A youth theatre festival opening today at the Esplanade aims to turn peer pressure into Peer Pleasure.
Featuring performances by young people from five pre-tertiary institutions, as well as workshops and dialogue sessions, this four-day festival is set to become an annual platform where budding theatre-makers aged between 13 and 18 have the opportunity to learn from professionals, present their work on a public stage and eventually put forward work with a strong sense of social consciousness.
The festival's artistic director, Cultural Medallion recipient and theatre director Alvin Tan, tells Life: "It's youth theatre created by youth - not just for young people, but also for adults."
The founder of The Necessary Stage (TNS) wants to rewrite the assumptions that theatre by students is less valid than that created by professional companies here.
Tan says: "A lot of good work is done in schools, and you see a lot of talent in schools, but it doesn't often spill out into the public."
BOOK IT/ PEER PLEASURE
WHERE: Esplanade Recital Studio
WHEN: Today, Thursday and Friday at 7.30pm; tomorrow at 3 and 7.30pm
ADMISSION: $18 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg). Excludes booking fee
WHERE: Esplanade Rehearsal Studio
WHEN: Wednesday or Friday, 3 to 5.30pm
ADMISSION: $30from Sistic. Excludes booking fee
INFO: An interactive drama workshop suitable for ages 13 to 16. For bookings, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
WHERE: Open Stage at library@esplanade
WHEN: Aug 1, 11am to 1pm
ADMISSION: This dialogue session is free, but registration is required at chatabout.peatix.com
Peer Pleasure is presented by ArtsWok Collaborative, a company which promotes arts-based community development.
ArtsWok co-founder Ngiam Su-Lin was formerly in charge of the now-defunct M1 Youth Connection, a youth theatre festival organised by The Necessary Stage from 1998 to 2004, which would eventually evolve into the popular M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. Then, Peer Pleasure was a theatre double-bill in M1 Youth Connection. It made a comeback at last year's Fringe and its four-day run at the Esplanade Recital Studio, featuring performances by secondary school students, was sold out.
While this year's plays were drawn from what had impressed Tan as a judge at last year's Singapore Youth Festival competition, there are plans to move away from that method of selection. For instance, future editions might see new work by emerging playwrights mentored by more experienced writers.
This year, students will perform excerpts from several Singaporean plays, such as Chong Tze Chien's critically acclaimed Poop (performed by Catholic Junior College), where a young, terminally ill girl must come to terms with the abrupt death of her father. Shakespeare's Macbeth gets a Peranakan twist in Sakinah Insari's Nonya Macbeth (National Junior College), while Wang Meiyin's The Female Of The Species (Hwa Chong Institution) looks at issues faced by girls and women here.
Ms Ngiam notes that the youth wings of many theatre groups are targeted at the tertiary demo- graphic. Peer Pleasure wants to give younger artist hopefuls the spotlight "to do work outside of the school context" that is not competition-driven and that will give students a chance to work with community groups and arts groups.
Peer Pleasure also gives students a chance to learn about theatre production and what goes on behind the scenes. This year, a group of 10 were mentored by freelance production stage manager Jason Ng.
One of them, production intern Nguyen Thi Hong Ngoc, 18, from Catholic Junior College, has taken on many roles from controlling the lights in a play to being a part of the backstage crew. She says: "One of the most interesting things I've learnt is how to communicate effectively with people from the many departments in the theatre, such as the producer and director. It involves soft skills which you can make use of later on in life."
The festival has a budget of about $90,000, with support from the likes of the National Arts Council, Arts Fund, the National Youth Council and the National Institute of Education's Centre for Arts Research in Education.
Tan says: "For Peer Pleasure, we don't want to put on 'instant noodle' plays. Our curriculum is process and collaboration. Young people will go through that and realise the rigour that is required in theatre-making."