Tag Archives: Stimuli

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