I’d Like To Know: Alfian Sa’at

How and when does he write? What pisses him off? What was the theatrical experience that changed his life? Find out here!

Do you have a ritual when it comes to writing?

I usually fix a cup of coffee before I settle down to write. Then I get on my bed and do my writing while lying prone. As I’m full of restless energy, I’ll often be shaking my feet from side to side. I think of that feet-shaking as a case of warming up my engine to write.

What keeps you up at night?

Writing! I can’t write in the day because it’s too hot. And I’m slightly allergic to air-con so that doesn’t work for me (Mother Nature thanks me for that). This means I’m often up writing at night, usually until daybreak. People know this because sometimes I take a break and update my Facebook at, like, 4am.

You’re throwing a dinner party for five guests – dead or alive, real or fictional. Whom would you invite?

Dorothy Parker and Mae West for the bon mots. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford just to see the sparks fly. And Judy Garland for the entertainment.

What’s one of your pet peeves?

The ‘buat bodoh’ face. ‘Buat bodoh’ roughly translates to ‘act dumb or feign ignorance’ and some Singaporeans have perfected it as their default facial expression. You’ll see this on people who don’t give up their seats to the pregnant and elderly, or those who take their sweet time at eating places when there are others who are holding their trays and waiting for seats.

If you were entertaining a visitor from overseas, what’s the one place in Singapore you’d take them to?

Haw Par Villa. Drugs are banned in Singapore, but who needs them when you have the fantastic acid trip that is Haw Par Villa? Look – a crab with the head of a woman! Oriental mermaids! A woman breastfeeding her mother-in-law! Giant sumo wrestlers! Entrails unravelled in Hell!

What’s your favourite Singaporean movie?

There’s this movie by Daniel Hui called Snakeskin, which I adore. It’s got elements of sci-fi, documentary, video diary, and it’s elliptical and enigmatic. I make it sound like it’s a frustrating viewing experience but it’s not – it’s like a waking dream that embroiders together personal memory and history. I hope it comes out on DVD or gets a cinematic release, because I think more Singaporeans should watch it.

Tell us about the theatrical experience that changed your life.

I was in Secondary Two when I watched a play by The Necessary Stage called This Chord and Others at the old Drama Centre on Fort Canning Hill. It was a play about the friendship between three colleagues: a Punjabi, a Eurasian and a Chinese, written by Haresh Sharma. It left a deep impression on me – I learnt about allegory, the richness of Singapore’s multiculturalism, the possibilities of creating entire worlds with just three actors. Later on, I was mentored in playwriting by Haresh Sharma himself.

If you could import something that you can’t get in Singapore, what would it be?

Tan Pin Pin’s documentary, To Singapore, With Love. It’s ridiculous that this tender and nuanced valentine to Singapore from its exiles is banned here. And I think, after that, there should be amnesty for these exiles and they should be allowed to enter the country and live the rest of their days in the land of their birth.

HOTEL and GRC, written by Alfian Sa’at, play at the Singapore Theatre Festival this July. Alfian will also be conducting a playwriting workshop during the Festival on 23 and 24 July. Visit www.singaporetheatrefestival.com for more information!

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