Aids play about Singapore's first openly HIV-positive person to open M1 festival

Sean Tobin, who leads M1 Fringe Festival, wants to give local art and artists space to develop

Australian theatre practitioner Sean Tobin.
Australian theatre practitioner Sean Tobin.
With/Out by Loo Zihan (about) will kick off the M1 Fringe Festival. -- PHOTO: OLIVIER HENRY

The 11th annual M1 Singapore Fringe Festival will take place in January under the wing of a new artistic director, Australian theatre practitioner Sean Tobin.

It is the first time in the festival's history that there has been a change in leadership. Previous editions were jointly helmed by Cultural Medallion recipient Alvin Tan and playwright Haresh Sharma.

Tobin says that it is a "real honour" to be appointed for a three-year term and adds: "One big aim is to not mess it up. The Fringe has been going on for 10 years now and has done a lot of things really well. My first job is to keep that happening. Keep it alive, fresh, on people's minds, keep it relevant, keep people coming back."

Tobin, 42, will cut his teeth as festival director on the theme Art & Loss, which was decided before he took over the reins.

He says: "Our concern was that a theme like loss could end up super melancholy and grim, but I think that strong art tends to be multi-dimensional.

"There is a real range of work and often the work might be as funny as it is sad. It's often as fantastic as it is real."

The festival will host 18 productions from Jan 14 to 25 and will feature a range of activities including theatre and dance performances, exhibitions, forums and masterclasses.

Kicking off the festival is With/Out by Loo Zihan, an interpretation of Completely With/Out Character by Paddy Chew, a play about living with Aids which The Necessary Stage put on in 1999.

Chew, who died a few months after the production's conclusion that year, was Singapore's first openly HIV- positive person.

Loo, 30, says: "As a queer person, I have always been inspired by Paddy's strength and fortitude. I often wonder, if I was put in his position, whether I would have the courage to step out like he did."

Loo pored through video documen- tation and other archival material to recreate Chew's performance, which was an uphill task as some production folders at The Necessary Stage had been damaged due to water leakage at the company's premises. However, Loo managed to find taped performances from three evenings of the play.

He says: "Even though the sound and image quality of these tapes is primitive by today's standards, it became clear that it was possible to stitch together a previously non-existent video documentation of the show in its entirety."

This material will be shown publicly for the first time in With/Out.

Other festival highlights include The Duchamp Syndrome, by Por Piedad Teatro, El Trapo Teatro and The Play Company, from Mexico and the United States. The play, which will be performed in Spanish with English surtitles, is about a lonely janitor, Juan, who is obsessed with the world of stand-up comedy.

There will also be an exhibition of works by local photographer Nguan, titled How Loneliness Goes. The series, which was shot around Singapore, focuses on the impossibility of connection in modern life.

Both Loo's and Nguan's works are ideal for Tobin, who wants to "build confidence in local independent artists and works". Tobin says the festival "can be a space to re-stage and redevelop existing local work, but keep pushing it to be stronger and keep reaching new audiences".

"I am very open to continue that approach, where it's possible. We need to keep believing in the long-term development of our art and our artists."

For details, go to

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.