Down Syndrome students stage play about refugees at youth theatre festival

Reuben Khanal (above) and Celest Teo are among 27 students from the Down Syndrome Association who will perform in Nonsense, a play about refugees, at the M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival.
Reuben Khanal (above) and Celest Teo are among 27 students from the Down Syndrome Association who will perform in Nonsense, a play about refugees, at the M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival.PHOTO: TAN NGIAP HENG
Reuben Khanal and Celest Teo (above) are among 27 students from the Down Syndrome Association who will perform in Nonsense, a play about refugees, at the M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival.
Reuben Khanal and Celest Teo (above) are among 27 students from the Down Syndrome Association who will perform in Nonsense, a play about refugees, at the M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival.PHOTO: TAN NGIAP HENG

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

    INFO: Go to www.peerpleasure.org for more information.Tickets available via Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'Youth theatre spotlights mental illness, refugees'. Print Edition | Subscribe