Being chased by vampires on top of a hill

22 05 2012

My last encounter with a “vampire” was one that occurred in my childhood. It was in the dark of night that a vampire, suspiciously resembling the ones that Christopher Lee depicted in the many Dracula movies that we got a diet of on the television at the end of the 1960s, appeared to me. The vampire wearing a toothless scowl, had in his deep voice, asked for me to return his fangs which he insisted I had stolen, back. Then, mock vampire fangs which fit over the teeth like a mouth guard were the rage – they cost then a very affordable 5 cents and along with many of the boys of my neighbourhood, I had one of them. As funny as the encounter, which came in a bad dream whilst I was fast asleep, does now sound, I terrified and promptly disposed of the mock vampire fangs as soon as I was able to and I never in my childhood allowed myself to sit through a vampire (or pontianak) movie ever again!

An encounter with a vampire at Old School.

The next encounter that I was to have some forty years after that first – one that I volunteered for, safe in the knowledge that there was no way that the vampires I was to encounter were going to ask for their teeth back. This encounter was a staged one – literally, being a rehearsal for THEY ONLY COME AT NIGHT: PANDEMIC, a site-specific and interactive multimedia installation at Old School for the Singapore Arts Festival 2012. Pandemic is set in what is described as an “apocalyptic wasteland” that is Singapore, six months after a final battle which saw the few remaining vampire hunters lose the battle against the spreading vampire pandemic. There are a few survivors who somehow survived, of which the audience is part of, following a character – former industrialist Maggie Tan who with some 150 survivors, make their way on an adventure to the headquarters of the quasi-religious group – Quiddists, which is led by the charismatic Chester Rickwood, at the Old School. There the audience will be immersed in a struggle as much against the vampires as with the various personalities involved – being forced to choose who they wish to follow … knowing that the bloodthirsty creatures of the night will eventually get to them.

Headsets for the audience.

And instructions so that the audience does not stray.

The entrance.

With what seemed like the promise of an experience that perhaps would be more complete than that of amusement park haunted house, I agreed to attend the rehearsal. Equipped with the necessary gear that included a media player and headsets, a map and an emergency light, I followed the crowd through the entrance to the headquarters of the Quiddists, half expecting to be frightened out of my wits. On the walk through there certainly were attempts to create signs of presence of the supernatural – bloodstains and bloodied clothes, circles cast on the ground with chalk and smoke trails with the smell of incense hanging in the air – to protect against the forces of the netherworld. It wasn’t, as I understand, meant to be frightening – just to raise fear levels a little so that the audience would be in a state that allows participation.

The passageway …

Signs of a vampire pandemic?

Scenes of carnage along the way …

Lighting up the darkness.

Participation comes as the audience is introduced to the plot through the main characters who range from a young CEO who had seen the apocalypse coming, Chester Rickwood, to a couple of battle weary vampire hunters. The plot was interesting on its own and certainly provided an excellent platform for participation. This except for being in the thick of what was going on and being made to feel a sense of urgency in being moved from one place to the next, unfortunately did not really take place, and I felt I was watching rather than participating for good part of the dialogue that took place among the characters.

The audience gets to participate in some way…

Maggie Tan (elevated left) and Grace (right).

Chester Rickwood.

Morton, Maggie Tan’s right-hand man.

Quinn? The legendary vampire hunter.

Grace, a disturbed vampire slayer.

Quinn and Maggie Tan.

The audience being made to move with a sense of urgency.

In all, the hour-long performance does serve to entertain although not in the way I envisaged and is worth an evening out, if not for the performance, at least for the workout and the feel of what may well be a haunted part of the old Methodist Girls’ School that will soon make way for the inevitable – not the pandemic of bloodthirsty fanged cousins of Dracula, but one of the glass, steel and concrete tower blocks that have spread around a once magical hill like a virus. THEY ONLY COME AT NIGHT: PANDEMIC will open this evening and is on until Sunday (22 to 27 May 2012) with two performances each evening. More information including on that of ticketing is available at the Singapore Arts Festival website.

The final scene.

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THEY ONLY COME AT NIGHT: PANDEMIC

…Saving the world from an intoxicating vampire virus.

You heard about them previously – mysterious attacks in dank underground car parks and bloodsucking creatures from ancient Europe seemingly taking root in today’s modern times – and you ignored them.

Now, the vampire virus has become an unstoppable pandemic.

The final battle was fought in Singapore, where the world’s remaining vampire hunters fought valiantly to the end for mankind. And lost.

Or perhaps not. Six months after the dust has settled, survivors surfaced. Some lived through sheer grit. Some just got lucky.

Some are not even sure how they made it through but are grateful anyway. You are one of the blessed.

Together with former industrialist Maggie Tan and 149 other survivors, you trudge through an apocalyptic wasteland. The destination: the Old School, the headquarters of the quasireligious group – Quiddists – led by the charismatic Chester Rickwood, who believed in channelling the natural energy of his followers.

Although undefended, the Old School lasted much longer than other strongholds. Can it possibly hold the key to questions that need to be answered? How did Rickwood’s Quiddists last so long?

How did the vampires finally overcome Rickwood’s commune? And what on earth is to be done now?

You and the team have some time to unearth the answers. But not too much. The creatures will discover your existence, and when they do, they will come for you.

GO FOR THEY ONLY COME AT NIGHT: PANDEMIC…

…if you are excited about new experiences, and fancy the idea of an interactive and multimedia installation.

…if you enjoy unique site-specific projects with specially crafted storylines.

…if you love the concept of vampires.

Singapore. Singapore. Where it must end.


About The Singapore Arts Festival

The Singapore Arts Festival began in 1977 as a national showcase celebrating the local arts of Singapore’s diverse communities. Over the last three decades, the Festival organised by the National Arts Council, has played a symbiotic and catalytic role in the development of the artistic and cultural life of Singapore. It has influenced the work of artists and generated a growing public demand for the arts, spawning new capital platforms, events and movements that help underpin the lively cultural scene in Singapore.

The Festival saw its turning point in 2010 as it embarked on a new phase of development under the leadership of Low Kee Hong. Key changes and initiatives include turning this international arts platform into a Creation and People’s Festival with a vital year-long participation programme, com.mune to sustain the Festival’s engagement with the public beyond individual shows staged during the Festival period. The commune events and activities are tailored for four groups: new audiences — people who may not have encountered the arts; arts lovers — people who buy tickets to performances; arts makers — artists and teachers who inspire their students through the arts; and arts volunteers — people who have the heart to make a difference.

The Singapore Arts Festival has now become an international showcase of ideas, art and discourse with a distinctive Asian flavour, known for its bold and innovative discussions between vernacular and contemporary art.

Singapore Arts Festival 2012: Our Lost Poems

The 2012 Festival will be held from 18 May – 2 June 2012. This edition of the Festival completes the trilogy of themes set out two editions ago – Between You and Me (2010), I Want to Remember (2011), Our Lost Poems (2012). Over these 16 days, the city comes alive with an infusion of performances at the Festival’s hub – the Festival Village @ Esplanade Park and other key venues. There is something for everyone this year, from ages 1 to 100.