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SINGAPORE: Cooling Off Day, Own Time Own Target, National Language Class, The Weight Of Silk On Skin – W!ld Rice’s Singapore Theatre Festival has produced some memorable, thought-provoking plays through the years.
From the looks of it, the latest edition, which runs from Jul 5 to 22, won’t be any different.
Under festival co-directors, director Ivan Heng and playwright Alfian Sa’at, the event will have eight brand new plays that resonate with a range of issues felt across Singapore – whether it’s the first anniversary of the closure of Sungei Road Market, the 10th year of Pink Dot, or the current fuss over "fake news".
And if you're between the ages of 16 and 25, the festival has 500 free tickets to all the shows in the line-up. The giveaway is part of the launch of W!ld & Free, the company's youth access programme.
“We really feel it’s important to engage new audiences," said Heng. "Develop and invite a whole new generation of theatre audiences.”
Those free tickets are available on a first-come-first-serve basis from Apr 9 to 30 on the Singapore Theatre Festival's website.
Unfortunately, if you’re a little older than 25 and have to work with a budget, you might have to pick and choose exactly which show to catch that's right up your alley.
Here is a look at the lineup – curated by pet issues and whatever might float your boat.
WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND: 'FAKE NEWS' AND ONLINE FALSEHOODS
Press Gang is a brand new satire by Singaporean playwright Tan Tarn How – the first play from the former Straits Times journo since 2011’s Fear Of Writing.
It follows the adventures of a civil-servant-turned-reporter at the fictional newsroom The Singapore Times, which is rocked by controversy: An editor is sent on a long leave after writing a fierce commentary about the Prime Minister’s wife, while a rumour emerges that could hurt the government. Will the newspaper publish the story?
“It’s a bit of an expose about Tarn How’s days in the newsroom,” said fest co-director Alfian, who describes it as a “political thriller”.
“It’s a play that addresses something of the moment and I think it’s especially relevant right now, since we had that inquisition on deliberate online falsehood.”
For hardcore theatre buffs, there’s an added bonus: Cultural Medallion recipient T Sasitharan returns in his first acting role in ages. And, like Tan, he is also a former Straits Times journalist.
Press Gang runs from Jul 5 to 15 at The Singapore Airlines Theatre. Tickets from S$50 to S$75 from Sistic.
PSSST! IT'S FREE: A forum on Singapore journalism in the age of “fake news” and the rise of digital platforms will be held on Jul 8, 5.30pm, at Lowercase Cafe.
WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND: PRIVACY AND THE FOREIGN DOMESTIC WORKER
Young playwright Thomas Lim’s Supervision follows the story of a wheelchair-bound retiree and an Indonesian domestic worker who is employed to take care of him. The two develop a bond to the point of keeping each other's secrets – until the old man’s daughter finds out.
This commentary on surveillance culture in society, both in public and private spaces, was inspired by Lim’s personal experience, after watching his mother and aunt tinkering with the CCTV they installed at her grandmother’s place when the maids were out, in order to find the camera’s blind spots.
“It’s kind of a grey area because it is (the maids’) workplace, but at the same time, they also live there,” said Lim, who also spoke with Indonesian domestic workers about their lives.
Supervision runs from Jul 5 to 15 at the Flexible Performance Space. Tickets at S$50 from Sistic.
PSSST! IT'S FREE: Are foreigners forever foreign? A talk on migrant workers happens on Jul 15 at 5.30pm. Alternatively, a group of migrant workers from Indonesia, Bangladesh and the Philippines, collectively called BIRDS, will read some of their short plays on Jul 15 at 1pm. Both events at Lowercafe Cafe.
WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND: RACIAL REPRESENTATION
What is it like to be a female Indian or Malay actor in a theatre scene that is predominantly Chinese? Two separate one-women shows tackle the topic.
Ruth Tang’s Building A Character features young actor Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai and the challenges she faces, from casting preferences to comments like: “You’re pretty for an Indian.”
“Where are the roles for actors of certain cultural and ethnic backgrounds in Singapore? It’s a way to address the lack of certain kinds of representations,” said Alfian, who himself wrote the other one-woman show An Actress Prepares.
