A sketch of Marion D’Cruz, producer of 2 Minute Solos. Illustration by Lyn Ong.

If statistics are to be believed, the average attention span of a human has dwindled down to a measly eight seconds. The average time we spend watching an internet video now stands at 2.7 minutes. In view of this, it seems apt that Five Arts Centre is bringing back 2 Minute Solos: an ensemble piece where the audience won’t have time to get bored.

Throughout 2 Minute Solos, the audience moves around the theatre in small groups, travelling to different parts of a performance space, stopping to watch a two minute solo act and then moving on to watch another. This will carry on until they go through the whole collection of 12 performances.

Following a critically acclaimed production last year, 2 Minute Solos will be staged at DPac this month with a new cast, and new writers and directors. Not all the participants are theatre professionals: among the 12 are some actors and directors, but the others include political activists, a visual artist, a dancer, a musician and also a swimming instructor.

As before, the solos are curated by Marion D’Cruz, a full-time teacher at the Dance Faculty of Aswara (Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan) and a founding member of Five Arts Centre, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. She told Poskod.MY how she went about gathering her group of writers and performers.

“The brief was: ‘I invite you to do this.’ You have to make a two minute solo. It has to be a solo. You can do it yourself. You can direct someone. You can get someone to direct you. You can do anything.”

With those instructions, she has recruited an interesting bunch of characters from the world of arts and politics to independently craft concise, extremely short works. The performances are written or performed by six artists and six “political types”. D’Cruz has also made sure there is an equal number of men and women, noting that “girls make very different kind of work and men make very different kind of work.”

Sharifah Aleysha performing in a piece by Zainah Anwar.

For some, it’s not a big leap from their day jobs. Visual artist Chuah Chong Yong, one of the performers, says that he is more interested in using his body as a medium to express his thoughts rather than being an ‘actor’. Having been an ex-Butoh dancer back in the nineties gives him the ease of keeping his performances quiet and wordless, leaning more towards a more visual sort of performance.

Others, however, are venturing into theatre for the first time. Zainah Anwar, who writes and directs one segment of the play, is Director of Musawah, the Global Movement for Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family initiated by Sisters in Islam. Her performance, featuring Sharifah Aleysha, is about the hush-hush topic of polygamy.

“I’ve always wanted to write a play on polygamy and I thought that this is a great start because it’s just two minutes,” shares Zainah. The initial scriptwriting process came fairly easily to her, much to her surprise, but she quickly realised there was a gap between the written word and spoken word. She changed her script with some help from Aleysha. Zainah reveals that she has plans to expand her two minute segment into a full fledged play sometime in the future.

Another performer trying her hand at theatre for the first time is Marina Mahathir, who claims to have said “yes” to D’Cruz’s proposition because it was a new challenge for her and because she liked to “scare herself’.

“Well, I have to say that I really didn’t know what to do,” she quips. “For the longest time I struggled with the performance that I was going to do and I had no idea where to begin. I was really, really panicking.” But during the test-run night where I met the cast and crew, Marina seemed to have her act very much together.

Ryan Lee Bhaskaran in 2 Minute Solos.

D’Cruz is rather pragmatic about her approach to the show: “So what if it’s bad? It’s just two minutes and you go on to the next. It’s highly unlikely that all 12 are going be bad.”

Indeed, the looseness in which 2 Minute Solos shuffles its audience around brings a sort of interactivity to the show that most conventional settings do not allow; discouraging any lapse of attention and therefore rendering dull moments to a nil. All spaces in the venue, DPac, are utilised; from narrow walkways to small storage spaces. There is even a stopover in the men’s room.

Given the short two minutes which the writers and performers have to work with, they must distil their message down to its most essential form. “You have two minutes to get your message out. And when the audience leaves, which two minutes are they going to remember? It’s not a competition – but it is,” says D’Cruz, grinning. She chose not to limit or guide the 12 acts by imposing any strict themes. The result, as she puts it, is “a wonderful tapestry of the state of the nation.”

2 Minute Solos is part of Five Arts Centre’s “tentenTEN” programme, marking its 30th anniversary. D’Cruz speaks with a mix of affection and a tinge of weariness about this milestone year. She mentions candidly how tired she feels sometimes, but then lights up and talks at length about how surprisingly much Five Arts has achieved through the three decades. Tonight’s preview of the 2 Minute Solos test-run brings about similar sentiments in her. “From what I saw tonight; there’s the doom and gloom to the ‘it’s ok lah’. And that is the state of the nation.”

D’Cruz expresses her frustration over all that talk of celebrating ‘diversity’ in a sense that is tightly bound to the idea of race. “This is diversity,” she says. “The stories that people have to tell, is the diversity that I want to celebrate.”

Illustrations by Lyn Ong.

2 Minute Solos: Art Meets Politics runs from the 12 – 13 April at DPac as part of DPac Arts Festival. For more festival listings, click here