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The Studios 2018: An Interview with T. Sasitharan (I am trying to say something true)

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In the third week of the Esplanade’s latest season of The Studios, actress Ellison Tan Yuyang will be performing Michelle Tan’s new work I am trying to say something true. The show revolves around the concept of loss, but does not directly address it, instead considering the distance and spaces between people and places, time and everything between what we know and what we feel.

We spoke to I am trying to say something true director T. Sasitharan and asked him more about his return to directing a public work, the importance of this show, and his thoughts on the theatre scene in future. Read the interview in full below:

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Bakchormeeboy: This is the first time you’ll be directing a public work in a long time. What made you decide to take on the project, and why was there such a long absence from the last time?

Sasi: The last time I directed a major a public work was The Blind Age, back in November 2014 for the Esplanade’s Kalas Utsavam with Chowk Productions. It was an English translation (by Alok Bhalla) of the majestic Hindi play Andha Yug by Dharamvir Bharati. This was a massive production bringing to stage acting, dance, choreography, live music (from India) and choral speech. I am trying to say something true is for me a very different creative engagement, in scale and tenor. But I am engaged, then as now, because of the text – I am moved by text and unless I’m so moved I don’t do public work. When Michelle showed me a draft, I was hooked.

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The Blind Age

Bakchormeeboy: How would you describe your directorial process, and the ease or difficulty of working with performer Ellison Tan?

Sasi: There’s no “your directorial process”. It’s our work – as much Michelle’s, Ellison’s, Carolene’s and Zenna’s (Stage Manager and Assistant Stage Manager) and the whole production and design team, as it’s mine. I would describe the process (if you want to call it that) as a sallying forth into the wild undergrowth of the unknown; without a map, with the text as compass and whatever skill and craft we can muster as tools. We’ve hewn a path together, but I’m not sure where it would finally lead or when we’d get there. I’m in it for the journey, and so far it’s been a rollercoaster ride. Ellison has been the torch bearer and lead scout in charting the map. She is a delightful, totally giving actor who is unafraid to take creative risks and always wants to give every lead another shot. It’s exhausting sometimes, but always a pleasure working with her.

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Ellison Tan and Michelle Tan

Bakchormeeboy: Why is it important to stage this show, particularly with regards to its themes of loss?

Sasi: This is an important work by a promising Singaporean playwright, writing about a universally recognisable contemporary character; the coming of age of a young, big city girl finding herself with honesty, humour, hutzpah and bucket loads of intelligence. It’s poignant, beautiful, funny and sad – and while loss is an important motif, it is also about finding and winning and owning one’s true humanity, and living with kindness, grief, love and God. Singapore has had a long line of important, definitive monologues of our own experience and consciousness as a people, and this text will find its place in that line or work.

Bakchormeeboy: As the director of ITI, how would you say the future of the theatre scene looks, in terms of a new generation of artists and performers taking up the mantle of creating new work? Is it completely promising, or is there something lacking?

Sasi: As director of ITI I know there are only two kinds of actors – trained actors and untrained actors. The more trained actors we have, the more promising it will be for our theatre scene. Singapore theatre, like most other big city theatre scenes, is dominated by directors, producers, venue managers and commissioning agents. This is a function of the specific economic structures of the city, selecting talent, determining work processes and ultimately deciding creative/artistic value and merit. It will be in the interest of all us working in theatre to diversify and complicate the neat equation of theatre-making that’s beginning to take root here.

We need to allow more players into the creative ground – writers, actors (performers), designers, critics, dramaturges, technicians and crafts people. The only way to do this is by providing sound, solid training across the board for the right people with the aptitude, talent and the gumption to go the whole hog. Unless we raise the level of skill, technique and expertise by training and research, Singapore is real in danger of becoming the best-resourced city for the arts, where no real art is made. You may know more of my views on this here.

I am trying to say something true plays from 12th – 15th April at the Esplanade Theatre Studio. Tickets available from The Esplanade.

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