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.)