Friday, June 29, 2007

World Interplay!

Just so people don't call my phone: from 3 to 17 July, I'll be at World Interplay, the world's biggest international festival /workshop for young playwrights.

I was picked by Ivan Heng as a delegate (yes they seriously call us that) to represent Singapore, together with Cheryl Lee of Buds Youth Theatre and Laremy Lee. (I got review Cheryl's play "Size00" for Straits Times before, as part of the triplebill "From Scratch"! I hope she has the clipping!)

More info about the event here. It's reserved for playwrights aged 18-26, so I *just* qualify as young enough to go.

It's also a biannual event, so hopefully there's an opportunity in the future for other young deserving writers in their early 20's to go. I mean, how come I got picked but not Zizi Abdul Majid or Jocelyn Chua, both of whom are far more immersed in the theatre world than I am? (And who've written plays *far* more polished than 251, may I add.)

I'll be workshopping "The Final Temptation of Stamford Raffles". My workshop tutors are from the UK, Australia and Turkey. Hopefully, I'll have time to blog.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Train
Cho-In Theatre
Esplanade Theatre Studio
Saturday [23 June 2007]
Ng Yi-Sheng

This review was first published in the Straits Times Life! Section circa Tuesday 26 June 2007.

Back in 1998, director Park Chung-euy began to develop a new style of drama, drawing from both Korean traditions of masked dance and modern Western techniques of physical theatre. The Train was his first production using this new dramatic language, and it remains effective after nine years: a bittersweet tale of hope and desperation, told through mime and music.

The play is set in a train station during wartime. An old magician and his wife arrive in tattered hanboks, eager to flee the surroundings, but they find they have lost their tickets and must beg alongside the two orphan children who live there.

Although the narrative is slow up to this point, it picks up as the train unloads its passengers and the four characters compete as beggars – the mad scramble for tricks to hold the attention of the different passers-by allows the accomplished cast of seven to excel at their feats of acrobatics and clowning, amusing child and adult alike in the audience.

But The Train – despite its billing as a mime performance – is not a work of children’s theatre. Darker elements are present: the train passengers include lecherous sailors, corrupt colonels, even a terrorist holding a bomb in the shape of the Earth. Suffering is evident in the quiet agony of the old magician as he slowly, painstakingly stands on his head to earn a spectator’s coin. Even prostitution is hinted at, as the females try to pretty themselves up for the passers-by. Most nightmarish is the figure of the pimp - a woman in boots, cracking a whip, who extorts the children’s money and physically abuses them. Poverty is not merely material for laughter here; it is genuinely frightening.

There is thus a darkness that suffuses this play, as the beggars wait in despair as the trains, with all their promise of escape, enter and leave the station, attended by sinister, faceless conductors. Yet there is also a great spirit of hope and redemption, as the magicians use music to revive the abused children, and demonstrate forgiveness to even the pimp.

Cho-In Theatre has achieved a strangely beautiful fusion of several things in this piece: here is the subtlety and intelligence of social realism blended with the untempered joy and terror of pantomime; the grand scope of epic theatre beside the gentle goofiness of slapstick. Certainly, Park’s new theatrical style has the power to move.

Monday, June 18, 2007

ContraDiction 3

Hey All,

I'm curating an event for IndigNation: a queer literary night, where we'll be reading bits of poems, plays, songs, stories and blog entries by and/or about queer people in Singapore. It'll be held on the night of Sunday, 12 August, 2007, at 72-13 home of Theatreworks.

Anyone who wants to be involved, please e-mail me entries and enquiries by next Saturday, 23 June 2007.

You don't have to be queer to read, but we are specifically hoping to give exposure to overlooked voices in the community - very interested in the writings of queer women and non-Chinese writers in Singapore, for example, as well as hoping to portray a variety of generations and genres.

A bit of background: the first year, ContraDiction was held at Utterly Art, and the second year it was held at Mox. Both events commanded a large turnout, and featured readings by mostly emerging queer poets (the only published ones have been myself, Cyril Wong and Alfian Sa'at).

