Looking Back at the Fifth Wall
story Harini V
With two productions, Burn This and Machine, being staged this week, the Arts section charts the growth of Fifth Wall, currently the only theater company at Yale-NUS College.
Discussions on starting the club were mooted in July 2013, during the Class of 2017’s stay in New Haven. “Most of us had diverse theater interests and experience,” said Shanice Nicole Stanislaus ’17, one of the founding members of the Fifth Wall. She added that the goal at its inception was to create a cohesive group of theater makers before putting up any productions. David Chia ’17, another founding member, said via email that the members wanted “every member involved in contributing to the vision of the theatre company. We did not want a few of our members imposing a vision on the rest”.
Fifth Wall’s first official production was Unweave. Staged in March 2014, Unweave consisted of three ten-minute plays performed in various locations at Residential College 4 (RC4). Stanislaus said that the main challenge the group faced during the first year was that most of the sophomores were busy starting up other student organizations. As such, efforts to stage a production in the first semester stagnated. Unweave was, therefore, a project intended to kickstart the Fifth Wall’s activities.
After Unweave, the Fifth Wall staged the Confessions Project: a bigger production, and a step towards student-generated performances. The performers took inspiration from a Confessions Facebook group to create the stories and characters in the production. Ho Yan Lin ’17, a performer for Confessions, said that director and producer, Chia, facilitated the group in creating their own devised pieces. She added that the rehearsals and workshops in preparation for Confessions helped to develop the ensemble’s skills and artistic abilities in devising pieces for Confessions.
Reactions to Confessions were polarizing. Ho said she was “pleasantly surprised at the great turn-out for the open rehearsal” but added that some of her friends thought that she was actually depressed as they were not able to distinguish her from her character. A few students also decided to leave the Confessions Facebook group after the performances. To this Ho responded, “Our intention was to create a voice behind the confessions posts. We did not intend to make a political statement”. Chia trusts that Confessions has not only aided in the growth of the Fifth Wall, but the community as a whole. “I believe [that the] Fifth Wall and the larger artistic community in our college will continue exploring … issues that are tough to grapple in life. Theater is a safe place to explore these issues,” he added.
This semester, the Fifth Wall has undergone major changes: it has revised its constitution, formed its first Executive Committee and formalized membership. Previously, there was only an informal group of members that pitched in to help with ongoing projects. They have also chosen to work with full-length plays. Current Artistic Director of the Fifth Wall and the director of upcoming play Burn This, Liam Holmes ’18, said: “Burn This is a play that is regionally closer to New Haven, and Machine is a play written by local playwright Tan Tarn How. It will be interesting to see how these two works play off each other”.
Glen Kilian Koh ’18, Executive Producer of the Fifth Wall and the producer for Machine that will performed coming Sunday, described the play as a drama that explores love, relationships, intimacy and sex. Machine was initially planned to be staged in a performance hall, but due to space and budget limitations, the play had to be scaled down to its current venue in the RC4 Common Lounge 1. These constraints, however, have also helped the production team realize the script’s versatility as it lent itself to various locations not traditionally thought of as performance spaces. Koh added “Each time I read [Machine] … I gathered something new that I had not noticed before. Working in Machine has increased my appreciation for local plays.”
Holmes said that the Fifth Wall’s role in the Yale-NUS theater community will change. He believes that students might create new groups to suit their own styles of theater. “Since the Fifth Wall is the first theater company at Yale-NUS, it will still have a strong hold. Diversifying the theater scene will help in taking some pressure off our shoulders as the only theater student organization at Yale-NUS,” Holmes added.
The Fifth Wall will be leaning towards performing student-generated work such as student-written plays and devised drama. The student organization also looks forward to exploring a mix of traditional, wacky and fun projects in the upcoming semester. Holmes said, “While we look to raise our profile as the Fifth Wall in the College community, we do not want to take ourselves too seriously”.