Similar to the discussion on Singlish, the panel to discuss the local theatre scene in Singapore - Voices in Singapore theatre today, was also a revelation
Alfian Sa'at, resident playwright with Wild Rice in Singapore, narrated an incident of his experience of censorship in Singapore. “In 1999, when I first became a playwright, one of my script was sent to the Singapore Police Force. They advised that three scenes from the play cannot be staged. We adhered to the advise and distributed the prints detailing the scenes rather than staging it,” he said with a chuckle.
That' s why playwrights had to use a lot of metaphors with subtle messaging to put their points across. “And I think some control was necessary during our earlier years as a nation. But now, the theatre scene in Singapore is much more open so we should not use metaphors for political theatre any more,” argued Sa'at.
One of the major concerns expressed throughout SWF was the declining number of literature students in Singapore. To this, Verena Tay, a Singapore-based theatre practitioner for over 25 years, noted, “I don't know when and how, but somehow we have become a society obsessed with numbers. This 'number' of literature students declining is also an example of that. We should worry more about quality than quantity.”
Sa'at added, “Another way of looking at the declining numbers is that may be people are moving away from prescribed academic courses and reading whatever they like, which, in my opinion, is even better.”
Robin Loon, senior lecturer at the theatre studies department of National University of Singapore, who moderated the panel mentioned that its not because of the “perceived” censorship that the number of literature students is declining in Singapore. “Rather, reasons here are the same as everywhere else, which is the declining interest in theatre due to proliferation of other forms of entertainment.”
Huzir Sulaiman, joint artistic director of Checkpoint Theatre in Singapore, who participated in the discussion – Tales of two cities, about theatre scenes in Sydney and Singapore, argued that the “theatrical art form here is not dying, rather it's a evolving one”. “We at Checkpoint support five local artists and are trying to stage good quality local productions.”
Two of Sulaiman's young artists and playwrights, Joel Tan and Faith Ng, shared their thoughts on what is meant by the oft-repeated phrase “the soul of Singapore” and how does it reflect in their writings.
“Young Singaporeans like us, often feel displaced and uprooted from our history and heritage, as the country keeps changing continuously. Thus, it is very problematic if we try to define Singapore’s soul in a way similar to what other societies do. Here, you need to look at our hawker centres, talk to our cab drivers, or visit any sub-urban mall to find the country's soul,” argued Joel.
Tim Roseman, artistic director of Playwriting Australia, rounded-off the discussion by drawing parallels between Singapore and Australia's theatre scenes and concluded, “Artists in both countries want to be break-away from the traditional mind-set, which is an encouraging sign. Every generation has the responsibility to get inspired, improve upon and tear apart its earlier generation's works.”