There's more info on previous ContraDiction events here:

Hope to hear from ya!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

ST Life!, Tuesday 12 June 2007

This Georgette is witty

This musical about the life of art pioneer Georgette Chen says much with little
Stephanie Yap

There's just something about a woman looking enigmatically out of a painting that seems to fire the imaginations of storytellers from print to screen.

Georgette, about the life of art pioneer Georgette Chen before she came to Singapore in her late 40s, is an exquisite work of theatrical art that mixes whimsy with wit and a sizeable dose of pathos.

Opening with the ensemble contemplating the "woman on the wall" – a slide projection of Chen's iconic self-portrait – we are soon brought to the gay Paris of the late 1920s, where a young Chen (Seong Hui Xuan) has arrived to become an artist, though her fat-cat parents are on hand to cramp her style.

There, the rebellious young woman falls in love with the Chinese foreign minister Eugene Chen, beginning a partnership that was ended by the ravages of World War II.

This no-frills staging had a cast of 11 accompanied by music director Chris Nolan on piano, in a manner charmingly reminiscent of café theatre.

Local composer Clement Yang's melodies are lush, haunting and emotionally varied, from the Caribbean-flavoured Islands In The Sun to the sweet and simple love song Always Together and the gorgeous anthem to art, Bowl of Fruit.

Meanwhile, playwright Ng Yi-Sheng must be lauded for his economy. His scenes never go on for too long, and he supplies the sharpest lines that establish his characters' personalities quickly while entertaining the audience.

"I'm not beautiful," sings Eugene self-effacingly during their courtship. "But that's modern art," retorts Georgette.

The omniscient narrator (Lina Lim) is useful at the start as she helps with the introductions, but peters into insignificance as the show runs its course.

As for Chen, she is portrayed as both plucky and lucky, a sympathetic yet initially self-centred character whose motivations, both artistic and personal, warrant more examination than was given.

To the creative team's credit, they dared to poke fun at their heroine, such as in a hilarious moment when she flounces out of her parents' house denouncing them as outmoded aristocrats – even as she ignores the rows of servants who obligingly back out of her way.

Seong, with her almond-shaped eyes and delicate features, looks astounding like Chen's self-portrait. The actress also has a compelling, self-possessed presence and a lovely contralto voice, and it is a great pity that she gets anything close to a show-stopping solo only in the second half of the show.

Eu Jin Hwang as Eugene Chen impressed with a chocolately tenor and effortless gravitas, while as Chen's parents, C.C. Leong's woundrously large head and Joyce Liang's tai-tai look were perfect physical manifestations of their character's personalities, though one feels that the duo could have hammed it up even more. Indeed, it seemed at times as if the entire cast, directed by Lee Yew Moon, was only singing and acting at half-power.

Still, this elegant musical, saying much with little, is a breath of fresh air in Singapore's musical theatre scene.

Today, Tuesday June 12, 2007

Short, but sweet
Musical on Georgette Chen packs in the laughs, while it lasts
by Juliana June Rasul

Going by the young Georgette Chen's early declaration that she wants to be an artist who "sets fire to cathedrals ... and dies of opium poisoning", laughs are the last thing you'd expect from a production of her life story.

And yet Musical Theatre Limited's Georgette, which ran on Saturday and Sunday at the Esplanade Theatre Studio, packs laughs aplenty, albeit for some strange and possibly unintentional reasons.

At one point, to illustrate the pioneering Singapore artist's fight for her work while surrounded by art-shunning communists in China, the ensemble splits into two camps. One rattles off the names of artists like Van Gogh and Picasso, and the other battles back with names of celebrated Marxists like Sun Yat-Sen.

This had the strange effect of reminding this reviewer of the song We Didn't Start the Fire, Billy Joel's names-only rundown of key events of the 20th century.

Meant to be a condensed, no-frills version of what playwright Ng Yi-Sheng hopes to turn into a proper musical, Georgette's brevity leaves little room to explore anything at great length.

Even the romance between Chen (played by Seong Hui Xuan) and her husband Eugene (Eu Jin Hwang), which was meant to be the focus of the musical, gets short shrift.

