Reflections by Tan Liting

16 Sep 2016, discussing and reflecting on her Boiler Room journey:

*Liting’s play was retitled Suit at this juncture.


28 June 2016, recalling the key milestones of her Boiler Room journey:

July 2015: Commencement of Research

 And so, it begins. I want to write a play about the idea of being ‘butch’. The first meeting was a ‘get to know you’ session, and we all discuss details about ourselves. It is important to understand who we are before we can commence. I still have no idea if I can write this play or not. I have never written a play, only small scripts for skits and devised work. This is going to be a monumental undertaking. I only have an idea, I don’t know where we’re going from here.

August 2015: Research in Progress

I’m looking into several topics: Goddess Athena, Billy Tipton and a few indian dieties. They are of interest, but not quite what I want to write about.

I have been tasked to do a few things, all of which involve field work. The first thing is to people watch, so I set myself up at Starbucks at Raffles City. I write short essays/descriptions about the people I see around me, and I write about both men and women. I write imagined monologues, and imagined scenarios based on how people carry themselves and what they wear. I am starting to question the ideas of femininity and masculinity, seeing how these concepts are blurred by everyday, ordinary people at a Starbucks.

The second thing was to go on a shopping experiment to see how people react when I try to buy a dress. In different kinds of stores. I find that the least judgmental people are the aunties in the neighbourhood BHG, who aren’t afraid to tell you what you should and should not try. They are also unafraid of showing you what they really think, drenched in humour of course, and that is a welcome change.

The third thing was to track down a transgender person. Reached out to some friends, and found a potential someone who is a friend of a friend on Facebook, but got no response or reply. Maybe it’s too sensitive a topic.

Still don’t really know what I’m writing about. But I’m starting to think about ‘butch’ as a larger, more universal theme, rather than just a play about lesbians. Maybe I can write butch lesbian characters, but maybe there’s more.

December 2015: Research never ends.

Have done some interviews with some people. Have discussed this idea of being butch extensively. More and more, I am certain it’s not just a ‘lesbian’ term.

I try to write on my year end trip, but nothing really concrete comes out of it. I have drabbles. Good start, I suppose.

January 2016: Discussing the work in public for the first time.

I’m in conversation this month with Edith Podesta as part of the M1 Fringe Festival 2016. When Bitch meets Butch is a discussion of Gender and the local theatre industry, and about women in local theatre. It’s a discussion on the process of making work as a woman, and I decide to share a short excerpt I wrote over the December holidays.

Have a better idea what I’m going to write about, but I’m not sure if it’s what people expect of me. I don’t want to write the next lesbian play. I want something more universal.

February 2016: Writing phase (Officially)

Have started putting fingers on keys and developing characters. I have 5! I don’t know where they will go, but they are each starting out as an idea. The characters are based on myself, my observations, and some people who I’ve met and interviewed. People don’t really like talking about themselves much, but they try their best to share what they have experienced. I am writing monologues for my characters, and will see where they end up.

April 2016: Characters, Characters, Characters

Still writing character speeches and monologues, and I’m starting to have favourites. Some characters are just easier to craft, while others will need help.

June 2016: Writing is a lonely road

I spend some days, consecutively, alone, and without talking to any human being. It’s tough being a writer. I try to discuss my work just to keep sane, but I also spend days at a stretch not meeting another human soul. But I’m hanging in there, have written some extensive monologues for my characters, can’t wait to start letting them meet and putting it all together.


21 March 2016, on the Research and Construction Phase of her Boiler Room journey:

If I am to be painfully honest about my process, I’m going to find it very difficult to articulate what really goes on when I’m writing.

A lot of the ‘writing’ time is more conversation time; I’m more often than not talking to someone about writing, or talking to myself about writing, or talking to myself WHILE I’m writing.

But if I am going to try to articulate what this process is like, I would start at the moment when I thought it was a good idea to think that I could write a play. To begin thinking of myself as a playwright. For that split second, somewhere between hitting the send button to submit my application and the panic that came after, I allowed myself to believe I could write a play. That was the most secure I ever was about this playwriting thing.

It’s not easy, writing a play. I’m very self-conscious. When it all began everything felt inorganic, put on, and painful. I was writing pages, and that was it. There was no plot, no characters, no tension. Just a story. So I didn’t write. I couldn’t write. I even remember thinking: I shouldn’t write.

Then I realised, maybe I just had to put something on paper. Get some words on a page and see where it goes. And so I began by writing a story. Again, it was pages and pages. Black spots on a white computer screen, easily deleted with the push of a button. It felt like nothing I wrote would ever amount to anything.

Then someone said to me: “Invent characters based on what you’ve already written. Start now, and just write. If you don’t write, it all stays as a heady mess in your head. So for your own sanity, just write.”

So that’s what I’m doing now. For sanity. Also, a deadline really helps when you need to get your act together.

Nothing really fruitful comes along unless you just write. I went through my research phase just reading, without any real direction or purpose. I just collected information. Everything was interesting. I didn’t feel ready to put words on a page yet. At one point it felt like I was just delaying my own process. What really helped was simply, to start writing. To just begin to string words together into something coherent. And it wasn’t always coherent. Much of it was gibberish. Some things worked and some things didn’t. But it was the only way. To keep writing and to keep talking.

In one of the conversations I had with myself, I heard myself saying: “But this is so deeply personal. Who wants to know about you? Who are you? Why would anyone be interested in this play?”

I needed to get out of my own head. So I went to talk to someone.

Someone said to me: “Don’t forget that all your characters are a part of you. They begin as reflections of you, but then they become extensions. So don’t be afraid. Just write. For your own sanity, just write.”

I don’t know where I will end up, but I know where I’m going. Sometimes in conversation, with myself or with someone, I hear: “But what if it’s no good? What if it turns out to be just a bunch of incoherent words on a page?”

It doesn’t matter. For my own sanity, just write.