo in a clock,

I don’t envy the birds of a flock

They wind me up, and I cuckoo

A fate like this—sad but true…

Bringing the play full circle, Meyyappan wraps with the same image of the cuckoo clock. In a beautiful display of gestures and handwork, he depicts birds flying gracefully through open skies. He, on the other hand, is a bird of a different variety, specifically the artificial one stuck in a cuckoo clock, satisfied by cuckooing on the hour, every hour. Just as the poem begins and ends will ellipses, so does Kilter’s life return to the monotone of his reality and of the denial of nature.

In some ways, he leaves us all hanging. He fingerspells: “F-A-T-E”, but then adds a dramatic “?”. In the silence that ensued, that question mark was akin to a wake up call. Maybe what we thus far assumed to be every person’s inherent fate—working within the bounds of socially-defined structures and systems—is actually a choice, and that is up to us to question this notion. That is what I personally took away from that spellbinding conclusion, but I’m sure each person in that theatre was affected in a different yet equally personal way.

And then there is the fact that Meyyappan is Deaf. Honestly, it wasn’t an arbitrary decision that landed Meyyappan’s Deafness such a late feature in this article. Instead, it is a reflection of its lack of importance to the entire production—at no time during the play did I feel a scene was in need of dialogue. Recently, Meyyappan spoke at an annual forum on arts and disability in Singapore, where he signed, “First, I am an artist. Then I am Deaf.” He clearly prefers to let his art speak for itself, and in this regard, he achieved great success with Off Kilter.

We live in a world today where theatre is equated with voice. Any lack thereof grants the performance the far less glorified label of “mime”. Off Kilter, however, was testament to the power of silence. In fact, the entire play was a silent soliloquy of sorts. Even though there was music—which, as a side note, was arranged to excellent ends—Meyyappan was able to convey the same emotion, frustration and mood as the music through his own body language and facial expression. Typically, silence is defined as the absence of sound. However, Off Kilter showed us all that silence is truly an entity unto itself.

To venture into the meta, in a sense the entire play mirrored its message. It broke barriers, challenging commonly accepted notions of what theatre is and demonstrating a fluidity of normally rigid concepts. The lack of voice additionally opened doors to exploring other forms of expression, such as dance and mime, whose influence could be observed regularly through the play. Last year, during his production of Butterfly, Meyyappan toyed (mind the pun) with puppetry. In keeping with his proclivity for pushing boundaries, Off Kilter delved into the world of magic. In the context of a play about illusions and the contrast between illusions and reality, the use of magic provided an incredible platform to show the thin line between our contrasted reality, and the actual chaotic one.

I have long enjoyed patronising the arts, and recently have been rather involved in the Deaf landscape. We often hear talk of “inclusive arts”; however, this still works on the assumption of incorporating marginalised (usually disabled) individuals into existing structures. This was my very first time in an environment where art was designed for Deafness, rather than catering for it. And it was a truly breathtaking experience.

It was therefore interesting to observe hearing audience members’ reactions to Off Kilter. One, in particular, suggested that they subtitle the portions in which Sign Language is used (of which there is only really one, for the ending scene relied on visual gestural communication). It was something this particular individual apparently felt very strongly about. Ironically, this is how Deaf people feel on a daily basis, resulting in a complete lack of access to the broader arts scene. This then raises the question of whether it is alright for Deaf-friendly to, in some aspects, include hearing audiences. For my part, I don’t view this as particularly harmful or insidious, rather as a way to celebrate the Deaf arts. (And besides, there were sufficient non-signed visual cues from which one could gauge meaning, as highlighted by other hearing members of the audience.)

At the end of the evening, we emerge from the theatre and pour collectively out into the street. It dawns on me that even the location of the theatre may have been intentional. Sure, we’re in the heart of Singapore—just along the Singapore River—but concurrently most of us had never been to the pocket of space in which the theatre was situated.

I now realise I can’t help but see the world through the lens that Meyyappan has so gracefully provided us. It’s our choice whether we want to be a bird in the sky, or one in a cuckoo clock. Ultimately, the only reality we can really know is change, and that our world is off kilter.

About Ramesh Meyyappan: Ramesh is a Glasgow-based Singaporean theatre creator who develops performances using an eclectic mix of visual and physical theatre styles. He is currently part of the Programme Design Team for the BA Degree for the Deaf at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

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