By Abigail Ang (18S06B) and Ianni Tan (18S03C)
Photos by Raffles Photographic Society
You might remember their enthusiastic spin-off rendition of the song Roxie during morning assembly, or seen the lines of poetry chalked along the walls. That’s right – Lit Week is back once again. This annual event aims to celebrate Literature as a subject, and this year’s lineup of fun programmes was free for both Literature students and non-Literature students to enjoy.
This year’s theme was one that hit close to home: SingLit. It was chosen due to Singaporeans’ apparent dearth of knowledge about local stories, as compared to literary counterparts from other corners of the globe. This, as the organising committee put it, is “a shame, because we think that SingLit has real value and a unique voice of its own.”
In case you missed it, here’s a run-through of the events that were held throughout the week.
On Monday, the canteen walkway was lined with displays featuring various snapshots of Singapore – flowers overlooking the Marina Bay Sands hotel, fruits on display at a wet market, a young child playing in ball pit. Of course, these images were accompanied by relevant Singaporean poems, featuring well-known works such as Neighbours by Alfian Sa’at and Pooja Nansi’s Protocol. The boards seemed to attract a great deal of attention, as seen from the many curious faces peering at the exhibition.
The exhibition wasn’t the only week-long event. Due to its popularity at Lit Week 2016, Writer’s Guild brought back Typewriter Poetry – students could pay a dollar to send in a prompt, and Guild would respond (with a poem, of course) in approximately three weeks’ time.
Wednesday and Friday: Book Sales
Both the Epigram Books and BooksActually booths reported quite a lot of interest from both the students and the teachers. At the Epigram Books booth on Wednesday, many recently published books – especially the winner and runners-up of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize – attracted many keen buyers. As one seller put it, “[local] writers now write with much greater facilities and are dealing with social and political issues instead of just interpersonal relations and family dynamics.” For example, State of Emergency by Jeremy Tiang delves into Singapore’s political history, from the leftist movements of the 1940s to the present day, while Sugarbread by Balli Kaur Jaswal explores issues such as racism, patriarchal values and social class.
At the BooksActually booth on Friday, one seller reported that more people bought prose publications, and that Joshua Ip was a popular pick.
For those who have not had much experience with SingLit, one seller advised that interested patrons “ask the bookstore or publisher what the best-selling books are. Poetry is very hit and miss, [so] start with prose.”
Friday: Literature Night
The night began with the extremely humorous duo of emcees, Mahirah bte Abdul Latiff (17S03B) and Jayden Yap (18S03E). They delivered one hilarious punchline after another, with some Singlish thrown into the mix. The chemistry between the two was clear, and set the tone for the rest of the night. They did a fantastic job hyping up the crowd and engaging the audience.
The first event of the night kicked off with a poetry reading by Harshini Rayasam (18S06B) and Beatrice Lee (18S06A) from Writers’ Guild. Harshini’s poem examined the nature of history, while Beatrice’s was about longing from afar. The audience was extremely supportive, cheering for both speakers before and after they recited their poems.
The poetry reading was followed by a stunning performance of Ravanayana by none other than our very own Raffles Players. The play, written by Isaiah Lee (who happens to be an RJC alumnus) is a retelling of the Ramayana, a Hindu-Sanskrit epic poem. The original poem follows the story of divine prince Rama, who, in this adaptation, does not appear at all. Rather, Ravanayana focuses on the story of his rival, the demon-king Ravana, providing a backstory to a character who was originally a one-dimensional villain. The play posited this important question: how can we judge a man by his actions, without first knowing his intentions? As Ravana’s nurse, played by Kiara Pillai (18A01B), assured the audience, “there are other stories than what history tells us”.
As the play unfolded, we saw how his actions stemmed from tragic experiences in his past, such as being abandoned and unfairly treated, making him unable to see the good in himself. However, we eventually end up sympathising for Ravana’s mother too, as her cruel treatment of Ravana, though unfair to him, were steeped in her own pain due to the circumstances of Ravana’s birth. The play ended on a solemn note, with Ravana’s nurse cradling him in her arms, as he passed away as a result of his own ambitious, but ultimately self-destructive, behaviour.
Despite the use of a minimalist set, music, action and lighting, the hard work that Raffles Players had poured into the production was evident,. As Jared Ong (18A13A) told us, “Ravanayana was very technically demanding and required a lot of precision and execution. So that was the one we trained a bit harder on, and we were really relieved when it ended and it was pretty nice.” The characters’ emotions were extremely well-portrayed – an example would be when Ravana broke down, his arrogant, prideful exterior crumbling to reveal his fear and anxiety at facing death. Actor Han Zenan (18S06A) was able to pull the swift transition off seamlessly, leaving this writer incredibly impressed.
The emotionally-charged play was preceded by a more lighthearted segment – the Literature Quiz! This year, classes 18A13A, 17A01B and 17S03B battled it out over a range of games such as guessing the book title from a series of emoticons, “bad” summaries, or screenshots of movie adaptations, charades, and “Guess the musical songs” (in which 17S03B’s extensive knowledge on musicals helped them identify the song in literal seconds).
This segment was extremely entertaining – the puns on book titles (both in the form of emoticons and wordplay) and the participants desperately trying to act them out during a game of charades had the audience laughing out loud. The quiz also had a surprise audience participation round, during which three book covers were shown on screen, and audience members had the chance to suggest alternative titles. Hilarity ensued as the suggestions ranged from the scandalous, to the blasphemous (“Ms Lye Su Lin!”) and of course, the not-so-subtle jabs at the real world (a remark on the cost of a certain food item sold in the canteens).
Throughout the entire event, the audience (which included a great number of Literature students) was incredibly supportive and engaged, clearly busting the myth that Literature students are reserved and quiet. The Performing Arts Centre was filled with thunderous applause and enthusiastic cheers, which served to lift the mood.
One last segment of Lit Night remained. Raffles Players took the stage once again to perform the closing act: a parody of local comedy series The Noose. The performance poked fun at many of the classic aspects of news reporting: event coverage, theorists and their predictions, weather reports, and even the whole saga over American drama series Criminal Minds’ portrayal of Singapore. Given that National Day is just a week away, the topic of Singlish and what it means to be a Singaporean did feature as well. Finally, the night’s performers gathered onstage to end the event with a cheery chorus of the “Pandan Song”, highlighting the event’s local flavour.
Unfortunately, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. The end of the last performance marked the end of both Lit Night and Lit Week. Thankfully, though, the event was a rousing success, leaving both audience members and performers in high spirits, and hopefully a greater appreciation for literature, both local and otherwise.
(Cover image source: https://govinsider.asia/security/singapore-uses-data-to-cater-libraries-to-the-elderly/)