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100 and 100 More Festival: An Interview with Jeffrey Tan (Into The Blue Forest)

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For the opening show of the Artground’s inaugural 100 and 100 More Festival, local theatre practitioner Jeffrey Tan has been commissioned to produce an all new work. Based off illustrated children’s book The Blue Forest, which Jeffrey wrote around 6 years ago with illustrations by Italian theatre director illustrator Dario Moretti, Into The Blue Forest promises an immersive experience for audiences aged 4 – 8 as they explore the story of a tree who feels different from the rest of the forest and is determined to show it by becoming blue. Throughout her quest, audiences get a chance to be a part of the action as they join her in meeting various animal friends, taking on the roles of sparrows, mice and even natural phenomenon like thunder and lightning as they help her to achieve her goal.

The Blue Forest has previously received productions in various forms, such as a dramatised reading and even a contemporary dance interpretation by RAW Moves’ A Little RAW, but this will be first time it receives a full blown theatrical production. Says Jeffrey: “We started the process in September last year, because we wanted to share this story with more audiences. Our focus was really on creating a child-centric show that our audiences would enjoy, and during the workshopping phase, we’d give our young audiences surveys to get feedback, with stickers to indicate their responses. It was interesting to see them being presented with real options for once and really considering the impact their answers might have on the show!”

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The Blue Forest itself originally went through a rather interesting creation process – instead of the illustrations coming after the story, it was the illustrations that came first, with Jeffrey’s task being to string a logical narrative between the pictures. Says Jeffrey: “I was going through a big change in my life at the time, and I wanted to capture the courage and confidence to get out there, do something different and explore the unknown.”

The original book was also written in a combination of English, Japanese, Italian and French. However, in order to make it more Singaporean, this version will be reworked to include local languages such as Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. In addition, it will star a multiracial, intergenerational cast comprising of Beatrice Chien, Grace Kalaiselvi and Fadhil Daud. Says Jeffrey: “In theatre, we don’t really acknowledge that Singapore is a multilingual, multiracial, intergenerational country much, and I wanted to put that onstage, because it’s so quintessentially Singaporean. In future, I’d like to see the work continue to grow, and maybe even approach disabled actors to lead it, which will give it a completely different feel.”

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Into The Blue Forest encourages its audiences to come in with an open mind – there is no ‘moral’ or inherent message Jeffrey wants them to take away. Says Jeffrey: “A lot of the show is simply a means to experience and explore the concept of having dreams and going about achieving them. There is a lot of freedom of participation and audiences can choose how much they want to interact with these animals. For us, we wanted this to be a gentle reminder that theatre isn’t necessarily a passive activity where you watch and learn, and to give children a chance to discover the joys of theatremaking when they get a chance to play with the show, and break that barrier between play and performance.”

But it’s surprising how enthusiastic the audiences can be and how well they’ve responded to the show so far – at the media preview, when a suspicious snake made his appearance, the audiences let go a gasp of surprise and immediately ran up to him to subdue him and protect the tree from harm. Says Jeffrey: “I try not to know everything beforehand, and I never realised children still have such a strong sense of justice. Sometimes when you grow up, you forget to stand up for what you really believe in, and it’s very encouraging to see them able to see themselves getting so involved with the piece.”

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“It’s very charming to be a part of this experience,” he continues. “We have all these different emotions running through the play, and we make full use of the white box at the Artground. When you’re as small as they are, it’s almost like a magic box where you lose your orientation with all the activity happening around you. We had an open rehearsal and there was this young boy who was just playing at the Artground when he stopped everything he was doing to just watch and get engrossed in our show.”

“Ultimately, I think there’s a lot of value to be had from getting lost, and especially so when you find yourself in the blue forest. I encourage participants to dive right into the story and fully immerse themselves in it!”

Indeed, through Into The Blue Forest, audiences will surely learn the value of difference and the power of play, while of course, having plenty of fun in this unique experience that will hopefully, set them on a lifelong love affair with theatre and the arts.

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Into the Blue Forest plays at the Artground at Goodman Arts Centre from 25th – 27th May, while the entire 100 and 100 More Festival runs from 25th May – 3rd June. For more information and tickets, visit their website here

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