LIVEBLOGGING: 20th 24-Hour Playwriting Competition by Theatreworks Writers’ Lab

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Hey readers! We’re doing a special post today covering Theatreworks’ 24-Hour playwriting competition 2017. Held at Kampung Kampus, Home of the Ground-Up Initiative, we’ll be situated here till 4pm tomorrow, giving you an hourly update and liveblog of what it’s like to be part of the madcap playwriting process!

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This isn’t our first time on this rodeo; we participated in the competition ages ago since before this website was started, and we recall the competition having taken place in locations as varied as Marina Barrage, the Eurasian Association and even Pulau Ubin! But this is a particularly special year for the annual competition, celebrating its milestone 20th anniversary and hundred of playwrights submitting countless scripts over the last two decades.

As always, we have no idea what’s going to be in store for us, as we’re given five different stimuli over the course of 24-hours to incorporate into our completely original script. Along the way, we hear we’ll be introduced to Kampung Kampus, and even get a chance to try some hands on experience with farming. We can’t even begin to describe how excited we are to begin the process, but stay tuned for our hourly updates and join us as we embark on this slightly crazy journey, probably half asleep midway into the night, and deep into the wilderness of our imaginations.

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3PM
We’ve arrived at Kampung Kampus, taking a stroll from a nearby bus stop and attempting to shield ourselves from the oppressive sun. No matter how long we’ve lived here, we’ll never get used to how temperamental our weather is, changing from a relentless storm in the early hours of the day to this sweltering heat we’re going through now. We finish up at the registration booth, and are pleasantly surprised to see such a nice setup before us – tables with power points and the most important thing of all: WIFI.

We spot a familiar faces here and there; besides the Theatreworks staff we’re now familiar with, there’s a few playwrights we recognize, such as Annabel Tan, who penned The Cave as part of last year’s 20-Something Theatre Festival, and even actor Timothy Nga (we’re not sure if he’s participating). There’s also plenty of youths taking part, and that’s something that’s always incredibly encouraging. We need new blood in the scriptwriting scene, and perhaps, we might just uncover some new talent at this edition of the competition. It’s not just youths here though – we spot a few members of the older generation armed with a laptop as well, ready to flex their competition muscles. All I can think of is the familiar reality show adage: “I’m not here to make friends.” (though I’m sure they’re all pretty friendly)

Meanwhile, we’re exploring the contents of our goodybag. Apart from the lanyard and T-shirt we were given, the specially designed tote bag contains a programme, a fan, a poncho, some snacks and a copy of 5 Under 25: Prizewinning Plays From The Writers’ Lab (in case we need inspiration I guess!) Theatreworks really has thought of everything, and we’re currently just sitting down, relaxing our minds as we await for the competition to really get underway.

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4PM
What’s a birthday without a celebration? Our hostess with the mostest (and also gamemaster) Becca D’Bus came out in full force and began the proceedings proper with an introduction to the entire competition, followed by Theatreworks Managing Director Tay Tong with a reminder of why the competition was started in the first place: to uncover and discover the closeted playwrights and offer them an opportunity to flex those writing muscles and a chance to let their voice be heard, shake up the world with their writing and make a stand in the local arts scene. A worthy aim that has produced only some of the best playwrights in local history, including Ovidia Yu and Tan Tarn How.

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Also, there was cake and prosecco. What better way to start off the playwriting process than on a high note?

5PM
Writer’s block. It’s only to be expected when you’re given a single prompt (an esoteric quote meant to be the first spoken line of the entire play), and with little else to go on, we retreat to the pantry and munch on a few curry puffs. Right now, we’re waiting to hear from the Ground-Up Initiative people to get a nice tour of Kampung Kampus.

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6PM
Farm tour! Maybe sometimes all you need is a little fresh air, but it definitely helped turn the cogs of creativity a little more. The Ground-Up Initiative (GUI) is one of those rare places you don’t get too many of left in Singapore, a place where it’s all about learning, all about conservation. You can find out more about them here.

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Sniffing a few herbs and spices here and there, maybe that woke us up a little. Or maybe it’s the sheer tranquility and love that this place is filled with. I don’t know. But I think we’re finally forming the beginnings of an idea in our head, and that gives us hope that we’re not going to end up turning in a blank slate.

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7PM
Night falls and the weather’s getting much much cooler. But that also means the mosquitoes are out in full force, and we’re kind of worried we’ll become blood fodder. Thank god for the mosquito repellant around (kudoss again Theatreworks for thinking of everything) The playwrights are addressed by Kampung Chief and founder of GUI Tay Lai Hock as he tells us the story of GUI. A real passionate guy deemed a ‘crazy hippie’ by the government (leading a group of ‘junior hippies’), it’s amazing how despite all of this, he’s managed to keep the Kampung running for years, and hopefully, it keeps going, even with the rising rental costs and naysayers. If you’re an educator, bring your kids here for service learning!

Becca D’Bus returns in an all new outfit with our second stimuli, this time a non-specific one (the stimuli, not the outfit). Do we work it into a character? Do we use it as ambience? Only time will tell. Night does strange things to the brain, and one imagines that a really terrible way of explaining what we’re doing now would be as such:

Man is trapped on a farm in the middle of nowhere writing a play before time runs out, while being given instructions by a drag queen. 

Honestly, it sounds like a weird experimental piece (that Theatreworks could definitely adapt into a devised piece). But of course having read all this, you know that all of this writing is self-inflicted, and we’re more or less finally ready to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and get started on our masterpiece.

