VISION 2020 was launched when documentary theatre practitioner Mark Teh was 10 years old.
"Malaysia is two years away from 2020, and another new vision with much the same ambitions and problems is unveiled in TN50," says the 37-year-old Five Arts Centre member who is presenting Version 2020, The Complete Futures of Malaysia Chapter 3, on March 15.
The performance will offer five voices, offering personal accounts and views at some of the continuities and discontinuities between these two models.
“Is it just a recycled vision or transformation, or is there something more substantive being offered?” asks Teh
“Audiences can expect a performance that questions how our 'futures' have been created and designed in Malaysia, the ambitions of the nation-state seen against the desires and aspirations of five Malaysian citizens."
Teh, a researcher and lecturer, has taken Version 2020 to Germany and Japan before this local staging.
"The reactions have been positive in general — we have been invited to tour Version 2020 to more festivals and venues.
"At the SPIELART Munich festival, there was a lot of curiosity about the Malaysian context and our approaches to documentary theatre..
"In the recent run in Tokyo, the idea of '2020' took on a different complexion and layer as the city and people of Tokyo themselves are grappling with the impending Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and the debate and controversies that surround it. '2020' has a strong and divisive connotation in the city."
Version 2020 features actor-performer Faiq Syazwan Kuhiri, dancer-choreographer Lee Ren Xin, controversial artist Fahmi Reza, and filmmakers Imri Nasution and Roger Liew.
The creative team also includes visual artiste Wong Tay Sy and lighting designer Syamsul Azhar.
Some of the cast also worked with Teh on his most recent staging, Baling (Membaling), last year.
Teh, the first Boh Cameronian Promising Artist Award winner in 2002, says he regularly works with Faiq and Liew, who graduated from Sunway University's Department of Performance & Media where Teh lectures.
"But I haven't consciously avoided working with theatre actors.
Of course, I am aware that a perception persists because often in the performances that I make, there are people you would not normally see on the Kuala Lumpur stage — filmmaker Nasution, or the performer-politician Fahmi Fadzil — whom I've worked with since we were 18 years old in college, as well as visual artistes such as Wong and Chang Yoong Chia.
"In most cases, these people have only 'performed' in my projects.
"But what I would like to stress instead is that my work as director and researcher is collaborative, and often the team works with a subject matter over an extended period of time.
"For example, the series of works relating to the Malayan Emergency (different iterations of Baling from 2005 to now, the Emergency Festival in 2008, etc) or more currently, the new series under the label, The Complete Futures of Malaysia.
"So our working process unfolds over a very long period, and individuals — from the designers to production team to the people who will eventually end up on stage in front of an audience — really have to bring their own research, perspectives and criticality to the table.
"Some of the methods we use may be similar to ethnography or investigative journalism — the performers often have to do a lot of fieldwork too, and have an awareness of themselves not just as 'performers' onstage, but also as social actors in our current political reality.
"Because I primarily make documentary performances, the performers are always performing a version of themselves onstage. None of them are playing characters in the conventional, dramatic sense.
"This process can be frustrating, but I am lucky to be working consistently with performers such as Imri, Faiq and the two Fahmis over the years because they allow me to develop my practice, ideas and skills as a performance maker.
"Along the way, we work with newer people who might have similar curiosities — for example, the dancer-choreographer Lee this time."
DRAWING ON HISTORY
Teh relates an incident from working with his team that has been included in Version 2020:
"As we were researching and collecting materials, and thinking through how it may have impacted our lives, Imri Nasution shared with us some photos from 1994 of him participating in the Merdeka Day Parade at Dataran Merdeka.
"Of course in 1994, Malaysia was doing very well economically, so there was this sense of optimism.
"Imri was then in secondary school, during that era when almost all young people had to draw what Malaysia would look like in 2020, or had to write essays in school about what they imagined Malaysia, or their own life, might be like come 2020.
"He described his experience of performing in the Merdeka Day celebration, where he and thousands of other young people had to make shapes and formations under the hot sun, including that of the national flag and the Vision 2020. They were clothed head to toe in red, white, yellow and blue.
"We were all struck by this image of young people being choreographed to make nationalistic symbols that they actually couldn't see, but that were beamed across the country.
"Young people as human pixels in the larger 'vision' or spectacle."
Teh feels his brand of documentary theatre tells of the interests of he and his collaborators, and speaks urgently to the realities they are grappling with — not just in Malaysia but in the region and the world today.
"It is to ask questions and attempt to seek answers with audiences through our research and projects.
"We invite the audience to come to the performance to consider this as well as alternative models and experiences of the future."
So it's going to be intense, with no song and dance or humour?
"There is song, there is dance, there is humour. There is also intensity," he says with a smile. — email@example.com
When: March 15-18, 8.30pm with 3.30pm matinee
Where: Black Box, Five Arts Centre, 27 & 27A, Lorong Datuk Sulaiman 7, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL
Entry by donation: RM50 (adults), RM25 (senior citizens & students)
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 018-202 8827 for reservations.