A new page for playwriting

A new page for playwriting
(From left) The brains behind Centre 42 include Mr Robin Loon, Ms Michele Lim, Mr Casey Lim, Mr Chiu Chien Seen and Ms Karen Loh.

As the new Centre 42 eases into its home - the former Action Theatre premises along Waterloo Street painted a bright cerulean blue - it has become a touchpoint for a renewed focus on playwriting in Singapore.

The centre aims to document, promote and create writing for the Singapore stage.

Its name comes partly from its address - 42 Waterloo Street - but is also a riff on the historic, long-defunct Centre 65, Singapore's first multi-disciplinary arts centre set up by the late pioneer playwright Goh Poh Seng and his friends in the early years of independence.

The dearth of original English-language scripts, which troubled Goh and his compatriots, remains a sticking point to this day.

Theatre practitioners note that Centre 42, an initiative of the National Arts Council but run by an independent team of theatre practitioners, is a cog in a larger and more concerted movement to not only inject fresh content into local theatre, but also cultivate playwrights.

In Singapore's very productive theatre scene, professional playwrights are few and far between and theatre companies have set up ad hoc writing and mentorship programmes over the years to address that. Centre 42 is the first dedicated institution for playwriting.

Mr Casey Lim, the centre's executive director, says it will focus on "writing, research and incubating" new plays until they are ready to be staged.

He dispels the idea that the centre is a silver bullet to boost playwriting, but says it provides a much-needed platform for creation, outside the framework of a theatre company.

He explains: "I think the whole ecosystem has to look at allowing different models to exist. Because different playwrights and different scripts require different touches.

"You have the resident playwright model, which most theatre companies have. Then you have the institutions, which should have their own creative writing programmes - and not just Playwriting 101, it should progress beyond that."

At the moment, only the National University of Singapore (NUS) offers playwriting modules as part of a degree programme.

Theatre practitioner and academic Paul Rae, formerly of NUS' Theatre Studies programme and now with the University of Melbourne, feels there is greater emphasis in Singapore now on the craft of words and structuring a work: "I think there's an overdue revisiting of playwriting as a craft.

"Maybe playwriting wasn't the only, or most obvious, answer to the needs or expressions of theatre in the early 1990s. There were playwrights then, of course, but meanwhile, there were all kinds of things going on - devised theatre, intercultural theatre, performance art; people were trying to work out what this place is, what this society is made of, what it sounds or looks like when it talks to itself or presents itself.

"It was not immediately apparent that the well-made play was the best format for that," says Rae.

Several years ago, there was a whiff of despondency in the arts community about an apparent dearth of new playwrights. That tide seems to be turning, thanks to recent efforts by theatre companies and arts institutions to nurture the next generation and as these younger playwrights begin to make a name for themselves.

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