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But first things first, dinner!

8PM
Ok so we lied when we said we had an idea of what we were going to write. We don’t. We started writing dialogue in a vacuum, using the first stimuli as our starting point, and we’re sort of stuck. You know those games where you try to get from point A to point B and you end up drawing the most complicated of paths to reach it? That’s a little like what it feels like right now trying to steer Stimuli 1 into Stimuli 2. We’ll figure it out eventually, but for now, it’s back to the drawing board…and doing random research about star signs and horoscopes (trust me, this makes sense if you’re writing the stuff we are in our script)

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A feline friend (or foe?) literally just appeared. Is he here to wreak havoc upon our creativity by distracting us with his cuteness? Or could he be a form of inspiration for this play to be finally making some head way? Stay tuned for our next update to find out.

9PM
My phone has died and I cannot resuscitate it. It’s not the first time it’s happened, so it’s a minor inconvenience at worst, but I feel naked without it, cut off from WhatsApp and everything else a phone entails. It’s at this point I’m starting to wonder why I’m here in the first place, mostly because I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing 5 hours into the competition and panicking slightly and with one of the (many) artist dilemmas, worrying ‘What if I really hate the final piece I end up with?’

10PM
In the span of the last hour, we started work on a draft, then promptly restarted completely because it felt too derivative (don’t worry, we saved what we started so that we might return to it in future). We’ve got a new idea ready to flesh out though, and we think we’ve finally come up with the ideal play we want to write. Inspiration truly strikes at the weirdest of times, we thought to ourselves as we sipped some chinchow from a plastic cup.

11PM
We’re starting to feel fatigued and we literally destroyed two dra first scenes. One can only wonder what the third stimuli is (to be revealed at midnight) and if we can turn it into a lifebuoy to hang on to in this sea of words we’re drowning in.

12AM
Third Stimuli released. The one and only appropriate reaction is…”REALLY.”

All current plans have been abandoned and we are making a triumphant return to the draft we ditched earlier.

1AM
We just spent the last hour trying to come up with the best names for characters.

2AM
We just scrapped the script we returned to and boomeranged back to the original one and wrote out our first scene, 10 hours into the competition. Brace yourselves, it’s going to be a rough night.

3AM
Could it be? We’re making actual progress? Hallelujah, it’s a 24-Hour Playwriting miracle! We’ve got the semblance of a structure ready to roll, and we think that we’re gonna be more than able to comfortably submit our entry in time. AND still deal with the most challenging stimuli they might throw at us (we say this now but we might just end up a complete mess when stimulus number 5 comes along and throws a complete wrench in our work)

4AM
IT IS 4AM YOU GUYS. THIS IS THE PART WHERE WE THINK IT MIGHT BE GOOD TO TAKE A LITTLE NAP.

5AM
We’ve reached a strange point in the night where it feels like there’s a lot of quiet activity abound, people typing away genially, a lucid kind of consciousness where half-asleep, people are coming up with either their best work, or whole scenes they’ll come to regret upon re-reading later on in the day. We ourselves are taking the occasional power nap, and it’s been working so far.

6AM
So. Hungry. Not to mention, the cold air cuts through my hoodie, making me shiver a little every once in a while. A few hours later when the heat goes back into full blast, I will regret saying I wish it were warmer.

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Morning breaks, people are awake, and it’s T-9 hours till submission. The panic hasn’t set in yet because we have a fully formed story (sort of), and it’s really all about pushing through at this point, and figuring out how to insert the next two stimuli once they’re revealed.

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The hunger is real

8AM
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There’s nothing quite like a dose of manual labour first thing on a Sunday morning to wake you up. GUI led the group in doing a little hands on farming, mulching the soil around some banana plants, and our group was even lucky enough to get introduced to the mini-paddy field the Kampung was growing. More talk on environmental conservation and food sustainability, and surprisingly beautiful views of the fields bathed in sunlight. We’ve got our hands dirty, worked up a sweat, but no rest for the wicked, it’s back to the writers’ lab.

9AM
A very specific stage direction was revealed as stimulus #4 and we’re down to our last 7 hours. It’s a race against time now!

10AM
When you’re halfway through your play and horrified at how derivative it sounds, there’s a sinking feeling of dread as you wonder if there’s any shred of originality left inside of you. #writersdilemma

11AM
Stuffing ourselves with biscuits and hydrating with water as our progression is grinding to a halt. It’s the fatigue from last night that’s setting in at last as we lay our heads down and doze off for twenty minutes at a time.

12PM
Final stimulus has been released, and now we have everything to complete our play (of questionable quality). A quick lunch later, and we’ll be whizzing past the finish line…in a couple of hours.

1PM
It is 1pm and we’re surprisingly, almost done. Maybe we can make it for the 2pm beginning submission time. It feels almost like being in an exam and we’re one of these kan-chiong spiders wanting to be first. It’s a giddy feeling when you know you’re fast.

2PM
DONE. It’s a ridiculously short piece that works more to evoke a mood than to tell a complete story, but I’m surprisingly happy with what I’ve managed to come up with today and the stimuli seem to flow quite well (as opposed to the more force fitting I had to do in previous years).

But like in an actual exam, I’m going to sit around and twiddle my thumbs a bit so I don’t look like a kan-chiong spider.

3PM
Goodbye Kampung Kampus and thanks Theatreworks, Southeast CDC and of course, Becca D’Bus for a truly mindboggling exercise at flexing those creative muscles. Much appreciated.

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