Tag Archives: Robin Loon

Winners of the 24-Hour Playwriting Competition 2010

On 16th October 2010, TheatreWorks and South East CDC announced the winners of this year’s 24-Hour Playwriting Competition.

The 13th edition of the competition was held at at the SAF Yacht Club in Changi over one weekend.  In a scenic room overlooking the Straits of Singapore, 60 participants across walks of life pitted their creativity against one another in friendly jostling of the written word. While a few participants were occupationally involved in the arts, others comprised an eclectic mix of participants from all walks of life: including students, office executives, bus officer and retirees.  Many have not written plays before.

Mr. Matthias Yao Chih, Mayor of South East District, was  the Guest-of-Honour. He said, “South East CDC is happy to work with TheatreWorks in engaging our aspiring local writers and giving them valuable space to showcase their works. At the same time, the 24-hour playwriting competition allows self-expression, bonding among participants, and a better appreciation of one another’s uniqueness as well as shared experiences living and growing up in Singapore.

Excerpts from the prize-winning scripts were also read. They were directed by Associate Director Robin Loon, and performed by Serene Chen, Nora Samosir and Gerald Chew.

The winners are as follows :


1st Prize winner
Ahmad Musta’ain Bin Khamis with SERUNDING
Age 23, an undergrad at NIE.
He is a first-time winner, and second-time participant when he participated in 2008.

This winning play will be presented in the South East District as TheatreWorks’ community outreach programme. The dramatised reading of this play will be performed by Alin Mosbit and directed by Lim Yu Beng. The intention is to develop the work dramaturgically with inputs by professional theatre practitioners and to develop the skills of the writer. It will be presented in different venues in South East District over six weekends.

2nd Prize Winner
Age 36, Lawyer
A regular in the competition. He previously won a Special Mention award in the 2009 competition. Tan’s works have been staged previously, the most current was SOMEDAY, SAMSARA, that was staged in the Arts House.

3rd Prize Winner
Age: 40s/ Works in Marketing
A regular in the competition. He has won previously: 2nd Prize of 24h 2007, Merit Prize of 24h 2008 & 2nd Prize 24h 2009.

Merit Prize Winners

Age 28, Postgrad student at NUS
A regular participant in the competition, he won the first prize in the 2007 competition and in 2004 won the first prize in the TheatreWorks-organised Singapore Young Dramatist Awards.  One of his works, MA GOES HOME, is currently being staged by Action Theatre.

Nurudin Bin Sadali with RED OZ
Age 22, Undergrad at NUS

Special Mention

Othman Bin Ibrahim / Untitled
Age 59, Bus Driver
First time participant and is the only participant to write in long-hand. No laptop and typewriter.


No first, second or third prizes were awarded.  Only two merit prizes were awarded to:

Richard Neo with COMING HOME
Age 17, Student at Raffles Institution Junior College

Shriram Jayakumar with BRECHTIAN COMEDIES
Age 17, Student at Anglo-Chinese Junior College

The three judges were Academic and Founder of NUS Theatre Studies Programme Dr. K K Seet, playwrights Desmond Sim and Ovidia Yu.

Dr Seet said : “I am particularly gratified when the winners are a mixed bag of veterans and first-timers. On the one hand, the veterans remind us that their craft, which they continue to hone through the rigor of such playwriting competitions, is part and parcel of accumulated experience. On the other hand, the first-time winners inspire us with their freshness of perspective and innovative templates, as well as reassuring us that new, untapped talent is in constant supply.”

Robin Loon, who has been the Associate Director for the Writers’ Lab added, “This year’s Open category winners exhibit a maturity and confidence, the likes of which the 24-hour Playwriting Competition has not seen in a while.  The genres range from broad ensemble comedy, to sensitive & candid monologues, to intimate & intense two-handers.  These winning entries are very encouraging and will inject great excitement into the local play-writing scene. I do hope that the writers will continue to develop their writing.”

The 2010 24-Hour Playwriting Competition was supported by: South East CDC, Community ArtReach by People’s Association, National Arts Council and the SAF Yacht Club.


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

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!

Flashback 2004: Bintan

BINTAN BANYAN TREE: The return of  Robin Loon, the GAME-MASTER
I have very fond memories of the 2004 24-hr because it was my first 24-hr playwriting competition since returning to Singapore and it was the first I did that we had to cross water.  We managed to get BINTAN BANYAN TREE and BINTAN LAGOON RESORT on board and it was fantastic.  The entry fee was a little higher than the usual entry fee (for obvious reasons) but it was still a bargain for a nice weekend away for many contestants.  And for obvious reasons, this was one venue that I could not conduct a ‘site-visit’ so I had to think of the non-specific stimuli all on my own and from broschures of the resorts.

