Big Thank You to South East CDC, PUB, judges, all staff and everybody else that helped in one way or another to make this happen!
Open Category (19 years and above)
2nd: Chye Shing Jye Jacke – The CheongSam Mafia
2nd: Fok Jian Liang Christopher – Walitha’walitha
3rd: Alexander Ian Mitchell – Remembering
3rd: Ong Yi Ling – Synaesthesia
There is no 1st Prize for Open Category
Youth Category (13 – 18 years)
1st: Lim Ting Wen Thomas – Eulogy
2nd: Ho Mun Ci Angelica – Unknown
3rd: Chew Wei Shan – I Eat You You Eat Me
Merit: Aruna Narandran – The Only Constant
Special Mention: Tan Kuan Ho Bryan – DykeBorn
Best Blog Entry: Ng Yi-Sheng (Read entry here)
24-HOUR PLAYWRITING COMPETITION 2009
Comments from the Judging Panel
(Prepared by Dr KK Seet – Resident & Chief Judge, together with Ovidia Yu and Tan Tarn How)
Unlike the previous year, where the Peranakan precinct of Joo Chiat left an indelible stamp on participants and resulted in a surfeit of entries exploring cultural heritage issues, this year’s site of the Marina Barrage, with its vast vistas and extensive landscapes, provoked a corresponding expansion of creative imagination. The judges encountered so much variety in theme and descant that it was impossible to pigeonhole entries into particular categories. A reassuring note is the relatively fewer number of screenplays using the vocabulary of film. Our exhortation to participants year after year to be mindful of stage conventions and to see theatrical devices as distinct from cinematic montage obviously bore fruit.
In general, the final shortlist of the Youth Category is stronger than that of the Open Category. There is, in each of the four prize-winning plays, some highly original sleight of hand that dazzled and inspired us, whether thematically, structurally or performatively. At this juncture, I hesitate in giving away the ranking too soon, and so my brief appraisal of each play in the final shortlist is in no meritorious order. The entry, “The Only Constant” personifies change as the only constant, and juxtaposes frenetic crowd scenes emblematic of teeming, evolving life with the intimate tableaux of change as this impacts on one family. The entry “I Eat You, You Eat Me” is founded on an interesting premise, where a child’s mindset, as it copes with a tragedy that it cannot fully comprehend, effects a seismic shift on the perspective of the adult world, in the vein of receiving wisdom from the mouth of babes. To understand death as re-absorption into one large food chain, where source in one instance is regenerated as product in another, also aligns with forms of pantheistic philosophy where the spirit resides in all nature. The entry, “Unknown”, befitting its enigmatic title, plays with the meta-narrative of performativity. A dark, almost Pinteresque fable of mind games interjected by pregnant pauses, black humor, ellipsis and counter-turns, this deliberately ambivalent tale of a man held hostage amid suggestions of suburban dyfunctionality, toys with notions of truth, fiction and what our minds can be seduced into believing. Finally, the entry “Eulogy” takes us on a lyrical yet emotive journey, as a son grapples with the memories of what his late father represented. “Eulogy” in particular employs a potent yet minimalist mise-en-scene. An ensemble functions in multiple roles and the late father is resurrected by different members of the chorus to demonstrate his multi-faceted character as well as the son’s increasing understanding. The trajectory, tracing the passage from doubt and cynicism to total acceptance, is wrought with admirable finesse and psychological credibility. The cherry in the cake has to be the fine distinction it draws between concepts of happiness and a child-like joy.
In comparison, the winners of the Open Category, while still highly commendable, are often flawed by one or two devices in their scripts. Once again, my observations are no indication of the final ranking, because I want to keep all of you on tenterhooks for a while longer. The entry “Cheongsam Mafia” falls under the genre of entertaining chick-lit as a localised cross between the Cashmere Mafia and the Gossip Girls, with its know-it-all nod at Singapore high society. It’s alarmingly well made, with the denouement already hinted at in the expositional opening scene, and the various stimuli ingeniously incorporated. But it also risks being rather pedestrian and formulaic, like a homespun Noel Coward soiree, by merely delivering what it sets out to do and not aiming very high. The entry “Walitha’walitha” is an odd excrescence in a Singapore-based playwriting competition as it evokes the era of the Maccassan infiltration into the Antipodies. One wonders if the contestant has just been studying anthropology or conducting research into Australian history and fauna, with this piece as an intellectual exercise of sorts. Despite token references to Singapore and a smatter of local patois, this is essentially a landscape inhabited by aboriginal deities like Walitha’walitha, or tribal spirits like Wurrumu. It is provocative in its own way, with its post-colonial narrative, its advancement of the idea that sacrifices have to be made in the name of progress, its stand on wildlife conservation. And it also devotes much thought to theatricality, with its melange of life-sized talking animals that range from a possum to a koala. Yet the periodic intrusion of the Didgeridoo only serves to remind us that the realms it conjures are wondrous but far-flung from Singapore and her concerns. The entry “Remembering” competently yokes together two forms of remembering: remembering significant events in our lives as filtered through trying to remember where our car was parked, by using the stimulus of the haze as a conceit for the element of doubt that can obscure our vision yet ironically clarify it by acknowledging the innate slipperiness of all recollection. It dissects the central relationship and the jockeying for power between the two protagonists convincingly, while suggesting that a major agenda behind the struggle is a desperate grasp at some measure of certainty or control over our lives. However, the introduction of a talking cat Watanabe brings in an obtrusive element of the surreal that dissipates the pivotal dynamics between the man and the woman. Last but not least, “Synaesthesia” is a script infused with an artist’s sensibility that delights in the modalities of sensory perception. The language and imagery, in particular the use of colours and the multivalent signs, are undoubtedly engaging, but the configuration on stage is primarily static, with much talk and little action. There is also insufficient exploitation of a fractured chronology for potential connections, parallels or reversals. In the end, everything develops in a piecemeal manner.
Before we announce the pecking order of the winning scripts, I would like to give a special mention to one of the entries. A contestant was inspired by the stimuli to write a prose poem instead of a play. In this case, the stimuli were very organically integrated. the lines passionate and compelling, and the final product reduced more than one judge to tears. While we recognise the prevailing rules of this competition, we also applaud this contestant’s bravado in not letting his creativity be confined or encumbered by prescriptions. While it is not ultimately a play per se, it qualifies as a piece that can be enacted or dramatised as performance art. For these considerations alone and in view of the eloquence of the writing, we shall award it a special literary prize, not cash but a literary text.
To conclude, I wish to thank my fellow judges Ovidia Yu and Tan Tarn How for their discerning selection. I also wish to thank every participant for his or her enthusiasm and most of all, stamina. And to the deserving winners one and all, may this spur you to even greater heights of literary achievement!
CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL WINNERS!
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