Review: Dancing with Fish in the Midnight Zone

PHOTO: ARTivate, Dramabox

(warning: major spoilers ahead)

Grief.

It’s hard to know what that means for any one person.

It’s hard to know what any one person feels for any specific emotion, really.

Because we all experience them all so differently.

There were times that I thought to myself, I don’t want to get up from here. I just want to sit/lie here all day— all my life.

Then there are other days.

Days where I manage to submerge myself in what I’m doing and time passes without me knowing it. Much like how the past one month has been, actually.

Is that joy? or excitement?

Who knows, really.

I briefly sketched this while waiting under warm and soft lights for the play to begin. I don’t think it mattered at the end.

Much like how Eunice wandered around her life, forlorn, not knowing how to really respond besides continuing to love her daughter in the same way she had always known, I found myself recalling all the times I had been on auto-pilot in my life, while in the throes of deep… feelings (?) myself.

Yes, auto-pilot. Maybe that’s the word I was looking for.

The one sentiment that I internally really applauded the ARTivate team for bringing across.

Just like all the other myriad emotions I mentioned, auto-pilot is something experienced entirely differently from one person to the next.

Some can do wonders on auto-pilot. Others use it simply to hover through life. It doesn’t make us any more, or less.

But when we do enter the auto-pilot zone—that boundary of feelings, that self-same and repetitive inner space that we create for ourselves, sometimes subconsciously— perhaps it gives us the briefest glimpse into what friends and acquaintances go through with grief, with various forms and manifestations of depression, or even any other struggle itself.

Not everyone can, and will, experience auto-pilot in their life. Some don’t get it. What Dancing with Fish in the Midnight Zone did do for their audience though, was express the space, sense, and time-awareness (if there even is one), of the realm of auto-piloting.

You either get it, or you don’t.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

You watch the family of two (now only two) gather at the table— represented by a fridge, cube-like and nondescript— and prepare for a meal, somewhat mutedly.

You watch as the mother insists on one more pair of chopsticks, one more set of utensils. To honor the sister who is now gone. Who has long ago left.

You watch as a girl wanders— and gingerly treads the threshold— of the fish tank, lined along the borders with blue fluorescent lights, tapping on the nonexistent glass of the fish tank, while the fish in it (not dance) silently traverse the small, constrained chamber of their living space, silently observing all that goes on within the family, and within each family member themselves.

From time to time, you notice one fish holds an umbrella, lined on the inside with the same blue fluorescent lights as the fish tank. The fish sways it from side to side— or is the “fish” actually a jellyfish? You don’t know.

Because who keeps jellyfish at home, right?

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

I find myself ensconced within and reminiscent of the scene where Rene constantly treads outside of the fish tank, watching these fish, watching their fluorescent-lined abode and watching the fish (not dance) float silently and somewhat mutedly within their tank.

Perhaps I was most drawn to it as a metaphor of the auto-pilot. Or perhaps it was simply a calming sight, of blue-tinted figures. Or perhaps because it reminded me of myself, and the times where I have had the privilege to witness, and to be a part of, the auto-pilot zone.

Auto-pilot isn’t just doing daily life automatically. It means also to exist without thinking, to seem like you’re thinking but you’re not. It could even mean turning on a button, to let that button be what anyone wants you to be.

Perhaps that’s what happens to those fish who “drown themselves”, in the words of the play, who perhaps turn on auto-pilot (or perhaps drift into the zone internally without knowing it) and wander into the midnight zone unknowingly, and take a turn into someplace where, biologically, they simply could not live in.

I sometimes wonder what the other fish think of me. Whether to be part of this “zone” that some fish with so-called “medically certified” qualities say is a negative zone.

But the truth is, to be a part of a zone where some other fish are in and are able to do amazing things while still in this zone, is a privilege, to me.

And I think all fish should just be that— fish— and recognise that whether you’re able to descend to the midnight zone or not, at the end of the day, you, dear fish, are still just a fish.

“The zones are named after the amount of light that can reach them.

The midnight zone is so deep that it cannot be penetrated by sunlight.

As you descend, you need to adapt to your new surroundings.

Some fishes just get eaten halfway.

Not many make it to the bottom.

But what happens when fishes reach the bottom?

No one knows.”

Dancing with Fish in the Midnight Zone

(Dancing with Fish in the Midnight Zone was the graduation performance of the third batch of ARTivate, and ran from 24th - 26th June 2021. ARTivate is the youth wing of Dramabox, a socially-engaged theatre company known for creating works that inspire dialogue, reflection and change. ARTivate was created to nurture a new group of theatre practitioners into socially aware, sensitive and responsible youths of Singapore. For more information, visit the Dramabox website here.)

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Philippe Pang

Philippe Pang

A communicator at heart; a manager at hand, but always the speaker of the truth for those who cannot.