Life and Love in the Arts Lane
A chat with Wesley Leon Aroozoo
Writer of upcoming play Bedok Reservoir and filmmaker Wesley Leon Aroozoo is just 28, but has produced 12 short films, showcased at over 80 international film festivals. Not bad at all for one who almost failed his “O” Levels English, and could not make it to junior college. Currently pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts at NYU Tisch Asia, the Temasek Polytechnic and NTU School of Art, Design and Media graduate is now more than proud to have a career in the arts where he hopes to make a mark, but more importantly, a difference. RAP delves into the mind of this talented young man to find out more about his latest project, his work, and life in the arts.
RAP: Your upcoming play, Bedok Reservoir, is loosely based on the numerous drownings that occurred there. What was your motivation to right such a play?
Wesley: Bedok Reservoir is basically a story about a drowned mother’s search for her son in the afterlife. I was surprised by the multiple drownings that took place at the reservoir, particularly the alleged suicides of the mother and son. I couldn’t understand why a mother was pushed to do such a tragic act and wanted to put myself in her shoes to see if I could have done things differently. I was also intrigued by the many speculations of the drownings, including one that happened during the Hungry Ghosts Month. There are beliefs that the reservoir has bad feng shui and is actually shaped like a skull.
RAP: Your films have been shown around the world, and one of them – Kissing Faces, about a karaoke lounge hostess – was screened at International Film Festival Rotterdam and won Best Experimental Film at the NextFrame International Student Film and Video Festival 2012 based in Philadelphia, USA. You are obviously a filmmaker Singapore should look out for, so what made you decide to step out of your comfort zone and write a play?
Wesley: Bedok Reservoir is my first attempt at play-writing. I love trying out ways of expressing myself and I feel it is important to explore as much as there is from one craft so that I can then apply to another. Even though it may be scary to try something new, I believe as an artist, fear – especially the fear of failing – should be overcome when young and eventually not be a factor when trying. I want to see each work I take on as a challenge – if it is too easy and I can do it well, it has no value for me; I want to grow with my work.
RAP: What are some of the challenges that you have faced with this project?
Wesley: The main challenge at the moment is getting funding for the play through crowd-funding. It’s a new concept and a little hard for the community to grasp. Basically, we ask the public to purchase tickets early so that we can use the revenue from the early ticket sales to run the show. But I am very touched when people show support for my work and this motivates me to want to give them the best show possible.
The other challenge is understanding the theatre community. My feet are in the film community so it’s not so easy to get ready support from the former.
RAP: The play involves various social themes, and even has a gay element. Are all your works based on social issues?
Wesley: The themes of retrospection, superstition and loneliness are heavily explored in the play. I wanted to address the common question of “what could have been?” or alternative decisions which could have led to alternative endings.
The play also addresses labels in society: there is an element in the play which deals with individuals’ struggles of acceptance and being ostracised or rejected from society just for being different, or gay in this instance.
My works usually deal with matters close to my heart like love, family or lost connections. Bedok Reservoir is a social commentary because I feel that in our society, many things often get swept under the carpet. After this, I will be working on my first full-length feature-film, Mickey, which deals with science and love. But I also love slap-stick. I am currently also a freelance writer for Random Island, a new series from the makers of The Noose, so I get my fill of irreverence there.
RAP: Why do you think people feel rejected in Singapore? Have you ever personally been or felt rejected?
Wesley: Rejection is prevalent in Singapore because we live in a fast-paced society where there is no place for last finishers. For example, from the moment we become part of the education system, we are brainwashed to excel. Those who can’t, feel they have failed, and hence, rejected.
People in the arts are all a little “strange”, so I’ve definitely felt rejected before. When I was young, I was a little weird – I found it difficult to get along with most of the children and was a very lonely kid in secondary school. I would spend my recess time in the toilet – all 30 minutes of it. But I’m much more sociable now.
RAP: Going back to the subject of work with gay elements, you previously presented an artwork (here) as part of RAP – for a show during SUPERMARKET- Stockholm Independent Art Fair in Feb 2012 – could you tell us about that piece of work?
Wesley: It was an interpretation of the Merlion. Basically, I was tackling the issue of foreign talents and I showcased the Merlion as an erect penis, sticking out from a pair of pants in an installation implied to be a foreign worker. I wanted to actually project the Merlion “spitting” or rather, having an ejaculation.
RAP: How did you pick up filmmaking? Did you always want to be in the arts?
Wesley: I started dabbling in filmmaking at 11 when I won a Sony Hi8 Handycam in a chocolate wrapper competition. I made home videos where I would act with my sister. I enjoyed it very much, but never dreamt that I could be doing this for the rest of my life.
I did really badly for my “O” Levels, almost failed in my English and couldn’t go to a junior college. Many laughed at me and it was one of the few times in my life where nobody believed in me. But I eventually went to a polytechnic to study filmmaking and have never looked back, or down on myself, since.
RAP: What has been your best experience in the arts so far?
Wesley: Two years ago, I attended the Tokyo Filmex Next Masters workshop in Japan, together with 20 Asian filmmakers. It was an insightful workshop and I learnt invaluable lessons – like how young filmmakers like myself are facing the same struggles even though we are so far apart.
RAP: If there is one gripe you have about the local arts scene, what would it be?
Wesley: I feel we have to nurture our young talent.
I wish there are more local scholarships to encourage young artists to pursue further education in the arts. This year, the scholarships for courses in filmmaking and animation dropped drastically as compared to previously. Maybe more funds could be disbursed through such scholarships instead of towards events which bring in celebrities or organise high-profiled parties for publicity purposes. If say, a tenth of the funds spent on these could be directed to scholarships instead, it would benefit young artists and the arts community tremendously.
We are still a country very young in the arts. I wouldn’t say that we do not have the funds – we obviously do, but they’re just ending up in the wrong places.
RAP: Finally, what do you hope your audiences will get out of Bedok Reservoir?
Wesley: I hope that they will gain a very different theatre experience from what they are used to, which will set them thinking about life, themselves and their loved ones.
Bedok Reservoir runs from 1 – 3 November 2012 at the Goodman Arts Centre Black Box Theatre.
Book your tickets online at www.pinballcollective.com/bedokreservoir.