How else to prepare for a play based on a novel about visual artists? Chia, 45, says: "There's the meeting of three art forms here." He adapted the book into a theatre script and will direct the production commissioned by the Singapore International Festival of Arts.
Yeng's novel was published in Chinese as Hua Shi in 2011 and won the Singapore Literature Prize a year later. It follows the lives of artists who share a studio and art master. With its large cast of characters, whose lives take them across Asia over the decades, it is a map and commentary on the region's changing social and political landscape.
Chia plans to have a monochrome set design, like a canvas. The actors are "inks or colours for me to paint", he says.
Nine Years Theatre stalwarts Tay Kong Hui and Mia Chee play Yan Pei, the art teacher, and his estranged wife. Timothy Wan plays the artist Si Xian, whose love for his childhood friend Ning Fang, played by Ellison Yuyang Tan, is thwarted by her desire to study traditional music in India. Neo Hai Bin plays Jian Xiong, an artist whose communist leanings send him to hide in the Malayan jungle. He also plays the model Ji Zong, whose session posing for the artists is a significant thread in the novel and play. Other roles are taken by Hang Qian Chou, Jean Toh, Jodi Chan, Darren Guo, Chen Yiyou, Toh Wee Peng and Chng Yi Kai.
Chee, the co-founder of Nine Years Theatre, says the troupe had been considering this project, but it would have taken 10 years to budget for it. The festival commission gave them the push they needed, Chia says. "No, it made us leap."
Nabilah Said recommends
LE SYNDROME IAN
In 1979, 14-year-old French schoolboy Christian Rizzo had his first nightclub experience in London while on an exchange programme. He expected to hear the sounds of disco, but instead heard the tortured stirrings of English rock band Joy Division, fronted by singer Ian Curtis.
"It was strange for me," says Rizzo, now 52 and the director of Centre Choregraphique National de Montpellier in France.
"I expected happy, disco music, but I heard the sound of a new wave arriving - it was dark and poetic."
People also danced to that music differently - "it was something very inside, abstract but electric" - which made him start thinking about body movement differently.
In Le Syndrome Ian, Rizzo looks at the beauty of clubbing dance, complete with pulsing beats, smoke machine and lights. It is performed by nine professional dancers.
This is the first time the work is being presented in Asia. It has been performed in countries such as Germany and Portugal.
Le Syndrome Ian is the last in Rizzo's trilogy of "anonymous dance" works. The first two looked at partner dances and community dances.
The 60-minute piece has a dark side as well. Curtis committed suicide in 1980 at age 24 and clubs have come to be associated with drugs, the Aids crisis and, in recent years, terror attacks.
"Clubs are a place to celebrate life, but there is also the opposite side. There are some clues in the piece that something might not be working so well," says Rizzo.
Where: School of the Arts Drama Theatre, 1 Zubir Said Drive When: Aug 24 to 26, 8pm Admission: $45 to 75 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)
Akshita Nanda recommends
MY LAI/AN EVENING WITH KRONOS QUARTET
The San Francisco-based Kronos Quartet are one of the best-known and most influential string groups in the world. They have collaborated with American composers such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich and musicians from Paul McCartney of The Beatles to Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man.
On Aug 31 and Sept 1, the quartet present the Asia-Pacific premiere of My Lai, composed by Jonathan Berger and performed with tenor Rinde Eckert and Vietnamese artist Van-Anh Vanessa Vo. The work is inspired by the American helicopter pilot who tried to stop the horrific massacre of Vietnamese villagers in My Lai.
On Sept 2, the quartet showcase some of their favourites in a special concert.
Where: Drama Centre Theatre, Level 3 National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street When: Aug 31 and Sept 1, 8pm Admission: $45 to $85 from Sistic
An Evening With Kronos Quartet
Where: Drama Centre Theatre, Level 3 National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street When: Sept 2, 8pm Admission: $50 to $110 from Sistic
Olivia Ho recommends
Acclaimed graphic novelist Sonny Liew and theatre director and performer Edith Podesta will be joining forces to bring a comic to life onstage.
Liew, 42, will be creating a comic for the 90-minute piece, which uses the superhero genre as a springboard to explore complex, difficult ideas about ageing and mortality.
"These are issues that all of us face - in ourselves, our parents and loved ones," he says. "At a social level, demographic changes have also made greying populations a serious challenge for many countries."
Both Liew and Podesta, 37, have won strings of accolades for their work recently.
Liew's best-selling graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye was awarded the Singapore Literature Prize last year and is leading this year's nominations for the prestigious Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards.
Podesta's play, B*tch: The Origin Of The Female Species, won Production of the Year and Best Original Script at this year's M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards.
Becoming Graphic will feature sections in which Liew will draw or ink his illustrations live, a process which will be filmed and projected onstage.
Podesta and her team are working on ways of translating the language of comics into that of theatre - for instance, by using lighting to serve as frames, emulating the way panels work in comics.
Such translation is a daunting challenge, says Liew. "Most theatre adaptations of comics seem to adopt the narrative and plots without trying to emulate the form.
"But I think (Podesta's) got all the creative brilliance needed to pull it off."
Where: 72-13, 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road When: Aug 17 and 18, 8pm; Aug 19 and 20, 3 and 8pm Admission: $50 from Sistic