It was quite magical – everyone was in competition and holiday mood so it was a very unusual mix of emotions – it was like everyone was tensed and relaxed at the same time.  We all boarded the boat from Tanah Merah Terminal and off we went.  We got bussed to the resort and very swiftly, we were ushered into the meeting rooms where tables were laid.  The funny thing was that the tables were laid in horizontal rows parallel to the length of the room, each contestant had a chair and a small section of the long table: if we gave them each a telephone and they would all look like telethon phone-in receptionists.

The competition started with the usual opening line and after that, contestants who booked rooms went to their rooms and chilled out; those who didn’t, just hung out at the meeting rooms or in the resort.  Because the stimuli were released every 4 hours, contestants could actually take a real break and do some resort activities and still be back in time for the next stimulus.  It was very relaxed and everyone soaked up the exotic atmosphere.

While everyone was busy with the competition, I was madly scouring the space for my non-specific stimulus.  In the end, I found a lovely site on the beach and took the contestants there to see the view – and the other non-specific stimulus, I asked for some Lavender essential oils and diffused it in a room and asked the contestants to smell it.  I also brought in a coconut as a specific stimulus and I took questions for almost 10 minutes about the coconut!  I answered questions from whether the coconut can be used in the play as a drink to whether the play can use a coconut tree instead.  All sorts of mind-boggling questions.

All in all, after the splashing about in the pool, the food, the massages and the stress – the competition was over and everyone had a lovely time.  And as you can tell from the pics, everyone was exhausted too.  But through it all – everyone’s spirit was high: contestants and organizers alike

I think that’s what’s so special about the 24-hr playwriting competition.

Robin Loon
P.S. the gentleman seated in the picture with me standing next to him is the peerless Dr K K Seet, the 24-hr playwriting competition’s chief judge since the very first competition.

Stimuli: The Lowdown #2

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.

Robin Loon

Countdown 23 Days To Go

Stimuli: The lowdown#1

I think probably the most stressful thing about the 24-hr playwriting competition is integrating the Stimuli: all five of them in the order they have been released within the 24 hours.  Some people have jokingly accused me of being a sadist and some have earnestly reprimanded me for obstructing the writers’ train of thought with these ridiculous elements.  It does seem like a counter-creative idea – constantly putting obstacles in the writer’s way.  But I am a real advocate of the golden principle of “LIMITATION IS STIMULATION”.  I was introduced to this fabulous principle back in the early 90s when the Writers’ Laboratory brought in Noel Greig, a very experienced british playwright to conduct workshops for the labber (a short-form for Writers’ Lab members).  He told us that imagination is wonderful; but imagination unmanaged is a complete waste.  It was with him that I learnt the paradox of boundaries – it is only when we set boundaries around our imagination that we can push it to do amazing things.  If not, our imagination can literally run away from us.  So my ‘defence’ is that limitations makes us more creative and the 24-hour playwriting competition is all about creativity in writing a play.

Anyway, the whole idea of the stimuli came from an exercise that Greig gave the labbers to do which we all enjoyed thoroughly.  It was called “a letter to an alien” where we composed a letter to an alien using words other labbers have listed and in the order they has been listed.  I liked the exercise so much because it made us focus and made us work around the words so the words can work for us.  I took the idea and decided to arrange a time-released format for the 24-hr playwriting competition.  The reason was simple – we have 24 hours to kill so why not scatter it around rather than having all the stimuli released at one go?  I felt that this made the competition more exciting as there is always the challenge of taking new things on board.  Some participants loved it and some participants hated it – but on the whole, I think people enjoyed it (even if they hated it).

My general advice about stimuli is take it as if you’re going on a blind date: “no pressure no expectations”.  I think it’s only with that attitude that you become a lot more open and a lot more creative with it. 

All this sounds really tough but take it from me – it sounds a lot more difficult than it actually is.  I think one just needs to go with the flow.

I’ll go more into the stimuli in the next couple of blogs.

And on a completely unrelated note, I’d like to share with you a shot of some of the recent participants tees that the 24-hour competition has given out.  I kept them religiously because they have become little wearable mnemonics of those different 24-hours.

24-ht Tees 06-08

Robin Loon

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