The W!LD RICE Hotel will soon be open for business!
In late January, the directors, playwrights and cast of Hotel – a commission by the Singapore International Festival of Arts – came together for a second week of intensive workshops.
Hotel, directed by Ivan Heng and Glen Goei, and written by Alfian Sa’at and Marcia Vanderstraaten, will check in with the residents of the titular hotel every ten years. Throughout the performance, audiences will meet a wide array of characters, from Japanese soldiers during WWII, Malay movie stars from the 1950s, and girls from the sleazier side of Bugis Street.
The entire company explored one hundred years of Singapore history through a series of guided improvisations, which will serve as the basis for the final text of the play.
“The metaphor of a hotel room lends itself easily to Singapore, with our geographical location and history as an international port,” explained Ivan. “We quickly get a sense of who we are and where we came from. The demographic is constantly changing. We are keen to explore the notion of progress by thinking about what is built, changed, lost and left behind over the span of 100 years.”
For Glen, the workshops really drove home the way in which history shapes the here and now. “One of the interesting things for me was discovering how things that happened decades ago are still so present in the world we’re living in today. The actions that one takes and the decisions that one makes really do have an impact on the generations to come.”
The material and ideas generated by the workshops were greatly appreciated by our playwrights. “They helped to open up some vistas in the imagination,” explained Alfian. “Because it’s not just an empty page you’re working from, but you’re seeing bodies form images and tableaus in space.”
“This process has been deeply inspiring for me,” added Marcia, who is creating a script from improvisation for the first time. “We have a cast full of fantastic performers, and I’ve learnt a lot from watching them at their craft. I’m looking forward to working on the script with Alfian and picking up more pointers from him on playwriting!”
These workshops have also given everyone involved a greater appreciation of the complexities and turning points of Singapore history.
Alfian was particularly struck by his experience of working with the three Malaysian actors in the cast. “They brought with them a sense of what Singapore was pre-Independence, a kind of Malayan ethos that was really part of who we were once upon a time.”
“It really makes you realise just how interesting Singapore history is,” observed actor Daniel York, who read Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs in preparation for the workshops.
“For instance, Singapore was a pretty sleazy place up until the 1970s! We forget this a lot, but it’s all there if you go back to the literature, music and poetry of the time. And I still find it hard to get my head around that split from Malaysia: how terrifying it must have been for Singapore to have to establish its own identity given its size and lack of natural resources.”
“There’s something very pleasing and rewarding about going through this entire narrative,” Daniel concluded. “It’s going to be an extraordinary project.”