Going Off-Script with Nur Hamidah

Nur Hamidah signed up for W!LD RICE’s youth development programme in the hopes of honing her skills as a playwright. As the members of young & W!LD prepare to open their final showcase, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she chats with us about the lessons she’s learned as both playwright and performer in the past 18 months.

Tell us about your upcoming showcase, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. How have you been preparing for the show?

It’s been nerve-racking because, unlike our past two original showcases, it’s an established piece. We’ve been working hard at understanding the language and context of Shakespeare’s play, and even had vocal lessons with Nora Samosir. I had to scrub away my Singaporean style of speaking. I had to learn to listen very carefully to myself and control my breathing, so I don’t run out of breath in the middle of a long line.

I’m playing two characters – Snout and Egeus. Snout is an enigma, as he has very few lines, and Egeus is a man who holds steadfastly to his beliefs and old traditions, at the expense of his daughter’s happiness. It’s an interesting challenge to interpret and give life to elusive characters who only appear for a few moments on stage. That’s why I’ve been working especially hard on my physical movements.

How were you first bitten by the theatre bug?

When I was in kindergarten, I was chosen to perform as a mermaid in a school show, but my mother pulled me out because she disapproved. Ever since then, I’ve always been attracted to the stage. I guess you can say it’s the rebellious streak in me!

How have you been involved in theatre over the years?

I haven’t done anything major. Since primary school, I was mostly involved in school shows, and I didn’t do any theatre while I was in JC. When I continued my tertiary education, I joined the English division club and focused mostly on theatre. I spent my time learning about backstage stuff such as being a stage manager, playwright and director. It’s only because of young & W!LD that I am back in the spotlight.

Hamidah reminisces about the past with Matthew Fam in a touching scene from Geylang

Besides acting, you’re also an aspiring playwright. How have you honed your skills in this regard, and what challenges have you faced as a playwright?

I wish I had more time, which is such a scarce resource! I do feel that I’m less didactic and heavy-handed in my writing now. I’ve learnt to let go (while still being in control) and trust my characters more to get my message across, even when they’re psychotic baby-killers like the cooking-show host in Little Riots And Other Stories. Being back onstage, doing all the improv, working with different actors from different backgrounds – all these elements have really helped me to properly frame my writing.

I’ve also become far more aware that script-writing is very different from fiction-writing, which is quite intimate and personal. Script-writing has an interactive and ever-changing aspect to it because, ultimately, it needs to be performed by others who will have different interpretations of the same words. It’s been great to have the opportunity to meet an established playwright like Alfian Sa’at and work with Marcia Vanderstraaten.

Why young & W!LD?

I came across it by chance. I was attracted by the fact that, this time round, they were opening young & W!LD up to not just aspiring actors but aspiring directors, playwrights and stage managers as well. To be honest, I submitted my application a few days late, so I was really surprised to receive a reply! I was even more nervous when I learnt I had to audition; my acting skills were so rusty. I thought I could just apply as a playwright. I almost chickened out. But I don’t regret it one bit!

You’ve been working with your programme directors and fellow participants in young & W!LD for over a year, on shows like Little Riots and Geylang. What has that process been like? What have you learnt?

I’m kind of nostalgic now, because we’re in the final stretch before the programme ends. It’s been an insane rollercoaster ride, that’s for sure! I’ve gone from panicking – “OMG, I have to act?! What do you mean I’m the first act?!” – to “Learn to rap? Sure!” It’s exhilarating because, in the process of honing my theatre skills, I’ve also discovered a lot about myself. Even after so many years, there’s still so much more to learn and I’m looking forward to it!

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