Poetry Festival Singapore features first poetic drama Benches

Singaporean actress Ranice Tay (left) and American theatre-maker Giovanni Ortega (left below) put on Benches, a coming-of-age play that incorporates poems written by them.
Singaporean actress Ranice Tay (above) and American theatre-maker Giovanni Ortega put on Benches, a coming-of-age play that incorporates poems written by them.PHOTOS: FERN YU, COURTESY OF GIOVANNI ORTEGA
Singaporean actress Ranice Tay (left) and American theatre-maker Giovanni Ortega (left below) put on Benches, a coming-of-age play that incorporates poems written by them.
Singaporean actress Ranice Tay and American theatre-maker Giovanni Ortega (above) put on Benches, a coming-of-age play that incorporates poems written by them.PHOTOS: FERN YU, COURTESY OF GIOVANNI ORTEGA

US theatre-maker Giovanni Ortega and home-grown actress Ranice Tay are staging a two-hander at Poetry Festival Singapore

Poetry Festival Singapore takes the stage in its fourth year with its first poetic drama.

A highlight of the annual festival, which runs from July 27 to 29, will be Benches, a coming-of-age two-hander by American theatre-maker Giovanni Ortega and Singaporean actress Ranice Tay that incorporates poems written by both of them.

"Benches happened because there were too many questions and too many things we wanted to say about our relationship with our grandparents," says Tay, 22, a final-year theatre studies major at the National University of Singapore.

It was challenging to find the breath and rhythm of the piece, she adds, and to connect everyday life with heightened, poetic expression.

"We didn't want to run the risk of sounding too 'beautiful' at the expense of being relatable and truthful.

"I think the poetry in this play doesn't just exist in the words, but also in the texture of the movement, dance and songs."

  • BOOK IT / POETRY FESTIVAL SINGAPORE

  • WHERE: The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane

    WHEN: July 27 to 29, various timings

    ADMISSION: Free unless otherwise stated, register at pfs2018.peatix.com before July 27, 10pm

    INFO: www.poetryfestival.sg

  • BENCHES

  • WHERE: Play Den, The Arts House

    WHEN: July 27, 8.30pm; July 28, 4.30 and 8.30pm; July 29, 4.30pm

    ADMISSION: $20 from benches-sg.peatix.com

It is part of a festival line-up that runs the gamut from migrant worker poetry readings to the Poetry Proletariat Factory, where jump-suited "workers" bang out poems to order on typewriters.

This year's festival theme is "in spirit", meant to interrogate how the mysterious breaks out of the material.

Festival director Eric Tinsay Valles says: "Multiculturalism and religious harmony no doubt work better in Singapore than in other places. But still, poetry can anchor them in a more primal way and let them thrive more than legal strictures. Poetry feeds the soul and makes us recognise the other as another self."

Poet Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingde will moderate a discussion of spiritual writing with writers Gwee Li Sui, Krishna Udayasankar and Nuraliah Norasid, while poets such as Edwin Thumboo, Grace Chia and Aaron Lee will do an inter-faith reading, accompanied by choir PsalmiDeo.

South-east Asia's first Mongolian morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) and guitar fusion band Gima will play on the festival's opening night and at a July 29 forum on Chinese-language poetry and songs.

Two events will focus on women in poetry. Free Food For The Soul will feature readings from seven up-and-coming young female poets, while humanitarian group Sanrakshan will co-organise Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves, a poetry reading in English and Tamil.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2018, with the headline 'Poetry gets dramatic'. Print Edition | Subscribe