Green light for Drama Box's forum theatre festival

Drama Box's two inflatable theatres, affectionately named "GoLi", on an open field in Serangoon for its Forum Theatre Festival 2015.
Drama Box's two inflatable theatres, affectionately named "GoLi", on an open field in Serangoon for its Forum Theatre Festival 2015.PHOTO: DRAMA BOX/FACEBOOK

Singapore theatre group Drama Box has received a licence from the Media Development Authority (MDA) to go ahead with their upcoming forum theatre festival. The group received the licence for the week-long outdoor festival on Thursday, just one day before its opening on Friday.

The group's artistic director, Kok Heng Leun, was disappointed with what felt like a last-minute approval.

He says the group was aware that one of their plays in the festival, Trick Or Threat, "would probably be more controversial because of its themes", and had approached the MDA in February in the hopes of getting an early indication of whether the script needed an advisory so they could tweak the script if necessary. They were notified last week that the play would be given an advisory for "mature content".

"It gave us no time to make any contingency plans," Kok says.

Trick Or Threat (2007), about a possible MRT bombing and the strain it exerts on race relations, has been lauded by grassroots leaders and the community for its ability to sort through potentially sensitive issues pertaining to race and religion, and how to deal with similar crises.

It is the opening performance at the forum theatre festival, which will take place in inflatable theatres on an open field outside Nex shopping mall.

Forum theatre allows audience members to step into the actors' shoes to change a play's outcome. The theatre genre has had a fraught history in Singapore; from 1993 to 2003, no official funding was given to forum theatre plays.

Another production at the festival received an advisory for mature content and coarse language: Minus, about a young Indonesian girl who ends up trapped in the sex trade in Singapore. It is helmed by Sylvia Lee from the non-profit EmancipAsia, a group that combats human trafficking in the Asia-Pacific region, and will be performed by members of Buds Youth Theatre on July 5 at 4pm. The play will be about 20 minutes long, with interventions and discussions after.

For these two performances, Drama Box will have to pull down a canvas flap over the entrances to the inflatable theatres so that the shows can take place in "an enclosed space". They will also put signs outside the theatres indicating the advisories given.

Drama Box had wanted to give the public easy access to the performances - which depend on their interactive element - and Kok is not entirely pleased with the stipulation that these two plays must be performed in an enclosed area. He says that this was not explicitly stated in the MDA's guidelines, and that the group had deliberately chosen an open area with lower footfall as a compromise.

The Straits Times understands that MDA had requested that Drama Box stage Trick Or Threat in an enclosed space on March 30, consistent with previous indoor stagings of the show, and that the authority was only able to assess the suitability of the theatre structure last week when the inflatable theatres were being set up.

This is not the first time a theatre group has received a performance licence so close to the opening of their shows.

Last year, Dream Academy received a licence three days before the opening of their popular revue, Dim Sum Dollies: The History Of Singapore Part 2. The show contained some politically themed sketches that referenced the escape of former Jemaah Islamiah leader Mas Selamat Kastari from detention in 2008 and the 1987 Marxist conspiracy arrests.

And in 2011, Wild Rice's acclaimed election docu-drama Cooling Off Day received its licence on the day it opened, Aug 10. The licence was dated Aug 8.