Basically, there are two kinds of stimuli for the competition: the specific and the non-specific. The specific stimulus is really self-explanatory. It could be a word, an object, a concept or an idea. For example, last year (2009), one for the specific stimulus was “TAXI”. As ever, many people asked questions like, “what kind of taxi?”, “does it have a be a real taxi? toy taxi can?”, “can I talk about the taxi driver instead?” … and all I say is that the use of this stimulus has to be integral to the play: the story/narrative of the play and/or be used as a symbol or motif in the play. I think that is usually the most difficult part. I remember the first 24-hr competition which was held in the previous TheatreWorks premises at Fort Canning Park, I used “GARLIC” as a stimulus and people just freaked out.
Most of the time, the more common the item, the more difficult it is to integrate.
Something like mentioning “TAXI” in a line of conversations (eg: did you take a taxi or a bus to come here? I took a taxi) is obviously not going to fly. Last year, we have had some rather ingenious use of the taxi idea: one entry used it in a dream sequence where the character was shoved into a taxi and imagines being chased all over Beijing (also a stimulus from last year). The writer used this as a kind of emotional encapsulation of the characters’ inner fears and entrapment. It was a bit clumsy but it worked quite nicely and made sense as part of the whole piece. And the taxi also made a later appearance which gave the story a nice twist.
I hope I won’t be receiving many ‘dream sequences’ this year after this revelation. It only worked within the scope of the play submitted.
It is really up to the writer to, in the words of the fabulous Tim Gunn, “MAKE IT WORK!!”.
The non-specific stimulus is the most fun to do. I remember in 2006 when we went to the Aloha Changi Village, I asked for one empty Chalet and I scattered clothing onto the master-bedroom bed and made the contestants peek into it from the outside. And at midnight the night before, I made them listen to a piece of music by Ryuchi Sakamoto (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dt3QF_Qaztg) called A DAY A GORILLA GIVES A BANANA. I think that freaked people out more.
The thing about non-specific stimuli is that it really is quite open to intepretation and most contestants don’t ask me any questions – I mean, clothes strewn on a bed and a song? What questions can one ask?
The judges have often felt that the use of the non-specific stimuli is more creative and imaginative and I think that’s because the contestants really let their imagination rip.
And I do hope this year’s contestants will do too.