IMAGINE being blindfolded, under an oath (“you signed the waiver,” reminds a figure of authority) to remain silent, and shepherded somewhere foreign. Holding onto foreign hands, you must stumble through various terrain reliant only on the texture of the ground and the pull of unseen companions.
The blindfolds come off at the mystery destination, only so the eyes can be exposed to a visual experience as unnerving as it is exciting; men and women dragging themselves across the floor on all fours, as a couple of disturbed individuals with menacing and unsettling gestures tell a story with their bodies.
This is TerryandTheCuz‘s SK!N, an interactive performance set to have its world premiere in Kuala Lumpur this August. Aiming to expose audiences to the problem of human trafficking, the production was developed by creative duo in collaboration with Australian choreographer Ashley Dyer over the past two years.
“When we started the project we had no idea what we were getting into,” began Terence Conrad from TerryandTheCuz. “The more we learned about human trafficking the more we were shocked and angry. We then approached Tenaganita with the idea as we needed a lot of information and advice.”
A special, condensed edition for the press took place at Art Printing Works (APW), Bangsar on 15 June 2016, preempted only by an early version which debuted last year at George Town Festival to rave reviews.
Comprising multiple phases, SK!N uses dance, audience participation and discussion to engineer a particularly resonant response to human trafficking.
Audience members are processed, disoriented and treated to a visual spectacle over the course of one hour, and then they sit through a question and answer session to understand what trafficking victims go through.
“It’s a very scary thing when you have no money and you’re going somewhere unfamiliar you hope is a better place,” explained Terence, “But then you find out you’ve been duped, and everybody who addresses the problem — whether law enforcement or the public — has different ways of dealing with it.”
Performed by Suhaili Micheline and Wong Jyh Shyong (Lee Ren Xin was not present for the preview) the choreographed segment of the production is enthralling. SK!N‘s performers confront, convulse and plead in the performing space, and the results are thought-provoking and highly immersive.
Along the way, TerryandTheCuz also became the first Malaysian theatre company to pitch their work at the International Society of Performing Arts (ISPA) Congress in New York. Interest in their project continues to build — at present, SK!N is confirmed to hit Adelaide and Melbourne in 2017.
“We started this project not realising how important it could turn out to be. All we’ve learned thus far is a drop in the ocean — the situation with Syrians and the Rohingya for example could be far worse than what we believe,” reminds Terence.
Based on official statistics, Terence has every right to worry. The United Nations estimates that at least 21 million people worldwide are still subjected to forced labour, and Asia accounts for over 50% of this figure.
SK!N received seed funding in 2015 from the Krishen Jit ASTRO Fund as well as support from the Australian Government. In fact, for a production that hasn’t had its world premiere, it has received strong interest internationally, particularly from the Scandinavian region.
Local investors however are sparse. Most who’ve backed TerryandTheCuz in their previous award-winning endeavours have not returned on SK!N, potentially due to the production’s subject matter.
In response, the duo is turning towards crowdfunding; a Kickstarter campaign launched yesterday from Australia, with a collection target of AUD$30,000.
From all the glowing responses, reviews and feedback from industry professionals, local media, festival-goers, human rights advocates and migrant community partners; we were thrilled to see that the work had successfully evoked a visceral and empathic response from our audiences, spurring us to further develop the work into a full length performance that will tour the world over the next 3 to 5 years.
— SK!N, Kickstarter
Interested pledgers and potential audience members can check the page out and get more details on the performance, which is set to world premiere on 9 August 2016.
SK!N will run at 7:00pm and 10:00pm at Art Printing Works, Bangsar, from 9 – 13 August 2016. Tickets are priced at RM80.00 and can be obtained via tix.my. Help TerryandTheCuz make it happen by pledging your support to the campaign on Kickstarter!