Emerging playwrights feeling the heat

08 October 2019
The Straits Times, Life!, Page D1 & D2

Actor Rajkumar Thiagaras, 30, was moved to write the play Ashes, Ashes—about an Indian woman who sells her childhood home—because he felt there were not enough stories on stage that represented Singapore Indians. Rajkumar—and fellow young writers Gina Chew, 24, Mark Benedict Cheong, 27, and Titus Yim, 18—will soon have full-scale productions of their plays staged at The Wright Stuff Festival, a biennial programme by Toy Factory Productions which returns for its second edition from Thursday to Nov 3. The festival, which received some 20 submissions this time round, offers selected emerging writers a six-month intensive scriptwriting programme. They are among the many new voices on the Singapore theatre landscape.

Unlike the scene a decade ago, there is no longer a dearth of new English-writing playwrights in Singapore. Writers also have more platforms to hone their craft. Some industry players, however, worry that the pressure to constantly produce new work—fuelled in part by key performance indicators for National Arts Council funding and a packed arts calendar—might be taking a toll on the quality of scripts. Playwright-director Chong Tze Chien of The Finger Players says: "We need to take stock and rethink how we want to produce quality works over quantity. "Theatre companies should slow down and not churn out show after show like a factory... We have many first-time playwrights. But your first play is just your first play—it doesn't make you a playwright."

Some young playwrights say they do feel the pressure to produce. Playwright Ellison Yuyang Tan, 30, bristles under "the expectation of having to be prolific to remain relevant, and the unrealistic expectation that a full-length play can be - or should be - churned out within a year or less".

Rajkumar Thiagaras’ Ashes, Ashes, Mark Benedict Cheong's Random Access Memory and Titus Yim's The Puppet King will be performed by NAFA’s Diploma in Theatre students and staged at the NAFA Studio Theatre.

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