Some 150 leaders convened in Singapore on 16-17 June for The Performance Theatre’s 17th gathering. After a year characterised by a mounting sense of estrangement at the global, national and individual levels, participants tackled the theme of “Invisible Realities” through a two-day programme that explored ways of listening and engaging that can bridge perception gaps.


To kick off the programme, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, Tharman Shanmugaratnam spoke with Mastercard president and CEO Ajay Banga on how Singapore builds social cohesion within a high-density, multicultural city.

Over the two days, thinkers and practitioners, including co-founder and president of Upworthy, Eli Pariser, Singapore Airlines CEO, Choon Phong Goh, former minister of trade for Indonesia, Mari Pangestu and former president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, shared perspectives on unconscious filter and bias in the media, business, policy and diplomacy. Participants discussed new actors and institutions that can help overcome those biases.

Two interactive sessions helped us connect theory with practice. On Friday, American playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith led a masterclass in listening based on the interview techniques she uses for her documentary theatre work. The next morning, more than 30 volunteer “books” with the Human Library Singapore shared personal experiences through “reading sessions” with our participants, challenging them to actively look for the story beneath the surface.

The full programme for The Performance Theatre 2017 can be viewed here.

Singaporean performer and poet Deborah Emmanuel, who closed our programme with an “apostrophe” to the outside world, summed up her own lessons from The Performance Theatre 2017:

It is we who prevent the understanding that we are the same … it is I who goes into a conversation expecting differences instead of similarities, that the reality we all share is changed depending on the seat we choose to take… Please look for similarities instead of differences.”