This year's Singapore Theatre Festival aimed to develop new voices, new audiences and new possibilities in Singapore's theatre scene. Co-Artistic Director Alfian Sa'at looks back on Singapore Theatre Festival 2018!
The eight incredible shows at Singapore Theatre Festival 2018!
The Singapore Theatre Festival in 2018 marks the first time that the company has produced all eight plays in the season. It has been a challenging experience, as the company’s resources were stretched to provide creative, production, marketing and ticketing support to all the plays. At the same time, it has also been deeply rewarding, as everyone involved has become family under one tent.
In the early years of the Festival, W!LD RICE invited various companies to propose plays for inclusion. We co-produced and co-presented shows with groups such as The Theatre Practice (I Am Queen), Checkpoint Theatre (The Weight of Silk on Skin), Drama Box and Panggung Arts (Angel-ism), spell #7 (National Language Class, Tree Duet) and Teater Ekamatra (Charged, Nadirah, GRC).
As those various groups developed their own capacities, some were able to programme full seasons without relying on Festival appearances. Others could even mount festivals of their own, such as The Theatre Practice’s M1 Chinese Theatre Festival and Teater Ekamatra’s Projek Suitcase.
W!LD RICE's Fab Four!
(L-R) Thomas Lim, Ivan Heng, Glen Goei and me!
Gradually, we shifted our focus to younger companies and also early-career independent playwrights. In September 2015, W!LD RICE invited representatives from eight young theatre companies to pitch plays for the fifth Singapore Theatre Festival.
One particular playwright belonged to a company called One Man Riot. True to its name, the company consisted of one person – himself. His name was Thomas Lim, and his play, Grandmother Tongue, made its debut at the 2016 Festival. Thomas is now an Associate Director (Youth & Education) with W!LD RICE, and recently premiered his new play, Supervision, at the 2018 Festival.
New Voices and New Talents!
With some of STF2018's playwright:
(L-R) Chong Woon Yong, Ruth Tang, Pam Oei, me and Thomas Lim
Very recently, a young theatre-maker remarked to me that he has no idea how to have his play presented at the Festival. My reply was that an ecosystem exists, and that there are many tributaries that eventually meet at the Festival. Various developmental programmes exist in which budding playwrights can cut their teeth.
When The Cold Wind Blows by Neo Hai Bin, for example, was developed (along with Chong Woon Yong) at Centre 42’s Basement Workshop. Woon Yong’s G.F.E. began life as a 20-minute piece at The Theatre Practice. Ruth Tang, the playwright for Building A Character, was referred to me by the National Arts Council’s Mentor Access Project.
Meeting, interacting and trading ideas and energy with Festival-goers!
The Festival will always ensure that its doors remain open to emerging theatre-makers. Similarly, we also try to ensure that the doors to our theatres remain open to theatre-goers of all backgrounds.
Throughout the Festival, we gave away 500 free tickets to those between 16 and 25 years of age. Bringing young people into the theatre is an essential part of our mission as a theatre company. And we know it matters because one young lady went up to actress Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai after watching Building A Character. Wiping away tears, she said, “Thank you. I am so happy I can finally see someone like myself on stage.”
Migrant workers, led by playwright Wiwik Tri Winarsih, taking centre stage in our Festival Club reading of her play, Shoe
For Thomas’ Supervision, we gave out free tickets to domestic workers staying at a HOME (Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics) shelter. For One Metre Square: Voices From Sungei Road, we invited some vendors from the closed Sungei Road Market, some of whom had never been to the theatre before. In addition, select performances of three plays were supplemented with sign-language interpretation for members of the Deaf community.
In conversation with theatre-makers from Thailand and Malaysia!
(L-R) Me, Tananop Kanjanawutisit, Pinya Chookamsri, Omar Ali and Khairi Anwar
At every edition of the Singapore Theatre Festival, I am often over-stimulated by the many encounters I make. In the space of three weeks in July, I found myself absorbed in conversations with an Australian dramaturg, Thai and Malaysian theatre-makers, independent journalists, migrant-worker activists, members of a migrant worker-performing troupe and heritage activists, as well as Institute of Technical Education students on attachment.
In dialogue with our audiences - one of the most important elements of any piece of theatre!
But perhaps the most intense dialogues that occur are with the plays, and with the audiences who watch them. While straying between the three different theatres at LASALLE College of the Arts, I picked up some spot-the-reference whispers at Tan Tarn How’s Press Gang; starstruck sighs at my play, An Actress Prepares; and hopeful humming at Pam Oei’s Faghag. The air was abuzz, as it always is, when ideas clash or when souls connect.
I hope this year’s Singapore Theatre Festival has been as inspiring for you as it has been for us. On behalf of everyone involved as part of the Festival, I thank you, our audience, for walking through our doors and spending your time with us. We hope the world you come back to when you exit the theatre is one that opens up to you with more doors and even more possibilities.
Festival Co-Artistic Director, Dramaturg and Playwright