Indie works of intimate theatre inspired by ice skating, poetry and fathers

Colours is inspired by T.S. Eliot's meditative poems known as the Four Quartets.
Colours is inspired by T.S. Eliot's meditative poems known as the Four Quartets.PHOTO: CHEN ZHIRONG

SINGAPORE - If artist Eng Kai Er sells out all four shows of her upcoming production Blunt Knife, she will just cover rental costs for creating and performing the dance-plus-theatrical performance inspired by her teen years as an ice skater.

Being seen is her main goal, so "I didn't want to make the tickets too expensive," says the 35-year-old, who expects an audience of about 20 at a time for Blunt Knife. It runs from June 6 to 9 at the P7:1SMA studio at Stamford Arts Centre.

She adds: "I'm not sure about my long-term strategy for sustained contribution to the arts, but for the short-term this works out for me."

Blunt Knife is one of three productions this month and next that were created for intimate audiences of 20 to 120 at a time and are entirely funded by the creators themselves.

This week, independent company Split Theatrical Productions presents its fourth play, Colours, from May 17 to 19 at the 80-seater Centre 42 Black Box. Colours is inspired by T.S. Eliot's meditative poems known as the Four Quartets. The work is written and directed by 29-year-old Darryl Lim, the founder of Split and a full-time teacher who funds one production a year with his savings.

And next month, artist Sharul Channa directs Papa, a series of sketches inspired by her - and the cast's - relationship with fathers and fatherhood. It runs from June 14 to 16 at the 120-seater Black Box at the Drama Centre.

Channa, 32, is well known for her stand-up comedy and is gaining recognition for her theatrical monologues such as Crazy Poor Sita, a black comedy about poverty in Singapore, which was staged in March at the Drama Centre Black Box.

Papa is part of her growing interest in Hindi theatre - a relatively new but growing part of the homegrown scene in Singapore. (Singapore has long hosted Hindi theatre imported from India instead.)The play is in Hindi and English, with English surtitles.

Both Lim and Channa estimate that their works racked up at least $10,000 in production costs.

  • BOOK IT

  • COLOURS

    WHERE: Black Box, Centre 42, 42 Waterloo Street

    WHEN: May 17, 8pm; May 18, 3pm and 8pm; May 19, 3pm.

    ADMISSION: $30 from tinyurl.com/colours-split-2019. Limited seats.

  • BLUNT KNIFE

    WHERE: P7:1SMA studio, #03-01 Stamford Arts Centre, 155 Waterloo Street

    WHEN: June 6 to 9, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $16 from bluntknife.peatix.com

    INFO: Advisory 16 (some mature content).

  • PAPA

    WHERE: Drama Centre Black Box, Level 5, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: June 14, 8pm; June 15, 3pm and 8pm; June 16, 3pm

    ADMISSION: $35 from papatheplay.peatix.com

Channa says: "I do my corporate shows so I can do this work, otherwise I might go mad. It's a selfish reason - I'm developing my skills as a creator and director."

All three artists say that when it comes to intimate projects close to their hearts, they prefer to go solo rather than work with established theatre companies or ask for funding as they do not want any external influence.

Lim says: "I don't want to write under someone else's voice. If I work for an established theatre company it would be easier, but I might have to imitate their voice."

He does ask established theatremakers to give feedback on his work but he is committed to developing his own style and "voice".

Similarly, Channa has taken playwrighting and directing masterclasses from local theatremakers but does not want her work in Hindi theatre to be influenced by the styles and "rigour" of more established companies. "The Hindi theatre scene is too new. The rawness of the theatre that's coming up might get lost," she says.

She adds: "I'm open to learning but I don't want to curb my vision. The day I say, 'This is my work, please produce it for me,' others have a say in it. If it doesn't fall in line with their vision, I don't want to argue and defend my point of view."

The production costs are worth it, say all three. Dancer-choreographer Eng has been producing her own indie shows since 2009, when she was in Sweden doing her doctorate in infection biology. "Nobody wanted to work with me. They didn't take me seriously because I didn't go to dance school," says the former research scientist, who gave up that part of her life to focus on the arts. "My advice to others is, 'Don't audition and ask people to select you. Select yourself and do your own stuff'."

Lim adds: "People save up to go for vacation, I save up to do productions. Vacations are experiences and productions, the devising process, are a life-changing experience for myself and everyone involved. Isn't that better?"