Interview with Thong Pei Qin

Seedy Stories

Following the success of Alt-topia – an event conceived by the Poletariat Poetry Factory and hosted by Centre 42 at last year’s Night Festival – we’ve decided to build on that by presenting Late-Night Texting this time. Held for one night only, it is a celebration of text-based works across different genres, from theatre to spoken word, and features performances by four local companies. In this series of blog posts, we’ll be speaking with each of them to find out what they’ll be getting up to on the night.

One of the groups that will be performing that night is Saga Seed Theatre, a new company founded by local playwright Jean Tay. At Late-Night Texting, they’ll be performing a series of plays – collectively called Seedy Stories – staged in the nooks and crannies of Centre 42. Hear more from the company’s associate director – and director of Seedy Stories – Thong Pei Qin!

Saga Seed is a new theatre company – can you give us a quick intro to the group, and what you hope it will bring to the local performing arts scene?
We want to bring a diversity of people together through theatre to spark off meaningful conversations, and to provide a platform for new and original voices in our local theatre scene. I am interested in exploring the ties that bind people together and in understanding the human condition. As such, we hope to create common lived experiences through truthful stories told in a shared space. We hope that through our efforts, our audience members and community will be encouraged to listen to what these artists and playwrights have to say, and engage with their concerns.

How did you decide on the line-up of playwrights for Seedy Stories at Late-Night Texting, and have these stories been performed before?
These six playwrights are relatively new, budding voices in our theatre scene. We keep our ears to the ground, to be in tune with writers who are either venturing into play-writing for the first time, or who have a couple of  plays under their belt already, either through having taken part in play-writing competitions, writing mentorship programmes, experimental laboratories or play-writing classes. Some of these writers may not have had many opportunities to hear their new plays being read by actors, much less have them performed or staged as full productions. Thus, we make it a point to invite our playwrights into our rehearsal process, so they can hear their works being workshopped and gain some fresh insights.  A couple of these short plays (namely, Kittens and G.F.E.) have been staged on experimental non-profit platforms or to small groups of audience members.

The stories seem to be living up to their names – they’re all sound quite seedy! How did they come about? Were there any criteria in how you picked them?
We responded rather organically to Centre 42’s playful theme of “Late-Night Texting” during the Night Festival. I’m rather fond of making silly puns on the name of our company “Saga Seed Theatre”, and have in fact joked about staging “seedy” plays. So this naughty idea was the first thing that sprung to mind when the Centre 42 team invited us to propose programmes for the festival. I distinctly remember when I first casually uttered “Seedy Stories”, there was a collective gasp in the Centre 42 office. The rest, as they say, is history.

We chose the works based on the themes the plays dealt with, and what the playwrights and our team understood “seedy” to be. We got creative with this word and the images it conjures. In fact, we veered quite far from ostensibly sexual content, to delve deeper into what lies beneath potentially dodgy material.

We discovered “seedy” could mean being pregnant with seeds, and one of our chosen plays, The Dragon, The Phoenix and The Mother by Gabrielle Goh Khoon Hui, examines how a mother’s expectations of her children is affected by a palm reader’s questionable superstitions. Kittens by Joanne Tay is a deliciously devious tale about cats attempting a prison break, but also explores the oppressed individual’s desire for freedom. There is also a dubious criminal story CON! by Dan Koh, and a hilarious tale of conspiracies – Operation Misty Mountain – by Luke Vijay Somasundram thrown in the mix. Three Rules of Whore by Eugene Koh invites us to take a good hard look at the objectification of women. And although G.F.E. by Chong Woon Yong is ostensibly based on two men’s experiences in sleazy Geylang, it really explores broken relationships between people, and ultimately loneliness. Hence our team of actors, director, dramaturg and playwrights have unearthed some very rich and affecting material in these six chosen plays and are excited to share them with our audience!

The plays at Seedy Stories will be played out around Centre 42 – what do you think this will bring to the experience for the audience?
With these scripts, we are given the license to freely play and respond to the forgotten, liminal spaces within Centre 42. The audience will be invited to follow us down (quite literally) shady alleyways to the different stations of each dramatised reading.  Hopefully, they will enjoy the same spine-tingling sensation we ourselves experienced while creating this roving adventure in the nooks and crannies of Centre 42, outside of its usual performance spaces. Our outdoor rehearsals thus far have a guerrilla streak to them, and have attracted curious stares from many passers-by.

We hope to bring a sense of rough and ready street theatre to our audience members, who have to be prepared to crowd around to catch our performances. We hope that through presenting these plays in a fun and informal way, and having them read up and close and personal with the audience, we will all feel bonded as a community for one magical evening.

What are some of the plays at Seedy Stories that you’re looking forward to watching, and why?
Everything! There is something for everyone, really. But out of my own love for cats, I do have a soft spot for Kittens, and also because our actors playing the kittens have been very touched by the subject matter and can identify with it. Hopefully, this will also translate into a heartfelt and memorable encounter for our audience.

Our opening act, The Dragon, the Phoenix and the Mother, involves all four of our actors, and it is humorous and moving at the same time. Our actors have a lot of fun working creatively as an ensemble, and they have come up with some brilliant improvisations!  Our process truly feels like an actors’ playground, and I cannot wait to see what they get up to during the actual performance.

Operation Misty Mountain is a riot! We all loved riffing with the script, as it gives us so much scope to expand our imaginations. The writing, characters, main premise and scenarios are  absurdly good. Again, I have a sneaking suspicion that the actors will surprise us (and even themselves) during the actual reading.

Our final piece for the night, G.F.E., is written in a mix of Mandarin and Singlish. It’s raw, honest, confessional and poetic – and wouldn’t be out of place in a Wong Kar Wai film screenplay.  Although its main setting is in Geylang, it overturns the usual expectations of what we might consider a “seedy” play.  We also took some creative liberties in turning it from a monologue (as originally written), into a two-hander performed by two men.

Interview by Gwen Pew

Centre 42 is throwing open the doors of its blue house on Saturday, 20 August for the public to enjoy a free evening of exciting textual experiences. Held in conjunction with the Singapore Night Festival, this one night only event is titled Late-Night Texting and features over 15 bite-sized, text-based performances by four local groups. Find out more about the event here.