Community theatre show puts spotlight on Dakota Crescent and its residents

Community theatre show puts spotlight on Dakota Crescent and its residents

Singaporean theatre company Drama Box takes audiences on a tour of one of Singapore’s oldest housing estates ahead of its redevelopment at the end of the year

Dakota Crescent residents

Singaporean theatre company Drama Box takes audiences on a tour of one of Singapore’s oldest housing estates ahead of its redevelopment at the end of the year.

SINGAPORE: For the past half a century, Bilyy Koh has lived in Dakota Crescent.

The 61-year-old semi-retiree, who continues to rent the same three-room flat at Block 12 where his family had stayed, remembers the forested view of Geylang River behind their place.

“There was one time, when I was collecting duck eggs from our little farm, I happened to see a baby crocodile’s head come up from the water,” he recalled.

“And beside our block, there’s a big longkang (drain). Back then, when the tide came in, we would smell the seawater and see fish.”

With one of Singapore’s oldest housing estates slated for redevelopment by the end of the year, Mr Koh will be very likely be living somewhere else soon.

But before that, he’ll be sharing his tales of reptilian encounters and more, as one of the performers in Drama Box’s IgnorLAND Of Its Loss.

The theatre company’s latest site-specific community theatre production, which opens next Tuesday (Jul 5), will take audiences around Dakota Crescent, where they will get to meet residents and hear their stories.

Dakota Crescent residents 2

Drama Box worked with residents of Dakota Crescent to create a site-specific piece where audiences can explore the housing estate, which is slated for redevelopment by the end of 2016. (Photo: Drama Box)

It comes at the heels of Drama Box’s similar site-specific or site-related productions, such as 2014’s IgnorLAND Of Its Time, which was held at Bukit Ho Swee, and 2015’s critically acclaimed It Won’t Be Too Long, a series of shows that hinged on the debate surrounding the fate of Bukit Brown Cemetery.

In IgnorLAND Of Its Loss, audiences who sign up for the tour and trail will be given a package, which contains maps and other pieces of information, to help them navigate to and from different points as a kind of “choose your own adventure” experience.

But more than just a gimmick, it’s meant to emphasise the experience of being in a state of flux, which is what the area and current residents are going through.

“We wanted to give the experience of how life was like before the announcement (of redevelopment plans for Dakota Crescent), during the announcement and what happens after, the state of limbo the residents are in right now,” explained Drama Box’s Ms Koh Hui Ling, artistic director of the project, who added that they had been working closely with Tung Ling Community Services activity centre to involve the estate's elderly residents.

It’s a situation that Mr Koh is fully aware of. He’s the only resident left on his block and is currently waiting for word on his move to a smaller one-bedroom rental flat at nearby Guillemard Road. “I’m not happy about it, but what can I do?” he said.

His move may be inevitable, but for the past two years, Mr Koh has been actively sharing his Dakota Crescent experiences to anyone who would care to listen.

After receiving the letter from the Housing and Development Board informing residents of the redevelopment plans in 2014, he decided to quit his job in retail at Changi Airport to “spend time with this place, relax, and tell my story”.

Even before he joined the Drama Box show, he would already talk to students doing research on the housing estate. He has also been helping out as a tour guide for the Dakota Adventures heritage trial.

“Most of our old buildings are being torn down, which is a shame,” said Mr Koh, who added that while loftier structures like pre-War houses are preserved, humbler public housing projects aren’t as lucky.

“I always tell people (Dakota Crescent) is part of the layman’s heritage. The people who moved to this area years ago were the poorer ones, and for the younger generation, it’s a reminder of the humble beginnings (of many Singaporeans).”

Dakota Crescent 3
A block in Dakota Crescent. (Photo: Faris Mokhtar)

The impending transformation of Dakota Crescent is also a reminder of how swiftly the country’s landscape changes.

“If you look at it from a bird’s eye view, it’s one of the sites in Singapore where everything around it had already changed except for itself,” said Ms Koh.

According to her, Drama Box had already considered doing a show there even before news of its redevelopment broke. They had eventually decided on doing a performance in Bukit Ho Swee instead, and kept Dakota Crescent in mind for a later show.

“But after we finished our Bukit Ho Swee show, the announcement came out in the papers. It was sooner than we thought,” said Ms Koh.

For her, the wave of interest surrounding Dakota Crescent, from tours and concerts to the extensive documentation being done, is symptomatic of how Singaporeans are attempting to deal with disappearing vestiges of their past.

“There’s the view that it’s simply documenting the death of a place, accepting a verdict and learning how to cope with that. There is also an opinion that we are ‘museumfying’ everything, like, ‘we don’t have the National Library anymore, but it’s okay, we have a brick’.”

But it’s a rather complex situation, she added. “Someone had observed that many of the people who are feeling the loss of certain places are those who come from outside these places, whereas for residents, there may be some practical concerns, like how their current place don’t have lifts to serve every floor whereas a new estate has lifts that serve every floor. Those are very real concerns.”

IgnorLAND of its Loss runs from Jul 5 to 10. For more details and to register, go to this website.

Source: CNA/mm