Women run the show at TheatreWorks' new project N.O.W.

The cast of Three Fat Virgins Unassembled, a performance at TheatreWorks N.O.W. 2019: (from left) Munah Bagharib, Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai, Chanel Chan and Zelda Tatiana Ng.
The cast of Three Fat Virgins Unassembled, a performance at TheatreWorks N.O.W. 2019: (from left) Munah Bagharib, Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai, Chanel Chan and Zelda Tatiana Ng.PHOTO: JEANNIE HO

SINGAPORE - From shamanic rituals to stand-up comedy and sexual harassment, the 20 programmes of TheatreWorks' upcoming project span a wide range of subjects, but they have in common one thing: all are by women.

N.O.W. (Not Ordinary Work), launched on Tuesday (May 14), will run for three weeks in July as part of TheatreWorks' Writers' Lab programme and includes theatre, film, exhibitions, workshops and social enterprise.

It is helmed by actress and arts educator Noorlinah Mohamed, who has designed a three-year season for TheatreWorks that will focus on women.

It is the first time that the Singapore arts company has done something so entirely female-centric. "I want to see how far I can go, playing with just women," says Noorlinah, 51. "I've never been in a company of just women, so it's an experiment."

It is not so much a matter of addressing a gap in gender representation in the arts scene, she adds, but of "celebrating the voices present in it, how women work in support of each other".

She and artist Dahlia Osman will be collaborating on an exhibition, Power Of Letters, which will display letters written by women's rights advocates from 1985 to the present.

In a blast from the past, Grace Kalaiselvi will direct Three Fat Virgins Unassembled, a contemporary reworking of Ovidia Yu's seminal 1990s play on female oppression.

"I was pretty scared that it would be so dated," says Yu, 58. "But we were almost disappointed at how little things had changed."

That said, Kalaiselvi, 42, notes that sexual harassment has taken a new slant with the advent of technology - from the sending of unwanted photos of genitalia to sexist jokes in office chat groups - an aspect she plans to incorporate in the reworking.

  • BOOK IT/N.O.W. 2019

  • WHERE: 72-13, Home of TheatreWorks, 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road

    WHEN: July 10 to 28, various dates

    ADMISSION: Various prices

    INFO: notordinarywork.com

Actresses Yeo Yann Yann and Eleanor Tan will be taking on new roles, as Yeo makes her directorial debut with a reading of Tan's new play The Book Of Mothers. "It's nerve-wracking," says Yeo, 42. "When I'm an actor, I put up a character for the audience, but this time I'm presenting to them a house - no, a world."

Family relationships across generations of women also feature in journalist Akshita Nanda's debut novel Nimita's Place (2018), which Edith Podesta will direct a staged reading of.

There will be screenings of four films by female directors, including Innocents (2012) by Singaporean Wong Chen-Hsi, a coming-of-age story about two primary school pupils.

Apotropaic Texts, an installation by poet Marylyn Tan and artist Zarina Muhammad, will explore protective magic and witches or nenek kebayan in Malay folklore.

Comedian Sharul Channa will hold a 10-part stand-up comedy writing workshop for 18 people, which will culminate in a live show. "It's one of those art forms where there is no barrier of age, race or gender," says the 32-year-old. "We need more people talking about menopause or giving birth or working nine to five. We need more voices that are different."