by Adelyn Tan (16A01E)
“With this special season of The Studios, we honour and celebrate all practitioners, past and present, for making what is Singapore English Theatre today. We would also like to thank all the directors, actors and designers involved in fifty, for lending their fresh interpretations and insights to these 50 plays. We hope the plays will continue to inspire a new generation of audiences and practitioners alike, and contribute to our collective memories.” – Co-curator Chong Tze Chien and The Studios team
Esplanade: Studios Fifty was held in conjunction with SG50. Over five weeks, plays and dramatized readings were written, read, and performed by Singaporeans at the Esplanade. Speaking as someone who attended a grand total of one full-length performance, one dramatized reading and one open rehearsal, to say that Fifty was good would be a grievous understatement.
Fifty would be better described as a melting pot of overwhelming emotion and breathtaking artistry, showcased by an entire range of actors – from household names like Adrian Pang and Ebi Shankara, to lesser-known but equally talented ensemble members, vis-a-vis Ellison Tan and Amanda Tee, to name a few. A highlight of Fifty was the chilling, and profoundly moving performance of Haresh Sharma’s ‘Off Centre’. It shone a chilling spotlight on the struggles of the mentally ill, right here in Singapore. Also noteworthy was Singapore english theatre’s breakthrough production ‘Emily of Emerald Hill’, helmed by Karen Tan as the morally ambiguous Peranakan matriarch struggling with the trials and traumas of life. Of the numerous dramatized readings presented during Fifty, one standout read was Tan Tarn How’s ‘Fear of Writing’ and ‘Machine’, which gave the audience excerpts of two same-same-yet-different plays, skillfully blended together to create an eerie depiction of romance and relationships in our consumerist, manipulative modern society.
Some performances depicted a time now immortalized in sepia recollections, giving us an avenue to better understand the evolution of our country’s political consciousness and national identity. Some gave us a glimpse behind the curtain, into what we might see in the future we are building. Some showed us a terrifyingly unsentimental painting of our present. And all of them, together, weave the tapestry that is a history of Singapore theatre (and in extension, of Singapore). Fifty plays were not and will never be enough to truly represent the growth and development of our nation and its theatre scene. But these fifty did reflect wonderfully on the richness of the literary works that have been produced over this half of a century that we have called Singapore home, and more importantly they gave new directors and actors a chance to breathe new life and interpretations into these works- and at heart, isn’t that what we, as a country, are trying to do with our nation at this point in time?
In essence, Studios Fifty is and was meta-theatre- a series of plays within the elaborate drama that is our Singapore Story; a microcosm of the country we live, work and play in. Theatre can hardly be seen as the most uniquely Singaporean icon we have, and yet these fifty performances have shown how theatre is a perfect avenue to illustrate the journey our country has undertaken so far, and where we can go next, how we can continue the series of successes that have given us the concrete-jungle-garden-city that we have today.
There is much to celebrate about SG50. And while we as the next generation of Singaporeans sit in the audience, reflect on and give thanks for what has been, what is most important is that we learn, we build, we adapt. We are youths. We are the future of this country we call home. And it would do us well to remember that we have much work to do, on stage, and off it.
The writer would like to thank Aberdeen Seet, Steph Dogfoot and Andrew Lua for the help they provided in the writing of this article.