Deconstructing Psychobitch with Amanda Chong

Amanda Chong chats with us about the inspirations (and infographics!) behind PSYCHOBITCH, from its provocative title to her decision to write it as a one-woman show starring Sindhura Kalidas.
Amanda Chong in interview

What is Psychobitch about?

Psychobitch is the story of Anya Samuel, who’s a broadcast journalist, a type A personality with perpetual levels of excellence and nil levels of chill. And her fiancé, who’s a tech CEO, asks her to explain the four times that she has cried in public in the course of their relationship. To prove that she’s not an emotional person, she brings all of her professional expertise to this task and creates this crazy slide deck with infographics and animations of her menstrual cycle.

How did Psychobitch come about?

Okay, so, fun story! Everyone’s always asking me, “How did you come up with this premise?” And it’s because this is something that happened to me actually. Many years ago, I was in a similar situation where an ex-boyfriend asked me to explain the four times I cried in public in the course of our relationship. I’m not a journalist; I’m a lawyer. So I brought my professional expertise to the task. And that meant 30 pages of submissions which were colour-coded. And yes, there were infographics of my menstrual cycle!

That really was the initial inspiration for the show, because I personally identify a lot with that ‘psychobitch’ trope of a woman – someone who’s very Type A, very go-getter and an overachiever but, at the same time, kind of a hot mess.

What inspired you to call the show Psychobitch?

Psychobitch is a very provocative title, but it really encapsulates the stereotype that I want to critique – which is that when women are emotional, when we even make our emotional needs known, there is a certain trope and stigma that is immediately associated with it: ‘Psychobitch’. But, when a man makes his emotional needs known, there’s no special term for that because that’s just everyday life, right?

Throughout this entire play, I wanted to deconstruct that trope of a psychobitch, especially because there are different relationships that we have with the word “bitch”. As a woman, I might call myself a “Type A bitch,” or a “boss-ass bitch,” and it can be an empowering phrase. But, when we have a man turning it against me and calling me a bitch, that’s a completely different dynamic. And I wanted to see how that can be explored in different ways throughout the course of the play.

Is it true that you wrote Psychobitch with Sindhura Kalidas in mind to play the title role?

Yes! I have a lot of friends who are ‘Psychobitches’, and Sindhu is one of them. We are really good friends. In fact, she was my first acting partner – we acted together in Drama Club in RGS when we were in Sec 1! I’d been wanting to write a play for her, because she’s always told me that there are not enough meaty roles for brown women in Singapore. So I said, “Okay lah, sis, I’ll write you a whole play.”

And that’s how it started, because I knew that Sindhu is someone who can do comedy and drama, and she can make you laugh and cry, practically in the same moment. I wanted to write something that just embodies who we are as people, but also plays to her strengths as an actor.

What was your writing process like for Psychobitch?

I spent eight months working with a group of playwrights as part of The Necessary Stage’s Playwrights’ Cove, under the mentorship of Haresh Sharma. We all had different ideas for different plays that we wanted to write. For me, it was very clear from the start that I was going to write a one-woman show called Psychobitch, and it was going to star Sindhura Kalidas.

Haresh was immensely helpful in the process because he has written so many of his own one-woman shows. So I really tapped on his expertise, asking him about how he worked with actors, how he interviewed them to get their stories, and that found its way into my process for Psychobitch, because Anya Samuel is a Tamil woman, and – while a lot of her struggles are struggles that every woman goes through – there is a particular strand of her struggles that is specific to her context as an Indian woman in Singapore. And obviously, that’s not part of my lived experience. That’s when I really asked Sindhu, as well as my friends from Tamil Christian backgrounds, to explain to me exactly what it’s like to navigate all those different tensions as a Tamil woman in Singapore. And I put that into the script.

What kind of research did you do for Psychobitch?

Psychobitch really isn’t just my story. It is the story of so many different women that I interviewed – so many friends, acquaintances, people I met. I realised that all of us go through this struggle of really wanting to be fully known and fully loved. And, in the course of navigating that, before we come to know our worth, we tend to accept toxic circumstances and relationships. We tend to accept less than what we deserve. I really wanted to honour the stories I heard from my friends by putting them into a play and giving us a space where we can laugh at ourselves, but also a space where we can hope for something better.

What gender dynamics did you want to explore in writing Psychobitch as a one-woman show? 

As a playwright, I’m really interested in constructing complex female characters because I just think that there’s a whole history of male characters dominating the stage, and it is time for us to really put women, with all their contradictions and tensions, in the spotlight.

So, with Psychobitch, we have one woman actor who is embodying all these male characters – like her fiancé, tech CEO Galven; and her pastor father, Appa. In doing so, we have men being refracted through a woman’s experience. And I really just enjoy the performativity of that, especially watching Sindhu embodying the different physiological manifestations of manliness – like manspreading.

And I think that says something about gender, especially when Sindhu embodies those characteristics and even the oppressive dynamics within the relationships that Anya has with her father and boyfriend.

This is your first time working with Wild Rice. What has that experience been like?

It’s my first time working with Wild Rice as a playwright, but I’ve been a long-time supporter of Wild Rice’s work. What I really love about Wild Rice is its focus on Singapore stories. I think it’s incredibly important for a country’s identity and for our culture to support storytelling by local writers and theatre-makers, and Wild Rice just does a fantastic job of that.

Another thing I love about Wild Rice is its theatre – it’s a space where the audience is literally in the same room with the actors. And to have that for a one-woman show is just perfect, because it creates that intimacy between the performer and the audience.

I’m also really excited about working with Pam, who is directing Psychobitch. She starred in my first professional show, a musical called The Feelings Farm, and she’s just such a delight to watch as a performer. The moment she walks on stage, you can feel the audience gearing up to react to her, because she just has that charisma and that presence. And, for Pyschobitch, I really wanted to work with a director who is a seasoned actor and has had experience performing in one-woman shows. So Pam was perfect for this.

Who do you think should come and watch Psychobitch?

I really wrote Psychobitch for all of the hapless, struggling office ladies out there, who are very overwhelmed with life. You know, hot messes carrying all their crap on the MRT every day, rushing in heels to their various appointments, and yet just trying to be excellent and show up for everyone. I call them “cui OLs”, like, cui office ladies. Those are my people la. I wrote Psychobitch for all of you cui OLs.

But, at the same time, I also see Psychobitch as a show for everyone because, fundamentally, it’s really about this deep human desire to be fully known and fully loved. It’s about the concessions that we accept on our journey to discovering our worth and that we deserve to be loved. I think everyone can identify with that. So I don’t want to stereotype it and say that this is just a show for women. I think people of all genders can understand and see themselves in Anya Samuel, and her earnest struggle against all of the pressures of society, all of the inequalities, all of these power dynamics, to really be seen for who she is, which is someone who is worthy of love.

Interview By: Shawne Wang

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