The prize ceremony for this year’s Goh Sin Tub Creative Writing Competition was held on 1 June. In this second segment of a two-part series, we continue to speak to some of the winners of the Competition. Here we converse with Barney Gopalakrishnen who won Third Prize for his play Cycle of Morality.
Q: Could you tell us what your play is about and what inspired its writing? What did you hope to achieve with your play?
The play Cycle of Morality is about the temptation of a young boy, Etienne, to cross over to the side of oppressing others. Being a victim of theft, his anger triggers him to see the beauty of touching upon a “monstrous” side with his new rationale–by oppressing, it can offset the “oppression” that is being bestowed upon him. It is not the act of oppressing that makes him a monster for the monster lives in the act of oppressing itself and that act itself is immoral. What if Etienne’s belief in oppressing encounters an opposing belief–that of positive invigorated encouragement and motivation? The latter is the innate attribute of his teacher, Kimberley. Will the act of invigorated motivation itself oppress Etienne whenever he reflects on his acts of oppressing? While it is a play portraying the battle of oppression versus positive “invigoration,” correspondingly, it is about the effects of “invigoration” and oppression over another. It is also about the influential power and the contagiousness of attributes and attitudes towards others.
A friend of mine had asked me to write a play that would fit perfectly under the category of “family entertainment.” Being my first attempt at “family entertainment,” I had seized the opportunity to address one of the themes that mattered to me–the impact of our actions and words on others. When it gets produced some day, I hope that the audience will have nights of fun with it while viewing my take on the theme.
Q: You are currently also part of the MA program in theatre in NUS. Does your academic studies in theatre have any influence on your creative writing?
I am currently doing my Masters in Theatre Studies. When I first came in, I was merely looking forward to the process of writing my thesis. I was excited how the thesis would serve my work as a practitioner and vice versa. Little did I foresee the impact the academic modules would have on my practice. Writing about inspiring servant leadership in films for the “Film Spectatorship” module inspired me to practice writing edutainment. “Performance Studies” inspired me to question the structures of writing that I had been comfortable with and had been depending on for years. Since then, I have been experimenting with other structures. Writing about branding oneself for “Asian International Cinema” brought about some strategies that I use for the pitching and branding of my plays. In “Screen Culture in Southeast Asia,” I wrote about attaining catharsis through the producing of the work alongside viewing it. That had gotten me to think about one’s relationship with one’s plays; if one’s films/plays are therapeutic for oneself, how can that process be used to the same effect for the other side, the viewership?
I would like to thank the professors of the respective modules for their guidance and inspiration: Dr. Park Je Cheol, Dr. Alvin Lim, Dr. Edna Lim and Dr. David Teh.
Q: Could you share some of your thoughts on the theatre scene in Singapore today? What are some of your hopes for Singapore theatre?
What I am about to say specifically refers to local theatre practitioners and companies with “track records”; for the record, I am classified as a local with “no track record” for I have no opportunity going public with my productions and performances. I am afraid to say that many—though not all—of the local theatre companies today have turned into “family businesses.” By “family,” I mean a network of like-minded people. So far, this is fine. But these local theatre companies subtly market themselves as “doing theatre for the people, by the people” when—as comments I have gotten suggest–they seem to be largely doing what they want to do (doing theatre for themselves). While there are many who are entertained by these local theatre productions, there are still many others who believe in growing a wider variety of local productions. Theatre should be done for a broader range of people. Instead, established local practitioners seem to be a narrow group concerned with building a “safety net” for themselves and their friends.
One evening, after a play-reading that I staged, an audience member approached me to suggest that there is a possibility of me writing a play that addresses what the theatre industry rarely addresses–the local theatre industry itself and the way it operates. Henceforth, a client identified my trademark to be that of “questioning those who question.” A lot of local theatre productions question many things while I sit there questioning their need to question. For instance, someone I know watched a performance that addressed the negative impact of censorship. This person commented, “Funny how this director stages a play on censorship and regardless of ‘the reception’ of her play, her funding never gets censored.” Her comments got me to question further this director’s enterprise, “How does it feel to be watching a play staged by someone who has forgotten about her privilege of being funded to direct and write plays these many years and who is commenting on things like censorship to her advantage? Fine, if she wants to direct a play on censorship but how about staging a play that celebrates being bestowed a special privilege?”
I am currently working on a play on my own. This play while having its own multiple plots, celebrates our broadcasting history and our rapid progress in communication technologies. Shouldn’t we while looking at what we do not have also treasure all that we have? Shouldn’t theatre also be about celebrating? There are those of us who have not gotten the privilege of the director I mention above.
My only hope for Singapore theatre is for a fair chance for new theatre practitioners like myself to pitch, audition and to undergo tests to be considered for funding from arts bodies. Funding to those with “track records” or to those who are being vouched for by those with “track records” will see an absence of diverse views which will lead to a situation of theatre for “the people” by a few “elite” individuals. For the purpose of funding, can track records be substituted with tests and pitches for a newcomer?
Having said all this, there are just too many local theatre practitioners whose work I admire. I love the works of the Singapore Repertory Theatre. I am grateful to playwrights Jean Tay and Faith Ng. With each of their plays, I get this confirmation that local theatre plays are taking sharp new turns and are going to where they have never gone before. There is this sense of moving on to a new chapter for local plays and an exciting sense of how “new things” will come about.
Q: What are your future plans? Are there further plays (or productions) in the pipeline?
I produce, direct and write feature-length business-themed plays for private events. I perform in some of them as well. Some of these are play-readings of screenplays. I have got plays ready for 2017 as I would have graduated by then (I hope). The next step for me is to take these performances into the public sphere. A lot of business friends that I made are keen on investing in these plays going public but there is a lot going on with regard to being granted venues. The priority seems to be given to locals with “track records.” So, as for now, I am at the stage of pleading with venue managements to be granted a venue. I have also been much encouraged by this gift that the Goh Sin Tub Creative Writing Competition has bestowed upon me. I am humbly grateful to Dr Sylvia Goh, the judges and everyone involved in this competition for such a gift.
I would like to thank NUS and the Theatre Department along with my thesis supervisor Dr Graham Wolfe for their guidance. They have shaped my career in ways that I would never have imagined and I am truly grateful for this experience.