However, Ng earns some rather well-deserved giggles for art-themed in-jokes such as: "I'm not beautiful ... but that's modern art".

The play's general naughtiness also comes through at times, especially when Chen's father, Mr Zhang (CC Leong), a businessman, proclaims his sense of nouveau riche elitism by rhyming "business class" with "peasants, you can kiss my ****".

Yet even these funny moments add to, rather than diminish, the audience's incredulity at a work that has Chen donning a straw hat and salsa her way through a song celebrating her husband's intriguing early life on the Caribbean island of Trinidad.

Georgette: the Feedback

The musical's been absurdly well-received. Kenneth Lyen's provided a run-down of comments from the feedback forms:

"As the flood of congratulations kept on pouring in, the comments that kept on repeating themselves were, firstly, Seong Hui Xuan looked uncannily like Georgette, and secondly, this is one of the best, if not the best, Singapore musicals. Here are some quotations: "Ng Yi-Sheng's lyrics are multi-layered, intelligent, and captured the subtle shifts in emotions." "Clement Yang's music perfectly expressed the humor, the love, the pathos, the conflicts, and above all, the sadness." "I cried at the end of the first act, and again when the father sang the eulogy." "I wanted the musical to go on longer, I didn't want it to end." "Unquestionably, Georgette is a landmark Singapore musical." "This musical is part of National Education, and should be seen by all Singapore schools."

Ampulet's blog: "Later that day, J and I overcame our dislike of musicals and watched

Georgette, a musical by a young writer and a team of "volunteer"/amateur performers. It was surprisingly enjoyable - well-paced, clever funny lyrics, and a spirited performance by the cast."

Lecter's Blog: "A musical. An artist and her romance. A turbulent time and a bowl of fruit. A good performance, a good evening. Georgette worth its admission. Viva La Musical Theatre Limited!"

TimeMaker's Blog: "
The production team isn't exactly world famous. But what caught my attention is the subject of the musical. Georgette Chen is one of the pioneer artists of Singapore. If you didn't know that, then you are probably not in the fine arts circle. I think she was also one of my father's teachers at NAFA. Personally, I like her painting style. But that is no guarantee on the quality of the musical. The more adventurous can give this show a try. If not for anything else, at least you get to learn more about one of Singapore's important art personalities."

Even my friend who gave up watching part of the Federer-Nadal match in the French Open finals, admitted that he was glad he did not miss Georgette. Please allow me to congratulate everyone involved in this brilliant musical! Well done!!!!

Nice, huh? And we've got it in writing too, with a review in the Business Times:

Homegrown musical with great potential
by Charmian Kok
Business Times Monday June 11, 2007

Exploring the life and influences of one of Singapore's most established artists is never an easy task to being with. However, for a relatively small-scale, no-frills musical like Georgette the Musical , writer Ng Yi-Sheng managed to spin a story that is both entertaining and engaging.

Created as part of Musical Theatre Limited's Five Foot Broadway musical incubation programme, Georgette the Musical is based on the life of China-born artist Georgette Chen, and largely centres on the love story with her first husband Eugene Chen.

In the opening act, we are first introduced to Georgette as a Woman on the Wall -- a self-portrait displayed on stage, and also the musical's opening song. From this somewhat serious mood, the scene changes to that of a bustling modern Paris, where Georgette moves to pursue her studies in art. The ensemble cast delivers a playful song, Modern World which sets the light-hearted tone of the first half.

Composer Clement Yang and music director Chris Nolan both did a commendable job, creating a repertoire of songs that drives the plot and provides a window into the characters' world of cross-cultural clashes and modernisation -- especially in the first half of the musical.

The question of East vs West, for example, was explored in a memorable scene set in the house of Georgette's parents -- a privileged and wealthy couple -- over a traditional Chinese dinner. Don't cross your chopsticks , goes the song, describing a long list of Chinese etiquette, that ends with a heated argument between feisty, unconventional Georgette and her more traditional parents.

