On Friday 14 August, our department alumnus, Joel Tan, launched his first volume of plays at the National Library. The volume features seven plays, the earliest of which were written when Joel was a student with us. In the speech he gave at the end of the launch he explained that he had come to playwriting through the two classes taught here by local playwright, Huzir Sulaiman.
Huzir is the Joint Artistic Director of Checkpoint Theatre, where Joel is an Associate Artist. Two of the four other Associate Artists, Faith Ng and Lucas Ho, are also former members of Huzir’s class, as well as alumni of our department. Lucas edited the collection, his third volume with Checkpoint.
The launch featured readings from the plays in the volume, and demonstrated the range of Joel’s writing. Some excerpts were very funny, containing acerbic insights into modern urban life in Singapore, while others were gentler and more touching. The extract from The Way We Go, for instance, with which the readings ended, featured an ageing couple struggling against their own habits and ingrained characters to communicate and be close. It was movingly read by Huzir and his fellow Artistic Director, Claire Wong.
In his speech at the end, Joel reflected on the role of the playwright, and on the etymology of that peculiar word. A playwright is a maker, he explained, and makes plays in collaboration with a host of other people. All the plays in the volume had benefitted enormously from the people involved in them.
Huzir is no longer teaching in the department, but his classes are now being taught by Faith, who is fast establishing herself as one of Singapore’s best young playwrights alongside Joel. Her work like his brings a sharp dramatic intelligence to bear on life in modern Singapore. Joel ends the interview that accompanies the plays in the volume by talking about the “brief glimmer of truth” that a play performance can provide. Certainly, the readings at the launch provided many such glimmers. (Photos courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre. Photo credit: Ken Cheong.)
Ice-breakers, an Amazing Race and some sort of finale performance have become part of the regular repertoire of activities during orientation season at NUS. This year, the NUS Literary Society borrowed these elements and added our own literary twist to create a truly one-of-a-kind introduction to NUS—A Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-themed food trail around campus.
The NUS Literary Society is a close-knit community that consists primarily of English Literature majors but is open to bibliophiles from any discipline of study. As a society we host programs such as readings and movie screenings (often with free pizza), and annual events like the Creative Writing Competition and the Evening of Poetry and Music. The latter is a star-studded showcase of musical and literary talents from around campus. One of the biggest events on our calendar is the annual Literary Society Orientation Camp to welcome potential English Literature majors to student life at NUS.
This year, we decided to marry the Singaporean penchant for food with the traditional “Amazing Race” game, which resulted in a food trail spanning eateries around both FASS and parts of UTown. Both the freshmen and orientation group leaders were kept gastronomically full and content as they ventured around NUS sampling some of the most-loved foods on campus from the salted-caramel ice cream at Book Haven to the Japanese bento sets at The Deck. Staying true to our inner geeky bookworms, the games that the campers played at each pit stop of the food trail made use of quirky, literary elements. Whacko played with book titles and Virginia-Woolf- inspired station games lent a unique flavor to old camp staples. After eating our fill, playing literary-inspired games and exploring the campus, we headed to Town Green for the finale event of the day. Each team was tasked to come up with poems using words from a random-word generator. This was certainly no easy task given the obscurity of some of the words on the list! Fortunately, the freshmen were up to the challenge and came up with some bold and light-hearted stuff. The final challenge was to perform the poetry in front of their peers and teacher-in-charge Dr. Gilbert Yeoh. That was how Town Green became the stage for an impromptu poetry slam, a memorable ending to a one-of-a-kind orientation camp. Before we parted though, there was one last order of business for the day: goodie bags. As our camp was themed after the childhood favorite Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it was only fitting that each camper walked away with a personalized bag full of Mars Bars, Marshmallows, Snickers and Hershey’s kisses. I think Willy Wonka would have been proud.
To find out more about the NUS Literary Society and how you can join us, do like our Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/pages/NUS-Literary-Society-Events/813085828704542?fref=ts or email firstname.lastname@example.org (Contributed by undergraduate Alisa Maya Ravindran)