Reflection on Writings from the Heart (Part 2)

Following the exciting weekend at TheatreWorks, we have received many enthusiastic responses for Writings from the Heart – a series of public readings of 9 new plays! We have some of our ambassadors joining us as our audience members. Read on as Jinyi, shares her thoughts on the readings.

“Writings from the Heart”, a set of dramatized readings produced by “Writings & Community” in conjunction with TheatreWorks, was staged at 72-13 from 10-11 July 2015. The nine scripts, written by aspiring playwrights, having gone through a series of writing workshops with playwrighting mentor Tony Perez.

The scripts were deeply varied, reflecting strongly on the unique backgrounds and perspectives of the writers. What the pieces do have in common, however, is an emotional core that audiences will be hard pressed not to empathize with.

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Unfortunately, while the plays were interesting, they were distinctly and obviously unpolished. Some needed more tinkering with the actual text, while others were unable to be shown at their full potential within the (relatively) narrow confines of the dramatic reading presentation method.

One of those that struggled with the limitations of the medium was Mayura Baweja’s “Paper Thin”. An exploration of the process of writing itself, it is powerful in its depiction of creation as a vehicle of both personal freedom and personal reckoning. Temporal and physical realities meld together as fiction mines into the pain of the creator’s personal life to unearth a deeper truth. An ambitious, abstract metaphysical exercise that retains all the emotional subtleties of a tender character study, its presentation greatly suffered from the sparse scenography of the performance space. The duality inherent in the story would be best served by actors taking on multiple roles, which they did, but this device, coupled with the non-linear storytelling and lack of effective demarcation of either space or character traits through costume, meant that it was tough going for audiences to keep the story straight in their heads. Actors slipped into different roles with audiences none the wiser, and entire subplots were missed in the confusion. Which was a pity, because the whammy of an ending scene threw into relief an ingenious intricacy to the script, a subtle motif snaking through all the seemingly disparate pieces of plot, only to reveal itself, and the true mechanism of the whole play, at the very end. This piece is a mystery to be savored in retrospect. If only the clues had been less muddled in presentation.

Meanwhile, other scripts enlisted the medium and space to great effect. In the case of “Conversations with my Father”, written by civil service worker Chan Lishan, the clever usage of space to delineate specific themes elevated what would have otherwise been a rather monotonous monologue. Director Irfan Kasban has uncanny intuition in finding intriguing parallels between the father-daughter pair, and uses the space ingeniously to showcase these parallels to great dramatic effect while highlighting emotional subtext and tension. Similarly, the spatial layout of Serene Tan’s “Hazy Pre-nuptials” showed great perceptiveness with regard to the progression of character dynamics during the course of the script. The blocking of the final scene was especially clever, inverting the original stage direction and being all the more poignant in the audience’s knowledge of said inversion.

The direction in Eliete Viveno’s “A Feathery Effect” was similarly intelligent, with good usage of light and shadow, as well as a particularly powerful moment in which a woman’s headscarf is directly compared to her childhood pet bird, her sense of loss in both scenarios juxtaposed and more movingly articulated as a result. Unfortunately, this particular piece was unsatisfying overall, the author relying on stock quotes and clichéd metaphors to hammer her point across, and the ending being to abrupt for satisfying character development and resolution.

The final play, “My Promise to my Animal Tamer” by Liow De Jun, was lacking in any particular directional ingenuity, and yet was still engaging. Although Liow fails to mine his characters for the complex, intense emotions that the prescribed scenario insists on, the characters were all imbued with a believable warmth, and the twist was genuinely unexpected, with a darkly humorous charm. The dark humor may not be completely to the playwright’s intent, but all the same, a commendable effort that shows assurance beyond the writer’s age.

Overall, although each script and reading had significant areas for improvement, it was an interesting experience, with valuable lessons in playwrighting and direction, for both the audience and the playwrights/director. The Writing & Community project is a truly meaningful endeavor, and it is likely that I will give my support to all such future projects.

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