Work-life balance and marriage inspires Nine Years Theatre’s new play See You, Anniversary

It has been four years since Nelson Chia and Mia Chee last acted opposite each other onstage in a two-hander. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE – Real-life husband and wife Nelson Chia and Mia Chee play a couple obsessed with marking anniversaries in Nine Years Theatre’s (NYT) latest production.

See You, Anniversary, written and directed by Chia, is on at the Drama Centre Black Box from Thursday to Sept 25.

While theatre audiences are familiar with Chia’s work as playwright and director, he has not acted in NYT’s recent productions.

The 50-year-old says: “I never wanted to leave acting. But when we started Nine Years, I had to helm productions as director and writer. I accumulated a lot of good work, but what I sacrificed was acting opportunities.”

It has been four years since the couple last acted opposite each other onstage in a two-hander.

It was 2019’s Love Letters, a translation of A.R. Gurney’s acclaimed play, that helped spur the writing of See You, Anniversary.

Chia says: “A lot of the two-handers about couple relations lack a local context. I didn’t want a Western play. I wanted more Singapore context, so I had to write it.”

Despite having racked up multiple playwriting credits, he says: “Sometimes, I hesitate to call myself a playwright. I tend to collect stories, and I observe how people talk and respond to certain things. Then it all comes pouring out when I write.”

This play draws on his relationship with Chee. The couple, whose twin children are 18, have known each other for more than 20 years. They have juggled love and work for 10 of those years as co-founders of NYT, Singapore’s only contemporary Mandarin theatre group.

Chee says dryly of her husband: “The worst thing is that at 2am, this person will turn around and tell you something about work.”

The 44-year-old actress, who often takes on leading roles in NYT’s productions and plays an administrative role behind the scenes, says they had to develop work-life balance.

“We tried to separate work and life at first, but realised it does not work like that. We learnt to be fluid about things. We can talk about kids, then we switch and talk about work.”

Chia adds: “It’s about the mindset. We can talk about anything and we can agree to disagree. I don’t need to win the argument.”

Nelson Chia (right) and Mia Chee, co-founders of Nine Years Theatre, are staging a new play titled See You, Anniversary. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Chee says that ageing and maturing also helps the process – a theme explored in See You, Anniversary.

The play’s conceit of a couple celebrating anniversaries evolved into a story about time.

Chia says: “What does it mean when we celebrate something when you’re 21 or 50? Life becomes harder. Is it harder to celebrate when life is harder?”

He adds that couples evolve, especially those married with children. “We start as two people. Then, when you marry, all your relatives come together and you have kids. But when the kids grow up, you become two again.”

Chee says the play has been a timely reminder for her, and for long-time partners, to value their mates.

“When you spend 24 hours with a person, sometimes you forget about love. You just want to get on with life and you may not hear 100 per cent of what each other says. But this is a reminder to treasure each other.”

Book it

What: See You, Anniversary
Where: Drama Centre Black Box, 03-01 National Library, 100 Victoria Street
When: Sept 15 to 25, Tuesdays to Fridays, 8pm; Saturdays and Sundays, 3 and 8pm
Admission: $38

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