“Democratising Theatre for Youth”
Reviewer: Muhammed Faizad Bin Salim
Performance: 28 July 2015
ArtsWok Collaborative and the Esplanade have come together to plug what appears to be a gap in the Singaporean theatre scene: the lack of an avenue / platform for youth to showcase their works to the public. And if the maiden run of the festival is anything to go by, future iterations are looking promising … but not before ironing out some kinks first.
The 5 festival plays were conveniently chosen from the 2014 Singapore Youth Festival Arts Presentation for Drama (English) for Junior Colleges and Centralised Institutes. They share a commonality in that they all are loosely based on the festival theme of Causality. In addition, according to the festival’s Artistic Director Alvin Tan, the 5 plays features strong ensemble pieces and they provide an antidote to an otherwise individualistic and competitive world. What he fails to point out however, is how most of the works being presented are not actually written by the youth themselves and the direction is also usually provided by an adult – a teacher in charge of the school drama club or an arts practitioner, roped in to help mentor and train the students for the competition.
The standout pieces were Hwa Chong Institution’s The Female of the Species and Raffles Institution’s 10,000 Cigarettes. The former showcases the casts’ acting chops really well by getting them to play stereotypical female personas ranging from the gossip schoolgirl to the wife dealing with the partner’s infidelity at the cusp of ending the relationship. Alex Broun’s darkly humorous play 10,000 Cigarettes on the other hand is given a whimsical treatment by RI with lots of physical theatre thrown in to complement the brilliant banter. Catholic Junior College’s Poop handles Chong Tze Chien’s writing with great sensitivity and care. This showcase features committed performances by the three female leads playing the roles of Emily, Mother and Grandmother. The use of white masks for the cast, whilst simple, conveys the theme of hallucinations, spirits and the afterlife across clearly.
What ultimately soured the experience though, was ironically the very people this festival was supposed to cater to and celebrate. Admittedly, some of the issues presented on stage are not your everyday, run-of-the-mill topics the average school-going Singaporean student would identify with but neither are they so highfalutin that it would be beyond their grasp. It is irksome then, to have them react (oohs, ahhs and ooh la las) rather loudly and inappropriately to the littlest of things. One of the male actors from CJC gave the whole experience a rather positive spin during the Question and Answer segment by stating that the experience taught him that as an actor his job was not just to deliver the lines but to also react to the audience and pace the performance accordingly. For me (and the rest of the ticket-paying adult audience) though, part of a youth theatre festival must at the very least in its outreach efforts, be concerned with cultivating a sense of decorum that is unfortunately sorely lacking in young theatre audiences.
The short interval where the Q&A is conducted for the group that came before is neither purposeful nor insightful as the questions are over-determined and banal, and they do not mask the fact they are time-fillers while the next group is prepping to perform. Regardless of the audience demographic, the facilitator need not have dumbed down the questions.
Peer Pleasure certainly holds a lot of promise but for it to be a successful youth theatre festival, it must aspire to be a theatre of the youth, by the youth and for the youth.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
An annual youth theatre festival
Presented by ArtsWok Collaborative in collaboration with Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
28 – 31 July 2015
Esplanade Recital Studio
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Faizad is busy molding the future of the nation but on some nights he manages to escape the humdrum of reality to immerse himself in the world of theatre.