Young actor Xander Pang on cyber-bullying and Pangdemonium's 'Late Company': "Don't post your feelings"
Steady as he goes
According to the most recent survey on cyber-bullying that was commissioned by Mediacorp programme Talking Points last year, three-quarters of Singaporean youth say that they've been victims of cyber-bullying. Furthermore, almost all of them didn't take any action or inform their parents about it in spite of the negative impact on their self-esteem. Pangdemonium's 'Late Company' examines this increasingly worrying trend through a rather difficult cross-generational dinner table conversation. Grieving parents Deborah and Michael come face-to-face with Tamara and Bill, and their teenaged son Curtis (played by young actor Xander Pang), who they believe is the bully who was responsible for the suicide of their son, Joel. Pointed accusations, calling blame, finding forgiveness and the possibility of closure — the six stages of grief play out at the table as the ramifications of the suicide bleed into all of their lives. We sat down with Pang — whose previous credits include SRT's Shakespeare in Park production of Macbeth and Dream Academy's Crazy Christmas — to chat about some do's and don'ts for social media, why parents should have an online presence and the importance of having thick skin against keyboard warriors before he gets shipped off to Pulau Tekong for his National Service.
In your own words, what's the play about?
Xander: The play is set one year after the suicide of a young boy called Joe. It revolves around a dinner involving Joe's parents and his bully, Curtis, who I play.
What kind of prep did you do for this role?
Xander: It involved understanding where Curtis was coming from. I don't share a lot of the same ideas and thoughts as he does so I found it quite difficult to get into his head. The prep was a lot about the psychology behind him, why he would do certain things, how he would portray that, especially one year after the suicide that he blames on himself.
What are your thoughts on cyberbullying in general?
Xander: Cyberbullying is very much like verbal bullying in real life but in a modern context.
Can you give me an example of what a cyberbullying incident might be?
Xander: Cyberbullying is a very vague concept and different people can see it in different ways. Some people might view commenting as something that could be taken as a joke or cyberbullying. It could also go the extent of leaking a person's private details online or creating multiple accounts to attack a certain person. There's a lot of ways one could go about doing it. In my personal life, I've never experienced first-hand the more severe extends of it but the repercussions bleed into everyone's lives.
It's this vagueness that a lot of people are struggling with. How do you discuss a concept so fluid like that at the dinner table with two generations?
Xander: What is good about the play is that it doesn't really go into detail with what exactly happened. Each audience member kind of gets their own idea based on their own personal views. Within the play, it is a mix of both real-life bullying and cyberbullying so it shows the effects of both.
How can parents find the balance between being a parent and being a friend while guiding their child through whatever difficulties they might be going through?
Xander: For parents, the most important thing is to understand, not just what the child is going through but also what the digital world is like just in general. Understanding your child and who they are is going to be pointless if you don't understand the context in which they are living in now. If you're not really existing online, you don't really understand the kind of culture that is happening now and seeing the way your child behaves might be a bit confusing, so participate in the conversation.
What are some dos and don'ts for this parent-child relationship to define the parameters between privacy and obsession?
Xander: It differs from child to child. I know a lot of people who have very close relationships with their parents and the parents know all of their friends' names and they know what their child is doing at all times. At the same time, I also know kids who don't really talk to their parents very much. They eat separately, they stay in their rooms but they are both in equally happy relationships and that's just who the world is. Knowing where the boundary is and don't try to force anything. Do try to understand what's going on in your child's life without being too intrusive. Don't go through their phone. A parent shouldn't try to be a friend just like how a friend shouldn't try to be a parent.
Are there any do's and don'ts for social media?
Xander: Don't post your feelings. Don't post what you feel about other people. If you have something private in your mind, always say it in person and never through text. Don't get so anxious waiting for somebody to reply to your text messages.
Is this something you've thought about before starting your Instagram profile or are these lessons that you have learnt along the way and boundaries that you have slowly set up for yourself?
Xander: These are definitely things that I have learnt along the way. Having a sense of self-awareness is really important. A lot of time it is about asking why you're posting something. If you're posting it just for yourself, go ahead.
Have you ever deleted a post because of a comment or have you deleted a comment on one of your pictures?
Xander: Yes, it's just stuff from the past that you don't really want to think about. The more you're affected by negative things, the more you see the world negatively, and even if it is intended to be positive, you start getting very easily triggered.
Don't let words bother you. Is that your tip to other young folks?
Xander: Yes, thick skin is something that a lot of people have nowadays and it's so useful because it's literally sticks and stones. Do you really want to go through the struggle of people getting mad at you? It's just your one post that you think is funny is not going to be worth it. You know who your humour is supposed to be targeted at and just target it towards those people. You don't need to share it with everyone.
What is the greatest lesson you've learnt from your parents, dinner-table conversation wise?
Xander: Know when there are guests at the table. I think it's really important who is at the table and being able to code-switch is really important because the conversations my family has during dinner-time drastically changes when we have even one guest over, whether it will be more quiet or louder or just the topics we talk about.
In terms of your own acting ambitions, where do you see yourself and what would you like to do more of?
Xander: In the future, I'll love to try out everything because at this stage I'm just trying to figure out what exactly I'm passionate about. I'm doing some playwriting workshops and some backstage work, so being a part of the theatre world will be fulfilling enough, but being Donald Glover would be great as well.
Directed by Tracie Pang and starring Janice Koh, Karen Tan, Adrian Pang, Edward Choy and Xander Pang — 'Late Company' will run from 22 February to 10 March 2019 at the Victoria Theatre. Get your tickets now.