Counting on friendship

Playwrights Euginia Tan (left) and Sabrina Dzulkifli were mentored by playwright Joel Tan (centre) in a residency at Woodlands Regional Library.
Playwrights Euginia Tan (left) and Sabrina Dzulkifli were mentored by playwright Joel Tan (centre) in a residency at Woodlands Regional Library.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Young playwrights Sabrina Dzulkifli and Euginia Tan explore how friendship impacts people

In many ways, the two young playwrights behind the upcoming double-bill play, We Used To Be Close, are polar opposites.

Chatty and animated Sabrina Dzulkifli, 19, has spent a quarter of her life writing plays. Poet Euginia Tan, 25, who is all deadpan humour and calm, is a first-time playwright.

Their paths crossed last year when they were selected from among 15 applicants for the inaugural playwright residency at Woodlands Regional Library.

During the year-long programme for young playwrights, they found themselves gravitating towards a common theme for their plays - friendship.

The double bill is directed by Chen Yingxuan, who also directed the well-received play Mosaic last year. We Used To Be Close will be staged at the 250-seat auditorium at the Woodlands library on Feb 19 and 20.

The programme's mentor, playwright Joel Tan, 28, says: "Somehow, unconsciously, the two plays ended up being about friendship. It sounds like it was very cleverly designed, but, no, it just happened."

  • BOOK IT/ WE USED TO BE CLOSE: A DOUBLE BILL BY TAKE OFF PRODUCTIONSy

  • WHERE: Woodlands Regional Library Auditorium, Woodlands Civic Centre, 900 South Woodlands Drive

    WHEN: Feb 19 and 20, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: Free. Go to http://takeoffproductions.tumblr.com/ for links to pre-register

Tan, whose body of work includes last year's Wild Rice pantomime The Emperor's New Clothes, adds: "And that's a very interesting aspect about this production for me because I don't think we see enough plays about friendship.

"A lot of contemporary drama tends to be concerned with either family or romance, but friendships form such a bulk of our experiences, so it'll be refreshing for people to come down and dwell on what friendship is."

Euginia Tan, whose third book of poetry, titled Phedra, will be out later this year, initially thought of writing a play on motherhood. But she switched tack to better explore the idea of deception and the pretences that people, even the closest of friends, put on.

In her play, Holidays, three friends meet after one of them, who is studying abroad, returns for a short break and they learn that they can be frank with one another only when there is physical distance between them. The actors are John Cheah, Zee Wong and Deonn Yang.

Tan says: "Some might see problems with friendships as First World concerns, but our friendships affect us throughout our lives.

"And at our age especially, a lot of us are learning to become someone outside our family, finding ourselves through our friends. We worry about impressions and putting on appearances and being accepted."

Sabrina's play, Counting, is about two women who meet years after the collapse of their friendship. It draws on her observation, as a recent theatre graduate from the School of the Arts, that people start to drift apart as their time in school ends. The actors are Nessa Anwar and Shafiqhah Efandi.

Joel Tan picked the two young writers for the residency based on the writing samples they submitted in their application.

He says he chose Sabrina for her strong, assured voice and confidence in the form and Euginia Tan for her lyrical writing and being daring and experimental in her exploration of dialogue and use of space.

As a mentor , he came up with customised training programmes for them, helping Tan to become more comfortable with playwriting and challenging Sabrina to push the envelope with the form.

Sabrina says the residency taught her to be more comfortable putting herself and her emotions onto the page.

"I have a problem sharing about myself and my experiences in my writing. The characters in my earlier plays were usually not local - not people I know, not people I see around me," she says.

"I do run away a lot from my problems. I don't confront them. I still have a lot of growing up to do, but with Counting, I put so much more of myself in it. I'm braver now."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2016, with the headline 'Counting on friendship'. Print Edition | Subscribe