Esplanade's The Studios season focuses on women

The Esplanade's series of genre-bending works this year features productions where female characters dominate the stage

Women rule The Studios this year.

The Esplanade's annual series of edgy, genre-bending works returns for its 13th year, treading into the malleable realm of memory.

By sheer chance, it also features a line-up of works in which women feature prominently: they are the minds behind a bulk of the works and - in most - the characters set to dominate the stage.

The Studios will run from Thursday to May 1, with four ticketed performances, as well as two free shows which are part of Raw, The Studios' developmental platform for works in progress.

Coming up with a theme was one of the biggest challenges, says lead programmer Fezhah Maznan, 31.

"We were looking at the programme and were like, 'So obvious, right? All women!'

  • BOOK IT / THE STUDIOS

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio

    WHEN: Thursday to May 1

    ADMISSION: $30 (Intrusions and Dark Room); $35 (Ophelia and Recalling Mother); Season pass of $122 for four standard tickets. Raw productions are free, pre-register at www.esplanade.com/thestudios

 
 
 

"But then, we were also like, no, there's Joel somewhere, so we can't make women the theme," she says with a laugh, referring to playwright Joel Tan, who is directing a piece written by poet Pooja Nansi.

Apart from gender, another strong thread emerged and that was the idea of memory.

From performers offering glimpses into their lives and experiences, to explorations of the subconscious, The Studios looks at the fiction of memory, revealing both its power and its vulnerability.

The season opens with Cake Theatrical Productions' Ophelia, a reimagining of Shakespeare's much-loved Hamlet that wrests the spotlight away from the Danish prince, letting the object of his affection - the troubled Ophelia - take centre stage.

Then, starting March 24, comes Checkpoint Theatre's Recalling Mother. This intimate performance sees Claire Wong and Noorlinah Mohamed, old friends and old hands in the theatre scene, speaking about life with their mothers.

It is the project's 10th anniversary. Recalling Mother was first staged in 2006 and 2009, and most recently, in New York last year.

And actress Jean Ng and dancer Joavien Ng unite for Intrusions, a show that delves into the gauzy world of dreams.

"Being independent artists, this magnitude of support in terms of space, time and funding, and trust is extremely crucial and rare. It allows independent artists to excavate and sift through their creative process," Joavien Ng, who is in her 40s, says of The Studios experience.

"Sometimes, artists can be put together for two to three weeks and be expected to present a new creation after that. I want to believe that this unrealistic practice and demand is and will be changing."

The season wraps up with theatremaker Edith Podesta's Dark Room, which takes a peek into prison life.

It returns as a full-fledged show after making waves as a budding performance called Dark Room x8 on the Raw platform in 2014. At that time, it focused only on men but this time, it introduces a female inmate and the families of ex- offenders.

Podesta, 35, says Raw gave her the chance to hear from the audience and shape the final product. It helped her realise that once a prison sentence is handed down, it is also given to family members as "they have their own parallel journey outside the prison walls".

Audiences can watch two free shows under the Raw platform.

One is You Are Here, a one- woman show reflecting on Nansi's past and her experiences. Another is Jemima Yong's All About My Mother, which gets under the skin of the archetype of the matriarch.

Ms Fezhah says The Studios will continue to be a source of support for independent artists and companies that may need a boost.

"What we are doing here, especially for our independent artists, is giving them that space to experiment, to explore, to take risks and maybe not worry so much about, 'Will all this come together? Who will help me market this?' - all of those concerns.

"I think if we're able to get people to start thinking about what each piece has to offer - what do they feel coming out of Dark Room or reflect on their own lives after watching Recalling Mother - I think we've done enough."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'Women take centre stage'. Print Edition | Subscribe