Tag Archives: 2009

Twas the day before the competition‏

I apologise for the corny reference but in some ways, I am looking forward to a ‘transubstantiation’ of a creative kind.

Now is about the time when I start thinking about the stimuli and to be perfectly honest, as of 2pm on the 17th, I have no concrete idea what they will be. Well, I have an idea what 2 of them will be but the other three are quite up in the air.

I did toy with the idea of going really bizarre (like a Golden elephant) or maybe even going literary (like a line from a poem or a famous line from a novel) or even going political (like guantanamo bay) but to be perfectly honest, the more I try to think of something witty, something stimulating, the lamer my ideas are. So I am going to just stew on it for a while – let it simmer nicely in a cauldron at the back of my mind until it spills over.

I remember the late Kuo Pao Kun said to me when I was a younger writer in a writing workshop: “A writer is like a glass – research, imagination and writing techniques are like water filling that same glass. A writer should never write until the glass runneth over.”

It sounded much less hackneyed and very much less cliched when Pao Kun delivered it in Mandarin. But you get the idea.

So my final piece of advice to all participants is : don’t be in too much of a hurry. Afterall, you do have 24 hours. Allow yourself to be ‘filled up’ and don’t rush it.

The biggest thing writers’ face is self-doubt so I urge everyone to just trust in yourself and not give yourself too much pressure.

And to end with the guiding metaphor of this blog entry – just go with the flow.

Robin Loon


To participants of 2009

Hi everyone! It’s Valerie here and I am the project coordinator for the competition this year. Some of you are perhaps, just like me, a first timer at this event. It’s less than 3 days to the camping trip and I hope you are as excited as I am because I’m looking forward to meet all of you!

Right now my desk and storage area is really messy. I’ve got signboards, registration kit materials, first aid, just bought a few big bags of refreshments (in case any one of you goes hungry at midnight), running off to collect banner and tee shirts later, getting volunteers, blah blah blah… The list and planning goes on and on, luckily I’ve got all TheatreWorks staff to help me out. I expect on actual day I’ll be running around like a mad person, setting up, making sure food is there, we’re on schedule, everybody’s happy.. 🙂

We’re doing our best to ensure that you have a fun and safe time here, please bear with us if there are any unsatisfactory areas. Please do not hesitate to feedback to us at the end of the competition and we will improve from there.

Just wanted to say: All the best for the competition, See you there!


P.S. Remember to read and follow instructions that have been sent to you via email, come prepared yes?

From (past winner) Bryan Tan to all participants:

As property agents love to intone, “Location, location, location.”

I mean, how can you resist a playwriting competition set at Marina Barrage? Doesn’t it scream inspiration? Or at least excessive use of water-related imagery?

So slap on your sunscreen and slip on your shades. Flex your neck and crack your knuckles. And for those 24 hours this weekend, just chant the mantra, “Right here, write now.”

Bryan Tan

One Don’t and Two Dos for the 24-Hour Playwriting Competition

Excerpts from 24-Hour Playwriting Competition judge Tan Tarn How’s part of the talk at Bedok Library (June 29, 2009).

DON’T write a movie script

As a judge I found that the most common problem in the entries was that people were writing movie scripts rather than play scripts. From a third to half of the scripts have this problem. I think this is because many of us watch a lot of movies and television, and seldom watch or read plays. So my advice is this: Write a play, not a movie. This is not the 24-Hour Screenplay Writing Competition.

Differences between a play and a movie (I include television shows in the latter):

A play is experienced with “static” eyes through an invisible wall. The visual point of view of the audience within a scene does not change, the stage or the backdrop does not move. The entire scene happens in one small place: a room in a house; a spot under a tree; or a bench at a bus-stop; a carriage on the Singapore Flyer  (the carriage moves relative to the ground, but not to the audience!); a sampan off East Coast (it drifts, but not relative to the stage or audience). A movie is seen through a camera, which can move from one place to another and can zoom in and out. 

In a play, it is hard to stage a chase, say, through a park or up a flight of steps. In a play, it is hard to show to the audience (which can be quite far away from the stage) small things like someone blinking their eye or trembling hands. These things are easy in a movie. It takes time to do scene changes so plays have far fewer scenes than movies – some have only one. In a play, it is hard to move from one place to another or from one time (past or present or future) to another. 

If you want to contrast quickly what is happening at different times and places, you can get round this by having characters from these different times or place on stage at the same time without changing the scene; or if they are same characters, then they just go from speaking in one time or place to the another without any obvious queues to the audience about the change in place and time – hopefully the audience can figure out which is which. 

Because of the camera in a movie, things happen as much through images as dialogue. In fact you can have a movie where there is almost no dialogue. This is almost impossible in a play (and then it becomes more a dance or performance than a play). Things “happen” in plays through dialogue – the words that the characters speak. Almost all the stage descriptions and direction (that is the part of the script which is not dialogue) you find in a play are not necessary in the sense that you can still have the play with just the dialogue and nothing else. In fact – trade secret here – directors often ignore the stage directions they find a play script! 

So the difference between a play and a movie is that you know what is happening in the first by dialogue (that is spoken words) and the latter via pictures. Example : In a play, characters describe by dialogue what is hard to see, unlike movies which use close-ups. So in a play if you want to draw attention to, say, a (small) tattoo, you cannot zoom in (because there is no camera in a play), but you have a character saying: “I didn’t know you have a tattoo!” or something like that.

DO have contrast

Contrast sustains interest because it is no fun sitting through the same thing for too long.

