Presented during the Singapore International Festival of Arts, I Am LGB was a play-cum-social-experiment which raised questions of identity, origin, and belonging. The audience (a.k.a participants) underwent several stages of assessments to decide who remained in the experiment, and who was liberated from it. By the end, only one participant was crowned “LGB”.
“LGB” stands for “Lan Gen Bah”, a name that contained dual meanings in the play. On one level, Lan Gen Bah was a character in the play. For instance, the “I Am LGB Textbook” — a booklet about the social experiment — contained a biography of Lan Gen Bah. Lan Gen Bah’s history was also read out in a lengthy speech at the beginning of the experiment.
However, on another level, the name “Lan Gen Bah” signified the participant who was subjected to the social experiment conducted by the omniscient yet invisible state in the play. In this context, “Lan Gen Bah” meant that the participant was a product shaped by the state. Participants had to pass different rounds of assessment — for example, Stage two was hybridization while Stage three was essentialization — to prove that they were Lan Gen Bah.
Often, the criteria for passing the assessments were arbitrary. In a common test, participants had to answer typical school questions. Those who scored four and below were asked to leave because they had failed to prove they were Lan Gen Bah. However, by leaving, they were actually liberated from the state’s social experiment, becoming free agents who were no longer shaped by the state.
When participants were liberated, they leave behind the state (within the play) and return to the reality (outside of the play). The “liberated” were then brought to a room filled with newspaper clippings, printed email exchanges, and academic books, making them aware of the political undertones of the play.
Towards the end, the audience had to elect Lan Gen Bah from the remaining participants. However, when Lan Gen Bah was elected, the room the audience were in began to flash red and the screen that showed the election was plagued by static. It turned out that the audience in the room were not truly liberated. After all, they had to elect Lan Gen Bah, meaning that they were still complicit in the social experiment of the play’s state.
I Am LGB was a play. Much more than that, though, it was a powerful social experiment that highlighted the extent of the state’s “control” over its people. Over the course of its running time, it raised questions about how much individuals are treated as products of the state. Can an individual attain true liberation from the state’s experiment?
Unfortunately, by the end of the play, it seems that the answer is no.
I Am LGB was commissioned by the Singapore International Festival of Arts, and ran from 18-20 August 2016.