Incubation: the process of incubating eggs, cells, bacteria, a disease, etc.
Nope. Definitely not that. I remember googling the word “incubation” as I asked myself what the heck I had gotten myself into. Play Naturally was introduced to me as a conservation theatre lab aimed to stimulate interests to conserve and appreciate nature through theatre. Conserve? Check. Appreciate nature? Check. Theatre? Nope. I’d never delved into anything remotely close to theatre, let alone the arts/fine arts. And yet there I was, waiting for my carpool driver (whom I had only WhatsApp messaged the night before) to pick me up for our 45 minute drive to Tasek Merimbun.
Fast forward to an hour later, after almost taking multiple wrong turns on a seemingly straightforward route, I found myself talking to Michelle, an aspiring playwright and director as if we had known each other for years. She came from a theatre/drama background and myself from a conservation background and yet our conversations flowed seamlessly throughout the whole journey! I was optimistic, and definitely not as nervous as I was before.
Upon arrival, the first thing I noticed was how empty Tasek Merimbun was. The last time I had been there was probably four years ago. This time around, sure it was as empty as I remembered, but more importantly, it was even more breathtaking than I remembered. I was then greeted by new faces and it quickly became clear to me that almost everybody there definitely knew each other from previous productions. My nerves kicked in again, but quickly went away as soon as our sessions started. Our day began with a proper introduction to Play Naturally, an idea that was born out of co-founder Jazie Zaini’s passion for conservation and theatre. She pitched and shared Play Naturally with other YSEALI AFP East West Centre alumni at YSEALI Impact XL 2019 and fast forward to two months, she had put things in motion with the help of her co-founder Gan Sylvia. One thing Jazie mentioned that stuck with me was that this entire thing was a lab, where we’ll be creating and experimenting together, as a team, whether we succeed or fail. To say this was inspiring was simply an understatement.
Proper introductions were made and I found myself in awe of the diverse group of people who had joined. Everybody had different backgrounds, but most of them shared the love of theatre. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that everyone was as taken with the idea of conserving Tasek Merimbun’s rich biodiversity and cultural history as they were with the idea of putting on a good show. Everybody was there because they wanted to be there. And that simple realisation was, for lack of a better word, awesome.
Jazie then highlighted a few conservation issues that made everyone think about and discuss the roles we play in conservation, its importance as well as challenges of discussing and highlighting these issues. After a quick morning meal, we made our way to the trail, towards the other side of Tasek Merimbun. Along the way we stopped by a jetty overlooking the lake. For a lot of the participants, this was their first time there and I could see from their faces that this was definitely not their last. Ten minutes later we reached the information centre, where we had a treasure info hunt. Sure, we definitely grouped up and copied answers from each other, but hey we learnt a lot anyway! Learning about Brunei’s only ASEAN Heritage Park and having the opportunity to take a few steps towards the balcony to actually experience its beauty then and there was enchanting to say the very least.
We returned to Balai Raya to have lunch using our reusable containers that Jazie had reminded us to bring, followed by energizers to continue our afternoon. Honestly, that day was the first day I had even heard of the word “energizers” and now I can proudly say that I know a few myself! One that I remember in particular, mostly because I had the privilege of being the last person to name everyone’s names, was the name game. It was somewhat poetic and satisfying to be able to confidently name everyone’s names, when mere hours before, they were complete strangers to me. By the end of the energizers, I knew that I’d be remembering those names for a while.
Code of conduct: once again, something I was very unfamiliar with but apparently a common discussion held early on to ensure that everyone was on the same page regarding, well, ethics and theatre etiquette. I didn’t quite understand the purpose of it but towards the end, I almost felt silly that I’d never had such conversations before. Although some of the things brought up seemed fairly obvious, the fact that it was brought up actually made me appreciate the session more. It highlighted everyone’s pure intentions and transparency for this production, to ensure the success of this lab that we’ve all decided to participate in.
Finally, the session most of us were looking forward to. We had the opportunity to speak to an elder Dusun who shared stories about Tasek Merimbun (such as the story of Pulau Labi-Labi) as well as his experience growing up in the area. Abdul Qawwiyul Matin Kawang highlighted a few differences he’s noticed throughout the years and you could tell that this man had seen a lot. A few things that stuck out to me were: 1. He enjoys seeing tourists or visitors in general visiting the lake. 2. That was a rare occurrence. 3. He feels as though Tasek Merimbun is somewhat forgotten or abandoned, highlighting the slow progress of the reconstruction of the bridge to Pulau Jelundong. I couldn't help but feel for him, and felt the urgency of creating a play that he could be proud of.
After a few questions for Abdul Qawwiyul, we wrapped up our day with a debriefing session. Everybody shared their thoughts on the day, and most of them echoed similar themes: an excitement to work with one another, a newfound appreciation of Tasek Merimbun, and a motivation to create a story that would highlight the beauty that is Tasek Merimbun and its local community. We then said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. On the ride back home, I processed what I had been through that day.
Incubation: The process of keeping something at the right temperature and under the right conditions so it can develop.
Scratch the “right temperature” bit, and it’s almost poetic. Under the right conditions (an open, diverse group of people, engaging in thought provoking conversations towards a similar goal, immersed in Tasek Merimbun), we were able to develop.