  1. Contrast between characters: what they want, what they care about, how they speak, how they look. Note that these need not be black and white contrasts – think of it as contrast in different colours rather than in monochrome.
  2. Contrast in emotions and tone (dark or light in atmosphere) and pace of action.
  3. Contrast between what people say and what they mean – this is one of the most interesting things about plays. It keeps the audience guessing – what is happening, what is he or she really saying? – and hence interested. If a character means to say “I love you”, “ I hate you”, “I am disappointed in you” or “I want to know what you did last night” without saying those exact words, then the contrast between what is said on the surface and what is really meant underneath is a very powerful effect.

DO have intensity

There is a difference between what is real versus what is realistic. Dialogue for instance must be real (believable, true to human nature, etc) but don’t write realistic dialogue (because in fact we normal day to day dialogue is rambling and all over the place). Also, slice of life is not very interesting: most of life is boring, isn’t it?

You want main characters who are intense (They care about what is happening very much) and you want what is happening to be intense (in the sense that the time that the play is about is important, not everyday – Why are you showing it now, what is the special moment, the crisis or impending crisis?)

Tan Tarn How

Talk on “How To Write A Play In 24-Hours”

Pictures from the talk itself at Bedok Community Library on 28 June. Playwrights Tan Tarn How, Ovidia Yu and TheatreWorks Writers’ Lab Associate Director Dr. Robin Loon takes time off on a fine Sunday afternoon to guide participants on Playwriting!

Tips for Playwriting: Dialogue

In conjunction with the competition, a talk entitled How to Write a 20-Minute Play in 24 Hours was held at Bedok Library on Sunday, June 28 2009. Competition judge, playwright Ovidia Yu, discussed the importance of dialogue:

Dialogue: most important because it is what makes possible interaction with audience & puts live theatre in different category from tv & movies.

Dialogue takes place between characters onstage & characters & audience.

Even silence is a kind of dialogue. Can be very powerful. Don’t feel you have to fill every space up with words. words, words.

And don’t forget sounds, grunts, giggles, sneezes et.c – all part of dialogue.

1)  Appropriate to Character speaking
a) Who he is (includes his relationship to others on stage)
b) Where he is (mood/place)

2) Appropriate to Position in your play
a) What kind of mood are you trying to establish
b) What kind of information are you trying to pass on

3)  Appropriate to Audience.
a)  Me. The judge. The reader. The producer coming up with $. Catch the attention.
b)  Director & Actors. Are you giving them enough structure & backbone, enough meat.
c)  Audience. You’ve got to give them a reason to go on sitting there. Entertainment. Information. Maybe even insight & a glimpse of something that will change their lives. That’s what we all aim for. But first, get past 1) & 2)

1) Who characters are

Pair up. At least 5 exchanges. A pause where one doesn’t speak is counted as one turn as long as your other speaker reacts to the silence

A asks B out for dinner.
a)   Asking a parent out for dinner
b)   Asking a romantic interest out
c)   Asking out someone you don’t really like. You may need something/you may be doing it out of charity I don’t know.

Read out & let us see if obvious which scenario.

2) Position in play.  Establishing mood/information.
Monologue or one person’s part in a dialogue.

“I’m hungry”

Use it as:
1.     Distraction—either on your part or character’s part
2.     Establish Romance
3.     Establish Threat

Pick one, write it down—you have 1 minute.

3. Your audience.
Rewrite the sentiment in these lines to appeal to:

a) Us here today
b) Community centre aunties and uncles who have never heard Shakespeare onstage.
c) Grieving Michael Jackson fans.


To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

Give me 3 lines of dialogue. Before you panic, think:

Who is your character? Eg: Teacher or Social Worker? Cancer victim? Husband or wife of cancer victim? Lee Hsien Loong? Choose someone to be first.

Then, where when & with whom is your character speaking these lines.

Alone? In a room with other people? In a hospital or airport terminal? Wondering whether to report someone who might be carrying a bomb?

Visual Intro to Marina Barrage

Click here to find out more about Marina Barrage, the venue for 2009. Click the thumbnails below to see larger versions of the images.

Photos by Berny Tan

Countdown 24 Days To Go

Hello everyone, I’m Robin Loon, one of the current Associate Directors of TheatreWorks and I am in charge of the Writers’ Laboratory. Just a bit of background on the 24-hour Play-writing competition. Back in 1996, as part of the then SPH Festival of New Writing, I started the 24-hour playwriting competition. The idea was adapted from a Canadian Theatre Company that runs similar writers’ retreat.

This year (2009), we’re going the Marina Barrage and we couldn’t be more excited. The view, the architecture and the overall environment – all of it is so inspiring. And I know it will be a lot of fun. I mean 24 hours in a space to write a play based on 5 stimuli integrated into the play in the order they are revealed, what could be more kick-ass than that?

I get asked often how and when I come up with the stimuli – and the truth of the matter is, I don’t really think about it until 2 – 3 days before the competition. The standard operating procedure is several tours of the competition venue to get inspiration for the non-specific stimuli but even that, I don’t really know what the non-specific stimuli will actually be. It’s risky, I know, but it keeps the competition exciting for me too.

I also get asked if I have a schema for composing stimuli – the answer is: NO. I try to make it as random as possible and honestly, I don’t have a theme or a central controlling idea. The secret is – for a few years, I literally come up with the stimuli hours before it is revealed. That can be quite stressful but it keeps me on my toes.

But there is a general pattern – the first stimulus is always the opening line of the play; and that will be followed by 2 specific and 2 non-specific stimuli.

Check in tomorrow when I’ll be talking a bit more on specific and non-specific stimuli.

Robin Loon