M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival, Singapore’s only annual theatre festival by young people presented by ArtsWok Collaborative returns this July, after a one-year hiatus, at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. It comes back with a new Artistic Director, veteran theatre practitioner and drama educator, Jean Ng.
Ngiam Su-Lin, Producer for the festival shares that “this new approach of immersing youths in important topics that concern their society and future is an effort to nurture their social consciousness while simultaneously developing them as young theatre practitioners.”
This year’s festival explores the issue of poverty in Singapore: an issue in the spotlight and with the festival youth participants weighing in with their devised plays which emerged after a 1.5 year-long research and creation process.
Three groups of youths from across the socio-economic continuum were invited to create, and stage work for the festival. This allowed for a diversity of voices and experiences, as well as for the youth to encounter, and learn from each other during the research process. The three groups are: The Community Theatre (Beyond Social Services), Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) and Anderson Secondary School. The two schools will be staging a Double Bill of plays – The Ground and Wonderland, while The Community Theatre will be staging a full-length play, The Block Party.
The Block Party will be The Community Theatre’s (TCT) first full-length devised play. Many of the youths of TCT come from lower income households: Izzaty Ishak, lead artist of TCT, and assistant director of The Block Party, reflects: “For the past 1.5 years, we have been researching and developing the performance with a lot of trust, as each of us gave a part of ourselves to the piece, even when the stories were uncomfortable, because it is important to share them.”
Cheri Hu, a youth volunteer with TCT shares that she hopes “audiences who never knew much about poverty in Singapore walk away knowing and understanding more about poverty and inequalities in Singapore as lived realities, and not merely a story read in the newspaper, a statistic or an experience chalked up in a school community project.”
Rizman Putra, who is the director of the play and who himself grew up in a rental flat estate elaborates: “Audiences of The Block Party will get to witness genuine, lived encounters growing up in a rental flat estate, and empathise with the way they fight to live their lives, often hidden away from the middle class narrative.”
Importantly too, apart from sharing their stories, he wants the youths from TCT “to also learn both hard and soft skills that could help them both discover any interests they had in theatre making and production, as well as build their confidence.”
Alongside the plays by young people would be a participatory theatre piece, The Class Room by theatre veterans Li Xie, Kok Heng Leun and Jean Ng where audiences have the opportunity to delve deeper into the topic of poverty in Singapore.
The piece invites audiences to explore the conditions, challenges and support required by those living in poverty, and puts the decisionmaking power in our hands. While the piece has been created with young people in mind, participation is welcomed from audiences of all ages.
Creator Li Xie shares that she hopes that through this, “participants will have a deeper understanding of the issue, and empathise with the struggles in the process of decision making. Let’s not forget we are all in this together.” The festival will also feature engagement programmes related to the topic of poverty in Singapore or theatre-making.