Huayi festival: All The World Is One's Stage for veteran actors

Toy Factory's artistic director Goh Boon Teck.
Toy Factory's artistic director Goh Boon Teck.PHOTO: TOY FACTORY PRODUCTIONS

SINGAPORE - 2020 may have been cancelled thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, but some shows will get another shot at this year's Huayi - Chinese Festival of Arts. The festival, a programme mainstay at the Esplanade since 2003, returns with a smaller hybrid programme this year. The Straits Times highlights three productions at the festival, which runs from Feb 19 to March 14.

Toy Factory's artistic director Goh Boon Teck observes of the past year, marked by the pandemic: "You have so much negativity that you have to swim through."

So for his new show for the Esplanade's Huayi festival, he wants to focus on the good things. "We felt that maybe it's good to present something more spiritual, more uplifting, to see the strength, the survival instinct of the human race."

In All The World Is One's Stage, four new playwrights team up with four veteran actors to share the latter's life stories. The veterans are Yong Ser Pin, Liow Shi Suen, Johnny Ng and Ong Teck Lian.

Goh, 49, says it is a dream come true for him to be able to direct Yong and Ng, as he has known them since he was a theatre newbie. "I played Ser Pin's grandson in 1989 and I was a prop maker for Johnny in Lao Jiu."

He sounds starstruck by Yong, also known as Yang Shi Bin, who was nominated for a Golden Horse for Best Supporting Actor for Wet Season (2019).

"Shi Bin is a delight, a beacon in the rehearsal that illuminates and motivates us. He's so calm and no matter how difficult the text or how many times we change stuff, he isn't mad. I really want to be a theatre practitioner at his age, so patient with everything."

Goh is also relishing this chance to match artistes across generations, with younger playwrights interviewing the older actors for their tales of how they have pursued their love of the arts.

Ng, for example, was an elevator repairman before a near-death experience prompted him to return to his first love - the theatre.

Liow was inspired by her love of radio service Rediffusion and sound to become a voice artiste, dubbing the dialogue for Japanese dramas before making the leap to the stage.

This is the second consecutive year that Goh is directing an anchor production for the festival. He cowrote and directed 7 Sages Of The Bamboo Grove, which opened last year's Huayi.

7 Sages Of The Bamboo Grove by Toy Factory Productions directed and co-written by Goh Boon Teck. PHOTO: TOY FACTORY PRODUCTIONS/ESPLANADE THEATRES ON THE BAY/JACK YAM

On the heels of a challenging year for the arts scene, Goh is determined to see the good. "Of course there are a lot of bad things and we cannot stop them from happening. So you really have to know the brighter side.

"I treasure this period as a time to say thank you, to say that you love being with people that you really want to share your time with."

He hopes to share some of this optimism with the audience. "This piece is just taking the opportunity to remind people. We don't strive to change you. But I hope that in the one hour and 40 minutes, the audience will feel that this world is not that bad after all, our life is not that bad."