Over the last year, the topic of mental health has become more of a hot button issue than ever, with rising stress levels, and suicide rates on the rise, with suicide the leading cause of death for those aged 30 and below in Singapore.
To address this issue, Drama Box resident artist Chng Yi Kai has decided to tackle the topic head on, with his directorial and playwriting debut With Time. Playing as part of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay’s Feed Your Imagination programme, With Time was made with a young audience in mind, and intends to explore and unpack what it means to overcome suicidal thoughts and attempts.
“Mental health as a larger discourse has gained more attention in the past few years, which is a good thing,” says Yi Kai. “However, what I think is still missing from this larger narrative is talking about the day to day lived experiences of managing and coping with overcoming a difficult mental health condition. When we talk to someone going through a difficult time, we often like to say ‘No worries, it gets better with time’, but what does that really mean? What happens with time?”
The performance is based on true accounts from people overcoming suicidal ideations, featuring real stories of people who had tried to end their lives in their youths, when they were between the ages of 10 and 29. Yi Kai himself is 29 years old, and has chosen to use the verbatim theatre form, where the script was constructed from words spoken or written by individuals he reached out to in his course of research. He hopes that the performance allows the audience to listen to their journey in overcoming these mental health struggles or other stressors, and to be reminded of possibilities beyond a suicide attempt.
“When it comes to talking about mental health, an issue with a very strong history of stigmatisation and a lot of misunderstanding, I think using real stories can help us understand the lived experiences with more insights and empathy,” says Yi Kai. “Using the theatrical experience also allows us to create a safe space to facilitate a meaningful conversation about suicide and mental health.”
With Time is the second show by Drama Box this year examining the issue of mental health and suicide, after June’s Dancing with Fish in the Midnight Zone by their ARTivate youth wing whom Yi Kai was also mentoring. Yi Kai himself was part of the second batch of ARTivate in 2014, and formally became a resident artist with Drama Box in 2019. He has appeared in plays as an actor, including Bus Stop by Drama Box, Art Studio by Nine Years Theatre and KNOTS by STRANGER, of which he is also a founding member. Yi Kai aspires most to create effective means of engaging the community through art.
With Time plays from 27th to 29th October 2021 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio. Tickets available here