This is the perfect time to be a theatre-maker in Singapore. Years ago, rehearsals took place at night because everyone had to hold day jobs and pursue theatre as an after-hours activity. Not anymore. Social attitudes are shifting, and there is a sense that the arts are important to Singapore’s identity.
Audiences have also developed an appetite for Singaporean productions and recognise the value in the stories we tell. For the last 17 years, Checkpoint Theatre has focused on creating original works with strong writing, performance and direction. The writers we nurture offer salient insights into local culture and society.
Take Faith Ng’s Normal, which examines the streaming system in our schools. The play’s 2017 staging involved vigorous post-show discussions with more than 3,000 audience members, including teachers, students and parents. Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, who recently announced the abolishment of the academic streaming system, was one of the four Cabinet ministers present. To witness Normal reaching a wide audience, and possibly having an impact on national policy change, has been rewarding.
I’ve always believed that Singapore has the potential to exert a lot of soft power on the global stage. The impact we can have through our music, arts, film and more are outsized contributions as compared to the size of our country. Indeed, local plays we have brought to cities like Brisbane and New York resonated strongly with audiences in these faraway places.
Being commissioned by the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) is an affirmation of the work that Checkpoint Theatre does. My next play, which will be presented this month, deals with universal issues such as privilege and sacrifice against a backdrop of trauma and institutional dysfunction. Set in the world of humanitarian aid, it explores institutional issues and questions how we are all complicit in these situations, no matter where we come from.
I’ve taught scriptwriting for 12 years now and have seen so much talent. Singapore can have a scene as vibrant as those in London or New York, but in order to do so we have to get away from monolithic narratives.
For that to happen, we need more funding for developing our infrastructure and in building an economic scene and ecosystem to support more theatre practitioners. We need to expand the number of voices we have to be more inclusive and diverse, and to adequately reflect our complex and pluralistic society.
Illustrations by Stuart Patience
This article was originally published in the May 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine