By Vanessa Chia (16A13A) and Sean Lim (16A13A)
Photographs by Hoong Li-Ann (16A03A)
Closing a vibrant week of exciting workshops, dazzling performances and impromptu original poetry by Writers’ Guild, Literature Night 2015 was the manifestation of the school’s long-standing and dynamic Literature scene. Literature Night took the discipline out of the classroom and dreary lecture theatres, where seemingly incomprehensible extracts are tirelessly analyzed. Instead, the audience at the Performing Arts Centre (PAC) last Thursday night was treated to a delightful amalgamation of plays, quizzes and even a fashion show (of sorts, under the moniker of a Character Dress-Up), all composed and created by our very own students. This served to showcase just how far the Literature scene has grown and blossomed in Raffles Institution, as well as how the subject is so much more than what we are exposed to or our preconceived notions of it, from nightmarish recollections of memory work to possible hair-pulling from red-marked exam scripts.
The initial chatter of the audience, comprising largely of the school’s Literature students, immediately died down to a hush as emcees Myko Philip (15A01B) and Lee Chin Wee (14A01B) took to the stage. Livening the evening with light humour and tropes pointed out with panache and good-natured humour (e.g. the cliche-ridden nature of morning announcements and the tendency of Raffles Players’ works to perpetually surround melancholic, dispiriting themes), the audience knew they were going to be in for a treat.
“Chin Wee: But seriously. This ticks every single trope that was featured in RI Dramafeste.
Myko: Like what, dysfunctional family?
Chin Wee: Check.
Myko: Purportedly minimalist set which only looks pretentious and well thought out because it needs to hide the fact that they had no budget?
Chin Wee: Yep.”
As the curtains parted open to a stage swept up in utter darkness, the quiet energy of the audience was palpable for the first play of the night, All Good Things Discarded, directed by Isaiah Lee (16A01A). All Good Things Discarded was a raw, introspective look at how times of adversity can change the family unit, either for better or worse. The context of the play is as such; Bernard, an elderly grandfather has a mental illness which is putting a toll on the family (comprising the father Drake, the mother Grace, and the little daughter Melody), both in terms of medical costs and in terms of their cohesiveness as a family. Arguments emerge between the parents; The mother, Grace flares up at how much of a burden Bernard is to the family and she is worried that as Melody spends more time with Bernard, speaking in a language unbeknownst to anyone besides both of them, the more she will be isolated from the rest of humanity.
As the play progresses, both Drake and Grace explore what Bernard and his late wife Sylvia (mother to Drake) have left them as emblems of a passed down heritage. Once Bernard escapes from the mental institute to seek refuge from the plight of loneliness, the play explores what it means for a family to live together and go through tough times as a single entity. Bernard’s wife Sylvia, though not physically seen, has a presence that resonates in each one of the characters as they recollect memories of their past with her. In the end, Melody reveals her innermost secrets; her emotions and thoughts are a physical expression of the true meaning of what it means to love and be loved unconditionally.
The piece, which was the brainchild of Isaiah who had written and conceptualised the production since Secondary 2, had gone through a deluge of modifications prior to its showing. “The play has undergone multiple changes and variations to reach the standard and stage it is presented as tonight,” quipped Isaiah, whose hard work and intense pursuit of perfection was clearly evident in his production. It was a touching, heartwarming yet thoroughly thought-provoking look at, as Isaiah put it, at ‘what it means to be a part of a family’ and ‘what we should count as the most important part of that family unit’. It was a stellar opening act, a play which resonated with the heartstrings of many amongst the audience, and that was made all the more poignant by the impressive chemistry between the actors who had put in ‘months of hard work’. Perhaps Isaiah put it best: it was simply a piece that was ‘uncomfortably vulnerable, painfully honest and beautifully worth it.’
