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A Spotlight On New Writing: Singapore Theatre Festival 2018 by W!ld Rice

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If you thought you loved theatre before, then W!ld Rice’s Singapore Theatre Festival will have you falling head over heels for it. Returning this July for its sixth edition, the festival from one of Singapore’s leading theatre companies will once again be taking place at Lasalle College of the Arts, and presenting a total of eight shows over three weekends!

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Says W!ld Rice Artistic Director and Festival Director Ivan Heng: “This year’s festival looks at the idea of the memoir and biography of the ordinary man. It’s very important to celebrate and acknowledge the common man’s history, and none more so than in the field of theatre and use these plays as documents for generations to come.”

In an unprecedented move, W!ld Rice has also made the decision to release a total of 500 free tickets to the shows. Titled the W!ld and Free programme, anyone aged between 16-25 can claim these tickets for themselves by visiting the official Singapore Theatre Festival website and registering. Ivan explains: “We want theatre to be for everyone, whether it’s youth or the differently abled. When our new theatre comes about, we’ll be having facilities that can accommodate audiences such as the hearing impaired, creating as much access as possible.”

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Ivan continues: “In selecting the plays, we did a survey of interesting voices, and went straight to the playwrights to approach them about staging their work. Artists always have their ears to the ground, they’re very sensitive and always want to write or advocate for a point of view not being heard, because they care and they can see and understand the world from a special, singular perspective, not writing for themselves but communicating something to the world. The Singapore Theatre Festival has then always been about giving these plays production, incubation and mentorship, and because both artists and us are investing in these new plays, audiences will as well, and we’ve had a very good track record of plays going on to have a life after the festival, such as Hatch Theatrics’ Hawa travelling to Brisbane last year or Hotel travelling the world.”

Headlining the festival this year is opening play Press Gang, directed by Ivan himself, and written by playwright Tan Tarn How – his first play in seven years, following 2011’s critically acclaimed Fear of Writing. Inspired by Tan’s time as a journalist, Press Gang stars an ensemble cast consisting of Benjamin Chow, Shane Mardjuki, Oniatta Effendi, Rei Poh, Amanda Tee, Yap Yi Kai and ITI director T. Sasitharan in his first onstage role in years, and as is typical of Tan’s plays, expected to be politically charged and fiercely relevant to the times.

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Also premiering in the first week of the festival is Thomas Lim’s sophomore play Supervision, after the runaway success of his debut work Grandmother Tongue during the last Singapore Theatre Festival. Directed by W!ld Rice co-Artistic Director Glen Goei, Supervision takes a close look at the relationships between families and their surveillance of domestic workers and stars Farhana M. Noor, Janice Koh and Patrick Teoh.

Similar to Grandmother Tongue, which was inspired by his paternal grandmother, the story of Supervision was inspired by Thomas’ maternal grandmother. Says Thomas: When I see the elderly, I always think about what happens when we grow older, and I obsess over things like what’s gonna happen when my own parents or I grow old. Regarding Supervision, my grandmother had a stroke a couple of years ago, she has dementia and needs a lot of care from a lot of people, including my grandfather and two maids to work around her erratic sleeping pattern. On the other hand, my mum has an app that lets you access a CCTV where you can see what the maids are doing at any time during the day, and she’s use it before as evidence when she wants to confront them about certain things. It’s difficult for them because they sleep where they work, they’re not even covered by the employment act, and it’s an issue with no easy answers.”

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In this year’s festival, W!ld Rice has also decided to feature two new Chinese language productions to shine a light on the local, Singaporean vernacular and voice of the ordinary people. These will be presented in a double bill, featuring Neo Hai Bin’s When The Cold Wind Blows and Chong Woon Yong’s G.F.E. The latter actually stands for ‘girl friend experience’, and represents the lingo of prostitutes, where customers would be surveyed after a session to get feedback on how far the prostitute goes to make them feel good, including aspects of intimacy such as kissing and cuddling beyond sex alone.

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Directed by Ric Liu, G.F.E. will be a monologue starring Woon Yong himself, was first written in 2016 as a 20 minute monologue during a production by The Theatre Practice, before being brought to Shanghai and even read at the Singapore Night Festival. Says Woon Yong, who has since reworked and expanded on the script: “Both plays in this double bill are about exploring manhood through very different lens. Hai Bin’s play is about trauma and being trapped in a conscription system and the recurring nightmares from it, while G.F.E. is another take, discussing how the modern Singaporean man needs to negotiate heartbreak and his need for intimacy. Although the play is set in Geylang, it’s not about the sex trade, but a lens in which to examine manhood. I believe that these plays are able to defamiliarise the familiar, and even as a straight Chinese man, doesn’t mean that I have nothing to say.”

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Other shows that will be presented at the festival span a range of even more topics and mediums, include verbatim theatre piece One Metre Square: Voices From Sungei Road, Pam Oei’s new autobiographical cabaret show Faghag, and solo shows An Actress Prepares and Building A Character, both inspired by handbooks on acting by Russian theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski and starring veteran actress Siti Khalijah Zainal and talented newcomer Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai, who we last saw in The Page On StageBesides shows, audiences can also take part in a number of fringe activities, such as open discussions with artists about issues brought up in the plays, and even additional performances such as Absence Makes The Heart…

This year’s Singapore Theatre Festival features a stellar lineup of some of the most exciting new plays from playwrights both new and mainstays of the local theatre scene, and there’s really no reason not to grab yourself a ticket to make a date and catch some (or all) of these shows this July. Expect to be both mindblown and touched by these intimate stories of people whose voices demand to be heard in the most ambitious festival yet, and stay tuned to this space for individual previews and reviews of each show closer to the date.

The Singapore Theatre Festival runs from 5th – 22nd July at Lasalle College of the Arts. Tickets will be released to the public on SISTIC from 23rd April (W!ld Rice Angels can already purchase tickets). For a full lineup of programmes and to book tickets for free for 16-25 year olds, visit the website here

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