Hothouse for stage writing

Hothouse for stage writing
Playwright Robin Loon (left) and theatre director Casey Lim (right) are behind Centre 42, which aims to develop new works for Singapore theatre

A space dedicated to writing for the Singapore stage will open at the former Action Theatre premises in 42 Waterloo Street later this month.

A team of theatre practitioners and administrators - Casey Lim, Robin Loon, Chiu Chien Seen and Michele Lim - won a three-year contract to run the centre following the National Arts Council's open call for partners in May last year.

They want Centre 42 to document, create and promote writing for the theatre.

Renovation costs came up to between $200,000 and $300,000, which was funded by the arts council. It has committed $3.4 million to the centre for the next three years to support its start-up and various programmes.

Dr Loon, 46, an academic and playwright who is the centre's head of documentation, dramaturgy and discourse, tells Life! that the centre will focus on the nuts and bolts of creating theatre, not presenting a slick new production.

He says: "We're not a theatre company and we don't behave like one."

Executive director Casey Lim, 51, a theatre director, adds: "We don't impose an artistic vision."

The centre, which will open to the public later this year, comes at a time when concerns have surfaced over a shortage of good original scripts and proper development for playwrights both emerging and established.

The arts council had envisioned the centre as an "engine room" for Singapore theatre to drive the growth of theatre here. This was a term used by Nicholas Hytner, the lauded director of the National Theatre in the United Kingdom, to refer to its developmental wing, The Studio - a space that also incubates new work.

Ms Kathy Lai, the arts council's chief executive, notes that while there were efforts by the Singapore industry to sustain playwriting programmes, supporting infrastructure was needed.

She says in an e-mail statement of the team's vision: "Their proposed programmes and approaches went beyond the current models of incubating and creating new work, and show potential to impact writing for the stage as well as other types of performances. They also had clear plans and ideas on how to engage a wider audience base than just playwrights and the arts community."

One of Centre 42's main focuses is creating new work. Under an incentive dubbed The Boiler Room, the team hopes to create a suitable environment for writers to put out work ready to be produced. The centre will have small theatre spaces to hold workshops or present works in progress.

Come April 7, the centre will issue an open call for unstaged scripts or ideas for plays. Shortlisted writers will go through a rigorous process of research, construction and writing that will last several months, and work with professional playwrights and dramaturgs to put up a presentation of the work. Industry players will also be invited to view the presentation to see if they might be interested in staging the work.

Dr Loon says: "I want to encourage Singaporeans to create differently - that they are not creating something to meet a production deadline, but something that is true to what they want to do."

Apart from The Boiler Room, the centre will also host talks, lectures and seminars by various arts practitioners, as well as a series of readings of Singapore work, which could include classic Singapore scripts or pieces that are rarely performed.

They will also work to build an archive of theatre events, including digital facsimiles of theatre programme booklets and other collaterals, which could be useful for research, and theatre reviews by the public.

Dr Loon says: "I hope the centre will encourage interested members of the public to see Singapore theatre in a new light."

This article was published on April 2 in The Straits Times.

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