What followed next was the ‘Poetry Slam’ segment, where Gabriel Ng (15A01B), Wahid Al Mamun (15A01A) and William Hoo (15A01E) each recited some of their original poems, with subject matters ranging from playful themes to sentimental pieces and even some abstract works— a wide variety that kept the audience entertained and captivated throughout. With each poem, the audience seemed to be brought into a different realm, thoroughly invested within the minds of the poetry slammers as they brought their personal, unadulterated experiences to life.
The second play of the night, It’s A Different Model, directed by Celine Ng (16A01A) followed next. The play followed a father-daughter relationship between Mark and Lauren, and their interactions in the face of Lauren’s decision to move out. With commentary on the idea of primarily defining human relationships based on love, it exemplified how even though the nature of love may change over time, it is ever-present.
The piece conveyed how love ultimately overcomes all obstacles in a relationship, such as ‘bitterness, resentment, diffidence and pettiness’ in Celine’s words. She added on that ‘what makes Mark Lauren’s father is not in fact what he does for her because even the final act of pouring breakfast for her is only made possible because Lauren allows it, not because she requires it. What makes Mark Lauren’s father is the love for her that has always undergirded these genuine – if somewhat laughably bumbling – expressions of care. [Similarly], what makes Lauren Mark’s daughter is not the fact that she is nurtured by him, but simply the fact that she loves him, cares for him, and is in some ways emotionally dependent on him. They belong to each other emotionally!’
Literature Quiz 2015 was an exciting affair, with three shortlisted teams from 15A01B, 15A01E and 16S03B out of all Literature classes in Y5-6 competing to clinch the honour of being, unofficially, recognised as the most esteemed literary connoisseurs of the school. Questions ranged from authors to book covers to famous quotes, and the teams on stage fought hard with their scores almost neck-and-neck for the entirety of the competition. Each question drew both excited laughter as well as hushed, infrequent murmurs reflecting the audience’s confusion towards many of the literary excerpts and book covers displayed on the screen which were unfamiliar to them. For the second year running, commendably, 15A01B clinched the champion title.
The quiz was followed on by Nice Things, a play directed and produced by Caitlin O’Hara (16S03A), which played on the unexpected impact two complete strangers can have on each other simply through conversation (humorous at times thanks to the occasional interjections from the resident Kopi-O Beng auntie, and the consistent awkwardness in their exchange). On a deeper level, it showed the irony in how we are often unable to empathise with our family members, despite them being the people we ought to be closest to, but instead are able to make significant emotional and human connections with people we have never met before. As for what Caitlin wanted the audience to take home, “I wanted to play up the struggle we all face in trying to love the people around us as we should, as well as how we are all inherently good people going through difficulties of our own in conveying our sincerity and this was really the message I hoped for the audience to take home.” Truly, the play communicated a warm and heartfelt message about the nature of human connection and relationships to us all.
The next segment, Character Dress-Up, was arguably the most light-hearted and interactive segment of the night. Each Literature class had been tasked beforehand to send up a classmate who would dress up as a famous literary figure and recite a few lines famously said by their characters, in hopes that those in the audience would be able to guess who they were portraying. Some classes came very well-prepared for their performances, such as 15A01A’s portrayal of Forrest Gump which ended in an unexpected fashion as Stefanus Phan (15A01A), accompanied by Marcus Tan (15A01A), broke out into a rap along with their classmates in the audience. Other memorable performances included a re-enactment of Hakuna Matata, which was ultimately crowned the winner of the dress-up tournament and even one of Christian Grey, the protagonist of the renowned Fifty Shades series.
After the light-hearted and humourous parade of characters, the night concluded with a lovely award presentation for the best character dress-up and the proud champions of the Literature Quiz, which nicely summed up the entertaining events of the evening.
Alas, after the curtains closed on Literature Night 2015, we were left behind to pick ourselves off the seats, after witnessing the Literature’s other living side. Nevertheless, we are certain everyone left the PAC with jubilant spirits — if not thoroughly entertained, then at least exposed to a captivating line up of performances that showed just how dynamic, multi-faceted and fundamentally fun, literature can be.