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What’s on stage in Singapore: We chat to Glen Goei, the man behind Wild Rice’s three new plays

Theatre company Wild Rice is known for staging provocative and challenging theatre. They are back this month with a triptych of plays that director Glen Goei says will appeal to everyone, regardless of how long they’ve lived here. Alfian Sa’at – In The Spotlight is a festival dedicated to showcasing the brilliant and witty work of one of Singapore’s finest playwrights. Glen hopes people will leave the theatre with their minds open and buzzing with questions.

Alfian Sa'at's play about Singapore immigration 

The writer drew on interviews with a cross-section of Singapore’s community for inspiration for Cook A Pot of Curry, which premieres at the festival . What are the burning issues? 

Alfian conducted extensive research into the extremely diverse immigrant community. He spoke to people who have moved here from India, China and beyond. Speaking for both Alfian and myself, I think it’s absolutely the right time to be looking at the issue of immigration.

The statistics speak for themselves: at present, a quarter of people who are residents in Singapore were born outside the country. By 2030, that proportion is expected to rise to 45 percent. In Curry, we’re asking questions about the impact of these demographic trends on the Singapore identity. Will we lose what makes us Singaporean? How will our cultural and political environment change?

But this play isn’t meant to just showcase one point of view; we’re not being nationalistic or xenophobic here. Our goal is to get Singaporeans and expats alike to think about the issue. We’re all living here now, so how do we navigate these changes? How do we all begin to live together, with respect and regard for each other?

Dreamplay: Asian Boys Vol. I is known as a pioneering work. Is it as relevant now as when it was written 13 years ago?

There’s no question that the play broke new ground 13 years ago, and I’d say it’s every bit as relevant now. It’s a landmark in local queer theatre simply because it’s one of the earliest gay plays ever written and produced in Singapore. Alfian had to work within the confines set by the authorities at the time – chiefly that homosexuality should not be promoted as a lifestyle onstage. What he came up with was a cheeky, subversive romp, with an underlying message that I think is hard to miss.

The Optic Trilogy resonated with audiences in Europe, and it’s being performed here for the first time in over 10 years. Is Singapore ready?

It’s a great thrill to be bringing it home after its European tour, where it was translated into German, Swedish and Danish. The play travelled as far as it did because its themes and characters, focussing on the relationships between men and women, are universal. Singapore is most certainly ready for it!

About Alfian Sa’at

Alfian is a born-and-bred Singaporean who gave up his studies in medicine to pursue literature. He has been a resident playwright at Wild Rice for eight years. Like all artists, he draws his inspiration from the community around him: seeing, observing and listening, before distilling his ideas into what we see on stage.

Some of the content in these three works is provocative. Has Wild Rice had a brush with the censorship authorities?

This might come as a surprise to people, given our reputation for raciness, but the Media Development Authority has actually never censored Wild Rice. We have pretty much said everything we wanted to say, albeit with various audience “advisories”.  I do find that somewhat heartening, although there is, of course, a long way to go yet in terms of openness and freedom for local theatre practitioners. Our scripts might not be censored, but we still have to submit them for approval.

Tell us about the peripheral activities planned during the festival?

Alongside the three plays, there’ll be workshops conducted by Alfian himself (Writing the Unwriteable – Exploring taboos through playwriting), discussion forums and a few late-night staged readings of Cooling-Off Day. I think there’s something for everyone in the line-up, particularly the two Sunday forums (on 7 and 14 July at 5.30pm), where we’ll be discussing issues related to immigration and the homosexual community in Singapore. I’m hoping people really take advantage of the staged readings to watch Cooling-Off Day with its original cast.

Alfian Sa’at – In The Spotlight festival is on from 3 to 20 July at LASALLE College of the Arts, 1 McNally Street. Tickets from Sistic. wildrice.com.sg