Wed, Jul 08, 2009
The Straits Times
From army camp to stage

By Tara Tan, Arts Reporter

If playwright Laremy Lee had not gone through national service, he might not have written his first play.

Full Tank!, a tongue-in-cheek comedy about a sergeant and his motley crew of soldiers who hijack a tank for a joyride down Orchard Road, will be staged at the Drama Centre Theatre this week.

The 65-minute piece will be presented in a double-bill, Own Time Own Target, along with the musical comedy, Botak Boys, by Julian Wong.

The two plays had a sold-out run last year at the OCBC Singapore Theatre Festival organised by local theatre troupe Wild Rice.

Full Tank! is directed by Jonathan Lim and stars Brendon Fernandez, Rodney Oliverio, Dwayne Lau (below) and Nelson Chia.

'It captures some of the absurdity of the things we have to do in the army,' says the chirpy Lee, 26, who is a teacher at St Andrew's Junior College.

Lee, who graduated from the National University of Singapore with a degree in English literature, was not slated to do combat because he was in the PES (Physical Employment Status) C category.

Instead of becoming a clerk, he volunteered for combat duty and did well enough to enter Officer Cadet School.

'It was a defining moment for me,' he says.

He lives in a three-room HDB flat in Hougang with his parents. His father is a self-employed handyman and his mother is a teacher's aide at a childcare centre. His older sister, Lynn, is a foreign correspondent to Indonesia with The Straits Times.

1 Did you ever think you would be writing plays?

I never thought I would become a playwright. I started writing for hall productions in university and took up creative-writing classes. Full Tank! came from a short piece I wrote for the class, which was led by playwright Huzir Sulaiman. It was read at a play reading held at the Arts House, which was attended by Wild Rice's artistic director Ivan Heng. He expressed interest in staging the work.

2 What was Full Tank! inspired by?

You know the boy who ran away with the rifle? When I read about it, I felt really indignant. People were talking about it on the Internet and in Parliament, but they were not asking the questions that should have been asked.

Whether he was okay, for instance, or how the military environment he was in affected his already precarious emotional state or what pushed him over the edge.

3 What was your time doing national service like?

My time doing national service was very enriching. I learnt a lot and went through every NSF rank. I was a recruit, private, corporal, third sergeant and officer cadet before finally being commissioned as a second lieutenant. I benefited a lot from the experience but suffered the same frustrations that all soldiers go through. But I think that 21/2 years was too long, so I'm glad they have shortened it now.

4 What are your views on conscription?

While I fully understand the importance of NS to Singapore, I have also managed to get a glimpse of the tiresome yet comical aspects of military bureaucracy from various angles, along with the segments of military life that seem really absurd.

5 How do you feel about Own Time Own Target being compared to other Singapore works about national service such as Michael Chiang's Army Daze?

Well, it's natural for the public to compare the two productions, but I think they should also evaluate the productions on their own merits. It's a misconception that OTOT is a spin-off from Army Daze - they are very different productions.

6 Why did you choose to become a teacher instead of pursuing the arts full time?

I only thought about being in the arts when I started writing last year. It is a struggle, financially, but it's something I won't mind trying in the future.

I knew I was good at teaching, so it made sense to embark on a career in the education industry. I also needed financial support in university and hence accepted an Education Ministry teaching award offer.

7 Any plans for creative work in the future?

I have been working on some poetry and short stories, which will hopefully get published. Some of the themes I am interested in include love, relationships and marriage as well as education in Singapore.

8 Complete this sentence. If I could live my life all over again, I would...

Relive my junior college days. I was from an all-boys' school for 10 years and those friendships meant a lot to me. In my first year at junior college, I kept to myself and never really had fun there or explored the options.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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