Twenty-seven students from the Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) will present an original, devised play about refugees at this year's M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival.
Working under the tutelage of director Jean Ng, 48, the students will dance, sing and act in the show titled Nonsense. The script is developed based on the individual stories of each student.
Ng, who has been working with students from the association for the past 15 years, says: "I have grown up with some of them and seeing how different they are now from three or five years ago just makes me so happy.
"So many of them have gained so much confidence from theatre. The joy they bring me is immeasurable."
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Difficult social issues such as mental illness, inter-racial relationships and refugees take centre stage at this year's festival, the only annual showcase for youth theatre in Singapore, presented by ArtsWok Collaborative.
Taking on the theme The Other, the festival is back for its third run and aims to showcase original and socially engaged work from youth.
BOOK IT / M1 PEER PLEASURE YOUTH THEATRE FESTIVAL
WHERE: Various venues at Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, 1 Esplanade Drive
WHEN: July 22 to Aug 5, various timings
ADMISSION: $20 for festival plays; free admission for community dialogues
Ms Ngiam Su-Lin, 43, co-producer of the festival, says: "The focus is cast on our attitudes towards difference, how open and empathetic we are and our willingness to encounter difference.
"This means not shying away from issues that can challenge us, but in the process, enable us to grow and mature. We want to invite young people to expand their worldview, think critically and exercise their heart muscles."
Another festival highlight is a commissioned play by emerging youth playwright Sim Yan Ying, 21, who is doing a double major in theatre and psychology at New York University.
Titled Without Reason, her play highlights the struggles of negotiating inter-racial relationships and identities in modern-day Singapore.
Sim says: "I wrote Without Reason as a way for me to get to know another race better and to understand my racial privilege. I was also inspired by the experience of a close friend who was struggling with an inter-racial relationship."
Other works in the festival include a play based on crowdsourced stories about mental health issues staged by youth arts collective Unsaid and a performance about the influence of social media by St Anthony's Canossian Secondary School.
Hands-on workshops from the festival's M1 Theatre Ninja Programme also give youth an opportunity to learn theatre skills from professionals in the industry.
Without Reason has received an Advisory 16 (some mature content) rating from the Infocomm Media Development Authority due to racial and religious stereotypes that appear in the play. There are no restrictions on admission.
The organisers have also put together a series of community dialogue sessions for the public to discuss artistic processes and social issues behind the plays with the artists, performers and other practitioners involved.
Ms Ngiam says: "These are plays with important social issues that need to be addressed and young people have important views that need to be aired, heard and discussed. The festival is a safe and constructive platform for these modes of expression and dialogue to take place."