Real Singapore women's stories in art collective's new play

The cast of Every Singaporean Daughter during a rehearsal for the play.
The cast of Every Singaporean Daughter during a rehearsal for the play.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Arts collective Unsaid's first play is about the issues women in Singapore face, from gender stereotypes to sexual harassment

Arts collective Unsaid put out a call online last September: It wanted to hear "real stories from real women".

About 60 women responded and, through interviews, handwritten notes and submissions over the Internet, the youth-led collective got a peek into the trials and tribulations these women faced.

Some of these previously untold stories have found a voice in Unsaid's first play, Every Singaporean Daughter, which runs at the KC Arts Centre from July 15 to 17.

It explores the wide-ranging issues women here cope with, including lingering gender stereotypes, inequality in sport and workplace and sexual misconduct.

Producer Timothy Seet, 23, says Unsaid went the crowdsourcing route so it could inject into the play the experiences of women from all walks of life.

And this, he adds, can help the audience better relate to it: "We want to be able to share a spectrum of experiences and hope that everyone can find a piece of themselves somewhere in the stories."

  • BOOK IT /EVERY SINGAPOREAN DAUGHTER

  • WHERE: KC Arts Centre –Home of SRT,20 Merbau Road

    WHEN: July 15, 7.30pm; July 16, 3.30 and 7.30pm; July 17, 3.30pm

    ADMISSION: $25 from unsaidsg.peatix.com

Among the women who stepped forward was one abandoned by her Singaporean father, leaving her foreigner mother to raise her alone. Another struggled to break free of her traditional family's expectations that a woman should put her husband and not her career first.

As a man producing a play that deals with women, Seet had the chance to learn more intimately about the problems women face - some of them long invisible to him.

While everyone hears about sexism in the workplace, he says that hearing about the extra work women put in to be seen as on a par with their male colleagues, and the struggle some go through to gain respect in the office, was a revelation.

"I'll be the first to admit that I will never fully understand or grasp the complexities of issues women face in their lives. But since learning about the unequal opportunities and prejudices women face, I knew that this wasn't a 'women-only' fight," says Seet, who is pursuing a bachelor's degree in English at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

"It's something we all have to fight together. I think it's time that the new generation takes the reins in this battle against sexism."

The play will be put on by an ensemble cast made up mostly of 20-somethings and centres on two young women.

Wushu athlete Chloe is caught between her love for the sport and her parent's hopes for her, while Iman, who dreams of being a career woman, is shackled by her family's expectations of her to settle down and keep house after graduation.

Director Praveena Cartelli, a 22-year-old graduate from the Lasalle College of the Arts, says she chose to have an ensemble to carry the voices of the various characters living in Singapore: "It was crucial to highlight the significance of telling one's story, in this day and age."

Seet says he wants people to leave the play thinking: Is this what Singaporean women deal with? Why does the gender divide persist? Is there something that can be done?

"The show doesn't have all the answers, but it does something very important: it asks questions and raises awareness, so that the audience will go home and talk about it," he says.

"We're at a very crucial time when young people are talking, and they are talking hard. But I also hope that they ask questions and search for the responses and, from there, hopefully, stand on the side of progress."

Unsaid co-founder Woong Soak Teng, who is from NTU's School of Art, Design and Media, said the collective is a platform where "the arts meet social causes", shedding light and sparking conversations on issues that may go ignored.

Part of the takings from ticket sales will be donated to Babes Pregnancy Crisis Support, which helps teen mothers.

"Teenage pregnancy is still very much a taboo issue in Singapore, so there's very little support dedicated to helping teens dealing with pregnancy," says Woong, 22.

"In that sense, Babes is an organisation that is working to help a cause that is very much 'unsaid' or rarely talked about in our society."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2016, with the headline 'Staging stories left unsaid'. Print Edition | Subscribe