Satire on our local journalism, a man’s look at the Girlfriend Experience, and some one-woman biographical shows

Having theater fatigue from all the exciting arts events that happened last month? Well you have about two months to start saving up for the next big affair—W!LD RICE’s annual Singapore Theatre Festival (STF) is returning Jul 5-22, with a line-up of eight original world premieres by our island’s own.

In its sixth edition, the Festival maintains its position as a privately sponsored, singular arts event nurturing and presenting new, homegrown writing. There’s an importance in recognizing the art of new writing, said Wild Rice’s founding Artistic Director Ivan Heng. "For a playwright in Singapore to develop a play, there are many avenues," he added. "They go through residences, masterclasses, workshops, and writing lessons; but I think when it comes to a crunch, the opportunity of having a play fully realized onstage, with an audience, and with sets, costumes, lights and sound, is still very rare."


Festival Directors Ivan Heng and Alfian Sa'at

In the line-up then are both emerging and undiscovered playwrights, as well as established names like Alfian Sa’at, who also serves as Co-Director of the festival with Heng. The festival will showcase eight world premieres starring 21 actors, and address hot-button topics in today’s socio-political climate. The July release date, in particular, is integral as many of the plays are intended to mirror society "during the months (leading up to) celebrating the nation," said Heng.

A first for the festival, this year’s edition will release 500 youth tickets for free, under the initiative “Wild and Free”. Anyone aged under 25 simply has to go online and register with their ID, to receive a free ticket to the festival. “It’s very important to engage new audiences and build them,” said Heng. “To build, develop and invite a whole new generation of theater audiences.”


OUR PICKS


Building A Character (Jul 5-8)


One of three one-woman, biographical shows, Building A Character looks at a lesser recognized issue in local arts—minority female actors in Singapore. LaSalle graduate Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai stars in this play by young playwright Ruth Tang, as a young Indian actress getting road-blocked by non-colorblind casting practices. It’s a way to address a lack of certain kinds of representation, according to Sa’at. “We’ve had to import our Indian actresses for a very long time! Jo Kukathas is in everything; she’s so in everything she’s even Julius Caesar right now.” Representation matters, people.
 

Press Gang (Jul 5-15)


A former civil servant joins The Singapore Times as a mid-career reporter, and finds himself in a political thriller of the first order when a government scandal and office politics rock the paper. Written as satire on the journalism scene in Singapore, Press Gang by former journalist himself Tan Tarn How will explore the inner workings of a not-so-free press, as well as today’s fake news phenomenon. Directed by Ivan Heng, the play features an ensemble that include Cultural Medallion recipient T. Sasitharan, in a comeback to the stage after 19 years. A parodic work that may or may not attack our very profession, and include a Sumiko Tan type (Ivan’s words)? You can bet we’ll be attending.
 

Supervision (Jul 5-15)


It seems nowhere is safe anymore, not even your own home. Supervision sheds light on Singapore’s version of the NannyCam, in a look at surveillance and ethics in a domestic setting. 67-year-old Teck and his Indonesian caregiver Yanti try keeping secrets from Teck’s daughter Jenny, but something starts smelling fishy when Jenny always seems to know what’s going on. Playwright Thomas Lim’s sophomore play (after his debut Grandmother Tongue) is certainly timely, especially given the Singapore International Festival of Arts’ opening production, George Orwell’s 1984; perhaps a little too timely to be pure coincidence.
 

G.F.E. (Jul 12-15)


For anyone unfamiliar with the acronym GFE, you’ll likely find your answer in the murky depths of Hardwarezone forums. The “Girl Friend Experience” is a colloquial term used to rate sex workers online—by the level of “girlfriend experience”, or sincere companionship, they provide. For a more tasteful take on the matter though, there’s Chong Woon Yong’s one-man show, where he stars as a protagonist contemplating his past failed relationships and modern notions of love. Part of a double bill, G.F.E. zones in on vernacular Mandarin unlike the scripted prose of Channel 8 dramas; so buckle up for a refreshingly local ride.
 

Faghag (Jul 19-22)


She may already be a bigwig in the local acting scene, but Pam Oei makes her playwriting debut at the Festival with Faghag—a no-holds-barred memoir about her journeys with gay boys all her life. Expect lots of laughs from the one-woman cabaret detailing the actress’s undeniable pull towards gay men (both romantic and platonic)—but also an important dose of politics as well; Oei will share on her experiences fighting to repeal Section 377A and growing Pink Dot since its inception in 2009. Maestro Julian Wong will accompany on the piano.


STF 2018 comes at a frenzied time for the theater company—Wild Rice’s new theater, set to open next year, is currently still in the works at the new Funan mall. Estimated at a whopping $15 million, the new space will comprise two theaters (a 350-seater and a smaller 60-seater), and host the next edition of STF in 2020, according to Heng. A pricey investment, but the development will make Wild Rice the first theater company in Singapore to own their own theater.

For now, though, there’s STF 2018 to look forward to. Along with the eight original plays, audiences can look forward to a host of fringe activities like dramaturgy, talks and stand-up nights. Tickets and festival passes start from $45 and are available now here.

More information here