There & Back Again with Pooja Nansi and Joel Tan

We chat with Pooja Nansi and her dramaturg/best friend, Joel Tan, about how You Are Here has changed over the years, what they love about working with each other, and what makes Singapore home for them!

How did your journey on You Are Here begin?

JOEL: It started out with you asking me out for coffee one day, saying you had an idea for a show you wanted to write. Because you had just stumbled on a bunch of letters, and you had, like, this whole treasure trove of photos, right? And then, from that conversation, it just grew and grew. I think, at that coffee, I challenged you to write something, and then, on a weekly basis, she just sent me more and more stuff until the shape for the show started to emerge.

POOJA: Joel pitched it to Checkpoint [Theatre] when they were putting [together] What I Like About You Is Your Attitude Problem for the Singapore Writers Festival. It was a nice, friendly atmosphere in which you could try the work, and it was a dramatised reading. So we had the space to play and see how it worked with audiences.

How has the show changed over the years?

JOEL: The show has changed a lot with every iteration because the wider conversation around the show keeps changing as well. The show has taken on a different character each time you do it.

POOJA: My own response to things like casual racism or thoughts about belonging shift as I grow older and different things happen in my life. I start seeing things through a different lens. The way I have wanted to write about identity has changed as well. So, every time I do the show, I come in from a different place. The last time I did it, I had just gotten married, so it’s this weird monumental thing in my life. With the Wild Rice version, specifically – I just had a baby. I’m coming to terms with motherhood still, and it really sheds a different light when you start talking about your mother, your mother’s mother.

What’s the best thing about working with each other?

POOJA: Drinking wine, before, during and after…

JOEL: During, sometimes.

POOJA: In all honesty, it’s also not having to explain myself and what my intention is with the work, because I feel like Joel always – “Mm, you know, it’s like yeah,” then, after that, we just know. That’s really rare and we really appreciate it.

JOEL: Yeah, I agree. Hence, this is the working dynamic!

What’s the worst thing about working with each other?

JOEL: Sometimes, we can’t stop laughing. When we are feeling very lazy, we just give in to it.

POOJA: Yeah, we give in to it, then we don’t work!

JOEL: There have been afternoons when we were working together and we’re just like – “Can we just go eat?”

POOJA: Yeah, and then we just go eat, and that’s horribly undisciplined.

JOEL: So for all the creative efflorescence, there’s also a lot of laziness.

POOJA: Correct!

What makes Singapore home for you?

POOJA: I can’t imagine anywhere else as home. My family is here. My found family – my friends – are all here. The food I love is here. It’s the only city in the world where I can go anywhere and not have to look at GPS. I just know it like the back of my hand. For me, I have no other city to call home.

JOEL: Same. Because I moved to London for a while, I also realised it’s the exact way in which the sun hits your skin here, which is unlike anywhere else in the world. I feel like my body responds to this place in a way that it does nowhere else. It’s like getting into a warm bath of familiarity and comfort.

Click to find out more about You Are Here!

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