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Members of Drama Box and the residents of Dakota Crescent posing for shots at the soon-to-be redeveloped estate (above).
Members of Drama Box and the residents of Dakota Crescent posing for shots at the soon-to-be redeveloped estate (above).

Beyond sepia-toned snapshots

Dakota Crescent's denizens tell their stories in Drama Box's latest project, as they prepare to be evicted from their homes.
Jun 10, 2016 5:50 AM

SINCE Dakota Crescent's redevelopment was announced in 2014, whatever furore it created has since dwindled to a handful of DSLR-wielding hipsters taking shots of the estate's iconic "Dove Playground" for posterity and stopping for a cuppa at artisanal cafe Tian Kee & Co.

Behind the scenes, however, Drama Box has been working quietly for two years to stage IgnorLAND of its Loss, a community theatre project which involves both residents and actors.

"We're essentially outsiders going in; we needed time to walk the ground and form relationships," says artistic director Koh Hui Ling, whose troupe endeared themselves to residents through the help of Tung Ling Elderly Activity Centre at Block 10.

On July 5, participants will get to hear personal stories shared by various Dakota denizens. The experience is framed artistically, so expect some staged scenes and guided interactions.

Audiences will be given an interactive kit with maps and tools, and ushered to watch a "prologue". Then, they will navigate the neighbourhood in a "choose your own adventure" scavenger hunt with branching narratives.

Open-ended concept

It's a shift away from Drama Box's previous community-based projects, which provide more guided and linear experiences, notes Koh. This open-ended concept is meant to create a sense of uncertainty, so participants can empathise with the residents.

Pressing concerns include the smaller sizes of the new flats over at Cassia Crescent, exacerbated by the lack of showroom displays. "We overheard one of the residents speaking to a Member of Parliament: 'Chinese New Year, when my family comes, can they fit into the house? If not, how?'" says Koh.

She reveals that another resident even trooped over to Cassia Crescent, armed with binoculars to divine the layout of their new homes which are still under construction.

Commodifying nostalgia

Others lament the loss of their spacious surroundings. "One of them has a million-dollar view of Kallang River and Marina Bay Sands, and every year she sees the fireworks at the National Day Parade," reveals Koh. "She used to complain that it's noisy, but now she's saying wistfully: 'No more fireworks next time, lor'."

Some residents were less forthcoming; Koh remembers how a young couple were hostile to their advances. "We were trying to speak to them, and the guy turned and said: 'We feel objectified!' and walked off."

Indeed, commodifying nostalgia is a problem with community theatre, says Koh. "It's not just about putting an artefact of Dakota into a museum, and it's not just about commodifying or 'hipster-fying' these things."

Which is why this production isn't only about experimenting with theatre, but about helping the residents adapt. For example, in the course of their research, Drama Box hosted various activities (such as a photography workshop) not only to gather material for the production, but also to "start the process of 'decluttering' for residents, both physically and emotionally", says Koh.

But beyond Dakota Crescent, Drama Box is asking even-bigger questions with its IgnorLAND series, says Koh. "As citizens, have we lost our right to decide what to keep or not with redevelopment?" she asks. "Or have we also lost our imagination and responsibility when it comes to dreaming up possibilities or alternatives when it comes to redevelopment?"

  • IgnorLAND of its Loss runs from July 5 to 10, 7.30pm at Dakota Crescent. Tickets are free, register at Donation options available.