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52 Weeks of #ExcitingSG: Week 21 with Alfian Sa'at

Alfian Sa'at
W!ld R!ce

Welcome to Time Out Singapore's 52 Weeks of #ExcitingSG – our commitment to showing you the best of what's going on in the city this week. Every Monday, a guest writer who's "in" with the scene shares a recommendation on what to see, eat, do or buy in the city. This week, we chat with playwright Alfian Sa'at who is spearheading this year's Singapore Theatre Festival as Co-Artistic Director.

What gets you excited about Singapore?
There are so many things actually, and they’re not dependent on the fake ‘from mangrove swamp to metropolis’ narrative. I love Kumar’s stand-up comedy, I think he knows the exact spot of Singaporeans that he can tickle or pinch. I also love the fact that three of my favourite singers – Saloma, Rafeah Buang, and Sharifah Aini – were all born in Singapore.

Where are some of the best places to catch plays in Singapore?
Plays are typically performed in theatres, but I can name you the standouts: Drama Centre at the National Library, Victoria Theatre, and the Esplanade. And we, at W!LD RICE, are opening our very own theatre in the new Funan mall in the last quarter of next year!

Are there any theatre programmes or communities in Singapore that you would like to recommend to those who want a taste of the local theatre scene?
My suggestion is to start out by putting aside some money to watch one play a month. Familiarise the access points such as the Sistic ticketing website where you can search for monthly theatre listings. Otherwise, ask your friends for recommendations. We all like different things – some prefer straightforward storytelling while others prefer something more experimental. Some go to the theatre to be moved, while others go to be entertained. I think the theatre being produced in Singapore currently is diverse enough to meet different appetites.

What do you think of the local theatre scene and what can we do to make it better?
I believe that if you want something that is honest and authentic, you go to the theatre because that is where there is the least censorship and regulation, followed by cinema, and then television. In theatre, there is no restriction on using dialects on stage. In the cinema, you’re allowed to use it up to a certain percentage of the script. And in television, often not at all, unless it’s for a specific purpose like introducing a government policy to dialect-speaking elders. Singapore television has often been criticised for the stilted writing, the exaggerated acting and cliché themes which I think is all directly related to the fact that it is heavily regulated. If you want more creativity, then you have to relax the censorship. Nobody dances on a minefield.

What advice would you give to young playwrights?
Follow your dreams. And by that I mean get enough sleep!

Who is your favourite Singaporean playwright?
Haresh Sharma. He has an amazing ear for how people speak, code switch and move through different registers. I think if Haresh wasn’t a playwright, he’d be an academic, specialising in sociolinguistics.

Are there any upcoming theatre events in Singapore that you’re most excited about?
The Singapore Theatre Festival is now happening at the Lasalle College of the Arts. There are eight plays lined up, as well as a host of other activities like late-night readings and stand-ups. There are also workshops, talks and forums. Plenty of amazing buzz there this July, so swing by and check it out!

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