The Vault: Project Understudy

Understudy reimagines the post-‘black-out-and-curtains’ world of Tan Tarn How’s Undercover with a special guest appearance by a character from The Lady of Soul and Her Ultimate ‘S’ Machine,  and three newly created characters of the next generation.

In 1993, the career of high-flying civil servant Derek is cut short when he refuses to replace his report on the findings of the committee for the cultivation of soul with one rewritten by his ‘friend’ and immediate superior. His punishment – head the country’s only broadcasting corporation.

In 1994, rookie intelligence agent Jane successfully infiltrates a theatre-group-of-interest run by renegade artist Qiang (and falls for the bad boy in the process) while foiling her Deputy’s secret plan to oust the head of the intelligence agency. Jane is promoted and Qiang is “rehabilitated”.

In 2016, Jane, now the Minister of Cultural Affairs, wants to award artist-in-exile Qiang the prestigious Cultural Medallion. The disgraced Deputy, now the Director for the Institute of Public Consensus, wants to stop this travesty. In tow are their respective protégés, Albert, Sophie and Vikram. Together with Derek who has reinvented himself as a media mogul, this ‘magnificent seven’ chart a treacherous path towards art, politics and ceremonial jewellery.

Will Qiang accept the Cultural Medallion?

Conceived and edited by Dr Robin Loon, and organised by NUS Thespis, Project Understudy explores sequels, scruples & satire using a collective writing creation process. Inspired by the processes of devised theatre, seven writers were assigned one character respectively. Not only not only must they create and explore that character thoroughly, the writers also have to ensure their characters interact with one another through plotted scenarios and situations. Instead of taking matters to the floor, the writers took to the screen around a table and created draft 1 of Understudy.

Join the writers as they share with you their process of collaborative writing in Project Understudy and read you excerpts from draft 1 of Understudy.


Event Details: 

Monday, 23 May 2016
8pm @ Centre 42 Black Box

Admission is free.

About NUS Thespis:

Thespis is a non-profit arts interest group founded in 2008 by a group of National University of Singapore (NUS) Theatre Studies students. Thespis is a place for young artists to explore, and create theatre, by experimenting with different creative processes and methodologies. It is a platform especially for collaborative work (between students and alumni), with the interest to nurture and hone the craft of theatre-making among young aspiring artists. Their productions seek to interest and critically engage audiences by rethinking performance concepts.

Programme Handout

Click on the image to read.

The Programme Handout contains the artists’ messages (writer-character intent), the collaborative writing strategies employed, and the Understudy draft scene synopsis. Click on the image to read.

Find Out More!

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Help make Phase 2 of Project Understudy happen!

The writing team is committed to complete the play Understudy to a stageable read. Script development is expected to continue in Phase 2 from September 2016 to March 2017.

THEY NEED YOUR HELP – The goal is to raise enough funds to support the writing team as they work towards a second draft and a reading in March 2017. The Centre is helping to run this fund-raising effort on behalf of the team. All proceeds collected will go to the writing development process and artists.


Missed it? Watch it here.

The public showing of Project Understudy is only one aspect of its reach, and is only the starting point. We believe in long-term web access of our programmes as part of our documentation and resources for the public!

Click on the image to watch the video recording:

Meanwhile, visit our event album for a brief peek into what it was like on that day.

If You Had Attended Project Understudy

…Centre 42 and our collaborators would love to hear from you. Your responses will help us with the next creation process of The Vault, and more importantly, help the artists in their personal reflections of the work. Write to us at


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 The Vault: Project Understudy revisits Tan Tarn How’s Undercover and reimagines its sequel set in 2016 through a collaborative writing creation process. Conceived and edited by Dr Robin Loon and organised by NUS Thespis.