No longer youth who don’t know, don’t care
The Esplanade’s Feed Your Imagination series of performances include plays that seek to educate students about the arts, provoke thought and encourage audience participation. (Photos: Zinkie Aw for Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay)

No longer youth who don’t know, don’t care

If a family member had a terminal illness, would you want to know? Or would you rather not, so you don’t have to care? This sense of apathy lies at the heart of the forum theatre piece, Don’t Know, Don’t Care (2012), which was recently staged at the Esplanade.

The show was part of Esplanade’s Feed Your Imagination series, which comes under the National Arts Council Arts Education Programme. The series features performances by established homegrown arts groups for student audiences. It aims to educate students about the arts, encourage participatory learning and have them exercise critical thinking.

The play was performed by homegrown theatre company The Necessary Stage (TNS) and written by its resident playwright Haresh Sharma. It centres on a family coming to terms with what it means to love and care for family members, especially when someone in the family is stricken with terminal illness.

The play was commissioned by Singapore’s largest home hospice care provider HCA Hospice Care in 2012, and TNS presented it at various secondary schools from 2012 to 2014.

Sharma says the “don’t want to know” and “don’t really care” attitude is not uncommon when people face adverse situations, including on the home front. “When there is illness in a family, everyone can be on edge. I wanted to show that communication is key when a family is undergoing such a crisis.”

To bring home the message and get audiences to step fully into the characters’ shoes, the play was devised as a forum theatre piece. Forum theatre is a form of interactive theatre that allows audiences to move from spectator to actor and influence the outcome of a play.

A student from Pasir Ris Secondary School plays the son in a scene from Don’t Know, Don’t Care and tried to better resolve a conflict with actress Eleanor Tan, who plays the mother.

In the recent staging of Don’t Know, Don’t Care, students were encouraged to volunteer for the role of a character in a scene fraught with conflict. They were invited to consider how the conflict could be better resolved, and to act out their response. The process lets the youth reflect on the situation, share their perspectives, practise empathy and learn to navigate change in their lives, especially when change is unexpected or unwelcomed.

And as it turns out, they learnt quite a bit.

Zhenghua Secondary School student Richmond Tang, 14, says the forum theatre piece taught him to “cherish my family members and relatives.” His schoolmate, Chloe Ng, also 14, says her biggest takeaway from the show was: “We should care for our grandparents because they might not have enough time (on earth), and we might regret not spending time with them when we could have.”

For Anglican High School student Lisianne Chan, 15, the play helped her realise that “family matters the most and loving each other is the most important thing.” “Our studies are important, but family members are the ones who will stick by us even after we graduate from school. So, I will show more care for my parents from now on.”

The play has also helped her become more aware of how she sometimes treats the act of caring for others as a chore and routine. She says: “I now know the importance of showing care genuinely from the heart because the recipient can feel it.”

Details on Don’t Know Don’t Care here.

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