In the second half of the musical, the theme of clashing cultures was revisited but in a more serious setting -- the communist revolution in China. The romance between Georgette and Eugene also takes on a darker mood, as they get engulfed in the tragic events of the Japanese Occupation.

Seong Hui Xuan, who plays Georgette, brings a vivacious energy to the stage, drawing out the non-conformist aspects of the late artist with conviction. However, the love story between Georgette and Eugene, while touching at times, felt rather undeveloped and somewhat unconvincing. Still, if Seong's portrayal of the romantic side of Georgette lacked tenderness, she did compensate to an extent with some heartfelt singing.

Overall, the musical was more successful in its comical, light-hearted first half, and fell short of delivering the weightier issues of the second half.

Though musicals tend to be lighthearted, works like Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables show that the darker side of life can be explored successfully as well; in this respect, more could have been done to explore the tragedy of Georgette's romance and deeper aspects of her character.

Nevertheless, Georgette the Musical is a surprisingly enjoyable homegrown musical. This engaging Singapore story about a passionate woman and pioneering artist has great potential for further development.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Georgette: Behind the Scenes

The stage is set...

The boys are putting on their makeup...
...and so are the ladies.
Yikes! It's only 7pm, and there's already a queue!
...and the doors are open!
Front-of-house gets busy!
And after the show, people pose for photos. With the Yale Association Chairman, who knew Georgette Chen personally.
He liked it so much he asked to meet Seong Hui Xuan, who played Georgette, to congratulate her. From L to R: Hwang Eu Jin (Eugene Chen), Lina (Narratrix), Hui Xuan, the Chairman himself, me and Stella Kon (President of Musical Theatre Ltd).

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Georgette: the musical

Time to promote my upcoming musical, based on the life of pioneer Singapore artist Georgette Chen!

It was developed by Musical Theatre Ltd under their Five-Foot Broadway programme, scored by Clement Yang (with arrangements by Chris Nolan and Esther Yang), and is being directed by Lee Yew Moon. It was given a thumbs-up by a panel of theatre luminaries - see here.

Esplanade Recital Studio
7:30pm [corrected from 8pm! Matinees cancelled by Esp :( ]
Sat 9 and Sun 10 June 2007
For tickets, click here.

Of course, some of my avant-garde artsy friends have chided me for elevating such a conventional oil painter adverse to innovation, reliant on personal charm and connections for her success - but I like her paintings, dammit. And I'm a sucker for a strong woman.

Go watch; it's not groundbreaking, but it's quite nice.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Today, Friday June 8, 2007, p54

Despite what the paper suggests, the portrait on the left-hand side is not of Georgette Chen herself - it's her painting of some middle-class Chinese family in Singapore. I do like the fact that Today got that pic published tho - it's a terribly interesting case of family portraiture in which the wife takes centrestage as a powerful, intellectual figure and the husband's more of an adjunct to the scene (unless that guy's a really big son or her boy toy).

Am slightly bugged by the fact that the article seemed to concentrate on issues that weren't directly relevant to the production - SQ21 lah, 251 lah, The Final Temptation of Stamford Raffles lah, my pomo artists friends' reservations (which it doesn't elaborate on enough to be meaningful)... also it misquotes my language into gibberish ("I was gratified over all the hoopla over 251"... huh? I think I meant "after").

Also doesn't pay tribute to the other collaborators in the process: the composer Clement Yang, the cute (but alas straight) Australian arranger Chris Nolan, the Australian vocal arranger Nicole Stinton, the actors themselves... But journalism's a tough job to do within the bounds of a 400-word column. And it's a kickass headline! I kena reference James Joyce! Moocow! Baby tuckoo! Yes and yes.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Song for Georgette

Publicity article for "Georgette" in the Straits Times today (Wednesday, June 6, 2007) Life! p10. Plus a very decent photograph of myself and Lee Yew Moon. (Meh, allow me my moments of narcissicism.) Also a nice block of quotes from our lead actress Seong Hui Xuan (hope this'll lead to further roles for her; she's very professional for someone so young.) Huh. It turns out that composer Clement Yang is lead bassist for a band named "Ugly in the Morning". Who knew?