Organised by ArtsWok Collaborative, in collaboration with Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, the annual M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival has been a mainstay of the local youth theatre scene for the last five years, and will finally come to a close with this 2020 edition.
While the year has been a struggle, with the unprecedented effects of COVID-19, the
team has decided to keep the festival running by taking it online, and ensuring that the festival goes out in a meaningful way. Themed around the issue of Disability, the strange circumstances we’ve found ourselves with in 2020 has allowed the festival team to consider the need to adjust and adapt our ways of thinking, imagining the perspectives of people in our society who have had to live with a different perspective even before this.
The key themes the festival will be asking this year focus on questioning how differently-abled people live in Singapore, their stories, and how, in a country that prizes efficiency, productivity and material success, can people with disabilities have a place in our economy, schools and community. Says Artistic Director Jean Ng: “Since embarking on the research process for our festival, more issues and complexities have been excavated. We met different disabled communities with diverse sensitivities, concerns and perspectives.”
Among these people, the festival team has met many talented artists who have disabilities, and wish to encourage more opportunities in mainstream platforms,
such as theatre, to be given to disabled artists with a heartfelt desire to create, collaborate and perform.
Director of festival commission What If Okorn-Kuo Jing Hong shares: “For me, I’m not working with a group of people with disabilities. For me, I’m working with a group of people who have a non-mainstream perspective. So in that sense, I want to move beyond the comfort zone and see if there’s any way to move perspectives and expression towards something different from what we’re used to.”
What If will explore what it means to be human, through four different performances Frozen. Broken. Poof!, 0 dB, Fetching Sanctuary, and Stained. Due to the current restrictions on performance, the festival has been forced to think out of the black box of traditional theatre. The five-person team is a diverse one, with members such as set and visual designer Timothy Trung Hua, whose involvement is part of his final year project for his Diploma in Visual Communication at Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Design. Timothy comments: “There is no script, no plan, and no safety net for me to develop on something from the very start. This has pushed me to start thinking outside the box where it doesn’t just have to be limited to design and visuals only.”
Timothy is deaf, and has said this does not hinder his dream to create designs to support and communicate with people. Joining him is New Media Director Lim Shengen, who will be “offering technical expertise to ensure that the aesthetic affect of traditional theatre is conveyed well on a digital platform, and through that, engender new experiences and new aesthetics for audiences through What If.” The four different performances will feature a mixture of pre-recorded and live performance, with some elements of audience participation for all of the performances.
Other productions in the lineup include original plays The Other People and If These Wheels Could Speak, devised and read by students from Dunman High School and Tanjong Katong Girls’ School respectively, and will both be screened online. After a 1.5 year-long journey to learn more about disability in Singapore through research and meeting people who live with disabilities, these students chose to focus on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and cerebral palsy respectively.
A connection made with Stephanie Esther Fam, one of the actors of What If, inspired the students of Tanjong Katong Girls’ School to make the heroine of their play a girl with cerebral palsy. Due to the schools’ Drama Clubs not being able to meet for months, students have not been able to rehearse their plays and will be presenting them as staged readings instead.
In addition to these, multi-sensory interactive theatre piece Riley’s Rain, created and
performed by Republic Polytechnic, and devised and directed by Gloria Tan and Samantha Bounaparte, expands the horizons of sensory theatre by facilitating through video performance an interactive, sensory experience for children and their caregivers. Specially designed for children and young persons with autism spectrum disorder and sensory sensitivities, a craft kit to facilitate the tactility of the performance will be sent out to a limited number of audience members, while remaining audiences can download the kit online for self-assembling, allowing them to have a sensory-friendly experience.
Producer of M1 Peer Pleasure, and Executive Director of ArtsWok Collaborative, Ngiam Su-Lin shares: “It has been a real privilege presenting this annual youth theatre festival and to interact with many young people who have so much desire to create, express, connect and make a difference through their theatre-making. They are a force, and voice that needs to continue being engaged, and encouraged, especially in these extremely dynamic and challenging times. It is their creativity, imagination and courage that will lead society forward.”
The M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival 2020 will take place from 4th to 16th August 2020. Tickets available here