It looks at the life of popular theatre actor Siti Khalijah Zainal and her own challenges, including being told she was “too big” or “too Malay” to land roles.
Aside from looking at gender and race, both productions also touch on class and social mobility, said Alfian, who cited Siti’s Institute of Technical Education roots.
“We always think that theatre is very middle class, but we have these two actresses who don’t come from the traditional conventional backgrounds.”
Building A Character runs from Jul 5 to 8, while An Actress Prepares runs from Jul 19 to 22, at Creative Cube. Tickets at S$45 from Sistic.
PSSST! IT'S FREE: Absence Makes The Heart… by Aswani Aswath looks at Indian roles in the local English-language theatre scene through the years, featuring characters such as Beauty World’s Rosemary Joseph. It’ll be on Jul 6, 10pm, at Lowercase Cafe.
WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND: LIVELIHOOD AND CULTURAL HERITAGE
July marks the first anniversary of the closure of the historic Sungei Road Market, and if you want to know what the former vendors really thought about the whole saga, catch One Metre Square: Voices From Sungei Road.
The title refers to the space allocated to each vendor, and Cheow Boon Seng’s play is the result of a series of interviews conducted with vendors both before the closure and six months after. These are filtered into characters such as The Businessman, The Poet and Liang Po Po.
“When we talk about the demolition of heritage, we hear a lot from heritage enthusiasts and activists, we hear from the government, but not from the people who are actually affected by these kinds of relocation," said Alfian. "So we wanted to capture those voices."
One Metre Square: Voices From Sungei Road runs from Jul 19 to 22 at The Singapore Airlines Theatre. Tickets from S$50 to S$75 from Sistic.
PSSST! IT’S FREE: The forum No Place Like Home: Or No Place For Home? looks at Singapore’s disappearing built heritage. It’s on Jul 22, 5.30pm, at Lowercase Cafe.
WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND: YOUR FRIENDS OF DOROTHY
Dim Sum Dolly, rocker, director, actress and now, playwright – Pam Oei’s first play, the cabaret piece Faghag sees her musing about her life in the company of gay men.
The title refers to a term of endearment for women who are love to hang out with men who are decidedly not heterosexual.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do," said Oei, who counts stand-up comedian Margaret Cho as one of her comedy icons.
The one-woman show traces her evolution from a 12-year-old girl who stalked a guy she later realised batted for the other team, to her introduction to local theatre.
She’ll also touch on her experiences as the annual “Countdown Queen” at Pink Dot, which actually celebrates its 10th anniversary during the show’s run.
“During the first Pink Dot, we weren’t allowed to have a stage, so I brought my own stool and had my own loudhailer, shouting at everybody to make a pink dot!" said Oei, who will, incidentally, be launching the third album of her band Ugly In The Morning on Apr 14.
Faghag runs from Jul 19 to 22 at Flexible Performance Space. Tickets at S$50 from Sistic.
PSSST! IT’S FREE: A documentary play by Alfian titled The Insiders features the voices of 20 queer women in Singapore, coming from all walks of life. It will be held on Jul 20, 10pm, at Lowercase Cafe.
WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND: MASCULINITY AND THE SINGAPOREAN DUDE
It’s tough being a man in Singapore, as you’ll find out in the twin-bill G.F.E. and When The Cold Wind Blows.
The first, written by Chong Woon Yong, refers to “Girlfriend Experience”, a phrase that refers to on one of the ways sex workers’ performances are rated in online forums. Chong performs as a man who visits Geylang for the first time but finds himself in some sort of existential crisis.
“I wanted to explore modern notions of love from a Singaporean male perspective, and look at masculinity from the perspective of how men are also subjects of patriarchy,” he said.
Meanwhile, When The Cold Wind Blows by Neo Hai Bin looks at how a man continues to be haunted by his days in Pulau Tekong – 10 long years after he finishing National Service.
Aside from having manly themes, another common thread in both is the language: They will be performed in vernacular Mandarin.
G.F.E. and When The Cold Wind Blows runs from Jul 12 to 15 at Creative Cube. Tickets at S$45 from Sistic.