Tutor-student ties under the microscope

Poet Euginia Tan (above) is behind the play, Tuition.
Poet Euginia Tan (above) is behind the play, Tuition.PHOTO: ST FILE

In a theatre festival that places little emphasis on mentorship, the irony is not lost on poet Euginia Tan that the idea for her new play, Tuition, came from her former mentor, playwright Joel Tan.

He had mentored her during a playwright residency at the Woodlands Regional Library last year, where she wrote her first play, Holidays, which focuses on the relationships of three friends who find they can be frank with one another only when they are physically apart.

Euginia Tan, 25, says: "He once gave me a prompt to think of any word, so the first word that came to mind was 'parrots'. So I wrote a scene based on parrots. For some reason, that made me think of student-teacher correspondence.

"I feel that we have to mimic a lot of what we are taught, rather than form our own opinions. I find tuition such an intimate setting - you meet someone every week, so the tutor-student relationship becomes very complex."

She explores this in her play, which studies how the relationship between a young boy and his tutor evolves.

At the age of 13, she was bitten by the writing bug when her mother, a magazine editor, asked her to translate an interview with actress Fann Wong, done in Chinese, to English.

She went on to write for a magazine and her editor noticed her inclination for creative writing and encouraged her to pursue it.

She was in the National Arts Council's Mentor Access Program in 2013, where she was mentored by poet Grace-Chia Krakovic.

She has two self-published poetry collections, Songs About Girls and Playing Pretty, and recently released a third collection, Phedra, with publisher Ethos Books.

The bachelorette and only child, who is now a full-time writer, finds writing both plays and poems similar, as "you have to take snapshots of everything in the most distilled version possible and that's the challenge".

Of her writing, Joel Tan says: "When I first met Euginia, her writing was lyrical and experimental with form, owing to her background as a poet.

"But as time went on, she gravitated towards naturalism and became disciplined in her storytelling. She's adaptable and can write in many different ways."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2016, with the headline 'Tutor-student ties under the microscope'. Print Edition | Subscribe