Meet tour operator DOIT.SG and arts collective Secretive Thing, the makers of re:walk Telok Ayer — an audiovisual walking experience through the narrow streets and back alleys of the heritage district, led virtually by performers as themselves.
Read on to find out how the project, supported by the STB-NAC Performing Arts Tours Pilot Grant, was conceptualised to include real stories about the spaces and people of Telok Ayer and allow the audience to enjoy an intimate experience.
1. Hello! Please introduce yourselves however you like.
Tricia (DOIT.SG): Hi, I'm Tricia but I'm better known as Energiser Bunny among people I know. As the unofficial “Chief Officer of Fun” or “Girl About Town”, I've always been the tourist guide and event organiser for overseas colleagues and business partners visiting Singapore, even before I got my tourist guide licence. Where to try the best local food? Coolest place to entertain? The “it” place to visit in and out of Singapore? Stories? Insights? Need a cycling/rowing/wakeboarding/walking partner? Ask and I’ll oblige. I strive to deliver an informative and fun-filled experience of Singapore for all my guests.
Lemon & Koko (Secretive Thing): We are Lemon and Koko. We make Secretive Thing experiences, and this is our first time making Other Things, too. That’s all you need to know, really :)
2. In your own words, how would you describe re:walk Telok Ayer and how does it differ
from your usual work?
Tricia: Rather than share the whole spiel about a site, which a regular walking tour does, re:walk allows participants to immerse in the story.
Lemon & Koko: re:walk is like taking a walk with a new friend. Our collaborators walk with you on a meandering journey through Telok Ayer. If you let yourself be, you might find a new connection ;)
As to how it differs from our usual work, this time, re:walk is not so secret. It is our first attempt at using film and the work involves a lot more moving parts. Public space is also more accessible this time, which has allowed us to delve into the heritage of the space and the stories of people who have traversed through the area, as well as the memories of artmaking in this conservation district.
3. Any particular reason why Telok Ayer has been chosen as the first location in the re:walk series? Do you have a personal connection to the neighbourhood?
Tricia: I live at Tanjong Pagar and Telok Ayer is my favourite haunt for food and coffee after my regular morning walks. The area also holds a nostalgic place in my heart as it was where my grandfather and father first landed when they arrived as immigrants from Fujian in the early 20th century.
The former Telok Ayer Performing Arts Centre on Cecil Street. 2008. Photo courtesy of Choo Yut Shing.
Lemon & Koko: Telok Ayer is a heritage district with a rich history. The shores of its past, where many forefathers once stood, hold a deep connection for those of us who have traced our lineage to this area. For a short while when it was around, we also used to work at the Telok Ayer Performing Arts Centre (TAPAC). It was the place where we learned to make art. Because it was an old school turned arts centre, it felt like a safe space to try anything and everything. You would see art installations pop up randomly at the stairwells. It didn’t matter if we spray painted the floor a little. It was a great place to grow as a maker. When it came time to vacate the venue, it was very sad for us and the others who had operated and lived there. It feels apt being back here now to produce work that acknowledges this history.
4. This first edition will feature the stories of a few particular individuals. Tell us about them and how you came to decide on their stories.
A collage featuring the collaborators of re:walk Telok Ayer and showcasing the audiovisual experience. View in full size here.
Lemon & Koko: Each individual takes the audience on a unique journey around Telok Ayer. On Chin Huat’s journey, he shows his strength and grace despite the tragic loss of space. Tim’s journey includes philosophical pondering on belonging, community and self-discovery. mm_mmatt’s is a meandering, music-infused affair to the sound of his self-composed tracks, inspired by the route. Tricia’s is a heritage trail with personal anecdotes about her family. Brandon and Phoebe’s walk is a bonus 4-part photography workshop at photogenic locations that ticket holders are free to enjoy at their own time in the next 2 months.
These people we’re presenting, we consider them our collaborators. We wanted to feature people as they are and have them tell genuine stories rather than fictional ones. So, as part of the scripting process, we interviewed them all and many others with connections to Telok Ayer. Something we’ve also explored is the concept of belonging, whether to a space like TAPAC that no longer stands where it was or to a casual encounter with a friend up at Ann Siang Hill. Everyday moments, no matter how small, are what re:walk is built on. If a non-local tourist takes part in this experience, they would easily gain insight to what Singaporeans think about.
5. What inspired you to conceptualise re:walk Telok Ayer as an audiovisual walking experience with virtual guides, instead of one with in-person guides?
An audience member walking past the Thian Hock Keng Temple on Telok Ayer Street during the experience.
Lemon & Koko: When we saw the call for proposals, we knew we wanted to make something that could run on its own without any live performers. The parameters came from COVID-era restrictions, but the idea of timed and filmed experiences is something we’ve been toying with for a while. Ultimately, we wanted to create an intimate experience that would allow our audience to walk around on their own. It has somehow become increasingly difficult to find space to be alone with one’s thoughts. So, what re:walk does is create this enclosed bubble, where it’s just you and the guide and no one else around for company. Admittedly, the experience has forced some people to confront their own discomforts, which sometimes culminates into negative feedback. But we believe that the performing arts is not just for entertainment; it is a medium that can be used to uncover and express deep issues.
6. What has been the most challenging aspect of producing re:walk Telok Ayer?
Tricia: The extent of logistical support needed to put together this experience is one area I had not anticipated until we went through the preview runs. Also, working with young people almost half my age with completely different ideas from me was challenging, though I don’t mean this in a negative manner. I really like the script that Lemon and Koko have written. So, as my favourite quote goes, I just follow my heart.
Lemon & Koko: It’s a common saying that things in Singapore are always changing. There’s always something under construction. It was only during this project did that really ring true and have a real impact on us. When we started, we did a thorough recce of Telok Ayer, planned the routes and started scripting. Two weeks later, when we came back, things changed! Sheltered walkways were upgraded. Amoy Street Food Centre closed for renovation. And with COVID restrictions hitting local businesses hard, many of the hawkers and business owners we spoke to weren't sure how much longer they would stay open.
Typically, with a live show or event in a fixed space, you’d have rehearsals and can prepare the space in advance. But, this time, we were really kept on our toes! The whole district seemed to evolve each time we came back after a few weeks. You’ll see the differences between the filmed space and the space you’ll enter in person when you attend. Having said that, Secretive Thing has always been curious and experimentative, and never one to shy away from the quirks and challenges of the spaces we work in.
7. To end off this interview, can you share a meme, joke, quote or any random internet discovery that you’d like our readers to enjoy?
Tricia: Mine would be a quote, which also pretty much sums up the way I am:
Lemon & Koko: We like this quote from a book by American neurosurgeon, Dr. Sanjay Gupta: “Skip the crossword puzzles and go for a walk with a friend. Your brain will thank you.” The science behind his recommendation is pretty cool.
AlSo, fInD mEmEs HeRe: https://www.instagram.com/the_subparstation/
** End of Interview **
re:walk Telok Ayer runs every Saturday and Sunday afternoon from 12 - 27 February 2022.
Tickets are available but very limited. Book yours now before they’re sold out at bit.ly/rewalktelokayer.