Meet FK Co-Lab, a Singapore company currently based in London. This year, the company is making its debut production at the Camden Fringe in London with The Cardboard Kitchen Project, a one-woman play centred around a Singaporean character Jennie, who moves to London and receives a cardboard kitchen from a mystery sender. The play explores change and the memories we attach to spaces through Jennie’s journey building this kitchen, and the revelations that come to her in the process of building.
We sit down with the all-female production team of The Cardboard Kitchen Project, Faezah Zulkifli (director), Nur Khairiyah Ramli (Producer), Deanna Dzulkifli (Stage Manager) and Muslihah Mujtaba (Production Manager)
Tell us about FK Co-Lab. Why did you decide to bring Singapore theatre to the London fringe theatre scene?
FK Co-Lab was formed while Faezah and myself were talking a lot about the Singapore Theatre scene and comparing it to the London theatre landscape. We both have similar ‘wants’ in the theatre scene, and we decided to practice the ‘wants’ that we rarely get to do while working with other theatre companies or artists; Faezah wants to put the work first, and I want to serve artists and develop their process. So we wanted to marry both our work ethics and formed FK Co-Lab. It’s like Faezah’s and Khai’s club.
It was something that came naturally to us because we both had similar working ethics and visions for the kinds of work we make, the kinds of impacts we wanted on the audience. Unlike Khai, I didn’t have much experience in the Singapore industry – most of my experience was in the international scene – but I was interested in engaging in it and bringing what I knew about the international scene into it. It’s quite interesting what we’re developing with this company – it sits on a fine line between Singapore theatre and London fringe theatre; it’s not either but it’s both at the same time.
So deciding to bring Singapore theatre to London fringe theatre scene was an organic decision. To me, participating in the Fringe, is a process, a safe space to develop an idea and artist development. So we decided to premiere our work at a Fringe platform to engage with new audiences and work with potential partners.
Let’s talk about The Cardboard Kitchen Project – how did this story come about? Why cardboard, and What do you think London audiences can get out of it?
Faezah: On one of our first meetings as a company, Khai came up to me and said she really wanted to do a show centred around kitchens. We brainstormed a lot of ideas about it, and it came to a point when we realised that if this was going to be a festival show, we could not have an actual kitchen onstage. It needed to be something that we could bring around with us easily. So that was how the cardboard came about. It was a challenge figuring out what a cardboard kitchen is supposed to mean – I mean, it’s absurd, isn’t it? A kitchen made out of cardboard? But it was from that very absurdity of it that questions around space and the memories we attach to space arose, and that became the focal point of the piece.
It’s not easy to stage work at fringe festivals. What are some of the challenges you have had to overcome?
Faezah: Money! It’s mad because the point of fringe festivals is to make staging work democratic, but it’s becoming more and more expensive and less and less accessible – not just for artists but for audiences as well. I think it’s fantastic that everyone here can just go out there and make work, but it’s challenging to make a living out of it, especially when you’re just starting out.
Khai: Audience development is tough. Especially when you’re just starting out. You have your targetted audience but you need to find unique ways to engage with them and entice them to watch the show.
Lili: When doing fringe shows, it is important to ensure that the company’s needs are met and most of the time I find the challenge in managing a small and constricted budget while ensuring that the elements of design for the show are still of quality. Apart from that, the fun comes when liaising with the venue – as most of the time, changes have to be done to ensure that the performance we are bringing in are suitable according to the technical specifications of a venue. Sometimes these changes can be big and involves a lot of compromising, thus as the production manager I am also responsible in ensuring that these things do not affect the dynamics of the team.
Deanna: I personally have only done 2 fringe festivals including this one, personally i feel knowing the purpose of the play being apart of that specific fringe with a specific venue is important. because then audiences, sales, and lots of other things might fall into place easier with a clear sense of purpose: “why are we doing this right here right now”. another challenge with fringe things i would say is that usually the team is quite small, so everyone is spread quite thin, so its really about everyone taking good care of each other, and being considerate of everyones situations.
You are working with an all-female, BAME-majority team. What has that been like?
Faezah: It’s been rewarding in that we’ve all come together with similar struggles when it comes to working in the industry as BAME artists. We all can relate to each other and there has never been moments where we’re struggling to understand each other or relate to each other. We collectively know what are strengths are, and we know where we might lose out on things, but we don’t let it put us down. In fact, if anything it has only added to the integrity of the work we make and allowed us to develop common goals.
Khai: I think there’s a sense of community when you know that the team has the same goals as you. Each female in this team are from a certain ethnic group, with different work ethos and creative backgrounds. Having a good team is so essential, something that people often neglects. A shared artistic vission is achievable through trust, respect, hard work and communication. Good working relationships are mantained by knowing ehrn to let go and when to compromise.
Lili: This is my 3rd time working in an all-female, all BAME team and I must say the experience has been positive because we all get each other on a different level. The team members are always supportive towards one another and we all understand each other’s roles really well, so we do our best in our own ways to ensure that the production process goes on as smoothly as possible.
Deanna: It honestly has been amazing. i’ve had the priveledge of being on all female BAME teams both times, and its the camaraderie and support we can give to each other that i love. we can feel the drive to make work together and to exist in this space on our own terms.
What is diversity to you, especially in Fringe festivals?
Faezah: Diversity can encapsulate a lot of things. It’s gender, it’s race, it’s accessibility. It’s genres of work, it’s the kinds of audiences you invite to the room. I think that’s what festivals are essentially about – it’s not so much what goes into it but the combination of all those things and how they respond to each other that makes it diverse.
Khai: I don’t often use the word diversity, I feel more strongly for the word representation. #Represenatationmatters. I want to see someone who is Malay Muslim on stage- whether it’s in Singapore or London- who speaks and looks like me. We talk about how Singapore is a multi-ethnic country and similarly London is a diverse city. But often a time, my people don’t get represented. My people is (Singaporean Malay Muslim, but people still thinks Singapore is a chinese country, and I should speak Mandarin, when Malay is actually the national language in Singapore.) Everyone wants to be and feel represented. We all want to to be heard and valued. So I prefer to talk about representation then using the word diversity.
Lili: To me, diversity is about seeing people of all races and backgrounds coming together in one place, without prejudice or any judgements. Representation definitely matters, and everyone has their own unique story to tell. As a Southeast Asian Malay/Muslim theatre practitioner, I find it intriguing when I see new, innovative works being presented by collectives and companies, especially works by people of colour in fringe festivals.
Deanna: Diversity to me is making opportunities for groups that may not necessarily feel like they have the right to that space.
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