Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Georgette: the Trial by Fire

Forgot to deliver my report on what happened on the morning of Saturday March 10th, at the Esplanade. The incubationees of Musical Theatre Singapore marketed our work as 30-min presentations to the judges.

My cast did a superb 25-min presentation of my musical, Georgette, based on the life of Singapore pioneer artist Georgette Chen. This success was in spite of the fact that my really talented, ordinarily really responsible leading lady had overslept, and I had had to take over her place... yeah, I know, shit happens. I had to stand there, singing badly, trying very hard to give off neither incongruously masculine nor campily feminine signifiers while the others sang marvellously and talked about my being a "daughter" and a "woman artist" as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The love song was particularly weird.

Anyway, we performed in front of a panel of nine very finicky luminaries of the theatre world... and this was what they said.

said the musical displayed a sure grasp of the genre, and appreciated that the songs were spliced to admit an intervening voice [wtf???]. However, he wished that the piece could be less chronological, possibly beginning in medias res, and that it might explore the inner demons of Georgette.

FELINA KHONG said that while dismissive of biographical plays/musicals in general, she was surprisingly entertained by the work. It was cheeky but polished.

TAN KHENG HUA said that she was on the verge of tears during the lovesong, and found the romance very touching. She appreciated the detail in the dialogue and lyrics, and wished the musical could describe more about Georgette's life story.

IVAN HENG asked whether Georgette Chen was truly as extraordinary as I'd made her out to be. He noted that her character appeared very passive, and that the context of her life appeared very privileged. What made this woman paint?, he asked. He wanted a musical to reflect more on Singapore in the period of the 50s and 60s, and suggested that I concentrate on the why and the who of her story. He was unsure about the ending, with the ambiguous circumstances of her move to Malaya. He did say he loved how the story moved, though.

JOBINA TAN saw potential in the script, but agreed that the ending was disappointing. She wanted to see Georgette finding her voice in Singapore, and felt that the final scene was anticlimactic.

GAURAV KRIPALANI noted that he looks out for musicals with a universal appeal, and Georgette qualified. He found the period and setting, in Europe and China in the 20s and 30s, to be especially interesting. However, he felt there was no dramatic tension. He also stated he did not like the music.

DICK LEE, however, said he did like the music, and also said, "I think you're first real lyricist I've come across." He felt the romance needed to be played up, as this work really came into its own as a love story. He also felt I should not feel compelled to bring the story on to Singapore. He felt, however, the story needed to be developed.

The final judgment placed "Georgette" as the most highly recommended piece for a production. "Esther" and "Believe" tied in second place, whereas it was advised that "O Krystal Ball" and "Tuesdays with Joe" be put aside. Felina actually approached me later to tell me she'd be interested in doing an independent staging of the piece.

We'll be doing a series of "Unplugged" performances of the musicals from April 2 to 5 at the Esplanade - I'll be in contact with all of you about this soon.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Theatre Idols + Tempestuous Beasts

I'm finally having my biographical-surrealist play, "The Final Temptation of Stamford Raffles", performed next Wednesday 21 March, 8pm at Action Theatre's 42 Waterloo St theatre. It's just a staged reading, but I've got a solid cast - Gerald Chew, Lim Yu Beng, Janice Koh, Wendy Kweh and Jeremy Lee (the only experienced actor in the current production of the Swimming Instructor, whom I noted has a nose that French desserts should be named after).

I'm going back to back with Tze Chien, and only one of us "upstarts" makes it to the finals the following week. I definitely won't beat him - aside from the fact that TC is a great writer, he's doing a comic drama and I'm doing a weird experimental half-finished piece that's way too long for a 45-min slot. But I'd appreciate it if you guys came - and hell, it's free!

E-mail Action Theatre for comps - 2 to a person.

UPDATE: Damn, that was pretty amazing... we had a resolutely madcap readthrough with Andrew Lua and Claude [insert Italian name?] replacing Jeremy - worked far better than I ever thought it would. Tze Chien's play won in the end (even though so many of my friends came to support me), but who cares? It HAPPENED. (And I made Janice Koh speak Tamil!).

Also! The night after, on Thursday 22 March at 8pm, I'm reading at Tempestuous Beasts, an evening of poetry at the University Cultural Centre lobby. It's part of the NUS Arts Festival this year.

Don't like poetry readings in general? Well, check this out: the other readers are
Cyril Wong, Alfian Sa’at and slam poet Pooja Nansi - all of us strong performers, and tempestuous indeed. It'll be a good show, I promise - and I'll try to avoid reading the stuff I've read billions of times before. More info here.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Dear Yi Sheng,

Thank you for coming down to talk to us last Friday, and for the pleasure of reading your application material and becoming better acquainted with recent developments in your literary career. The panel shortlisted and interviewed a number of strong candidates, which is encouraging, but which gave us an unenviably difficult final decision.

I'm sorry to have to tell you that we are unable to award you the Fellowship at this time; however, we would like to make you the (only) reserve candidate, as acknowledgement of the strong potential we saw in you. We had a protracted debate over the relative merits of two final candidates, of which you were one. It really was difficult coming to a final decision, and the second-guessing did not stop even after we made that decision. We certainly feel that you'd be able to add much to this Fellowship, and thus even though in the final analysis we felt it fair to award it elsewhere, we also feel that you should rightly be the reserve candidate. Should the awardee for any reason be unable to accept the Fellowship, the judges will re-confer with the view of awarding it to you.

The judges also impressed on me to communicate, on their behalf, our very favourable impression of your existing work and artistic development, and to strongly encourage you to consider applying for this Fellowship again in the near future (should the present Fellowship go to the awardee instead of to you as reserve candidate). I'm stressing this to try to indicate to you the close nature of our final decision, and the panel's really strong affirmation of what you are doing. Your achievements are particularly impressive given your age and the prospect of your future development.

We expect the awardee to respond to our offer within a week or two, and if for any reason the awardee declines the Fellowship, rest assured that I will be in touch with you immediately.

Best wishes,

Robbie Goh

Friday, March 02, 2007


In eight hours' time, I'm being interviewed for the Arts House/NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Writer's Residency position. Wish me luck, guys.

I've been invited to perform and judge a competition at Young Adult Writers Perform! 2007, a performance poetry competition, organised by Hwa Chong's English Literature, Drama, Debate and Film Society (ELDDFS).

Friday 2 March
Hwa Chong Institution

According to the Ms Karen Lee, guest performers will include Cyril Wong, Michael Corbridge, Yong Shu Hoong, Marc Nair and Angeline Yap.