For the artsy fartsy, we’re pretty sure you’ll know by now that the Singapore Theatre Festival (STF) is back and set to open next week. For those who don’t, shame on you. We kid.
Started in 2006, the STF is presented by local theatre company W!LD RICE and is set to return this year from 30 June – 24 July. Showcasing a total of eight local productions, the SFT will be debuting three new plays that include My Mother Buys Condoms, a cheeky story about a 63-year-old retired school teacher who falls for an air-con repairman whilst teaching him to read and Grandmother’s Tongue, a heartwarming tale about a young man’s attempt to reconnect with his Teochew-speaking grandmother.
STF will also be bringing back the wildly popular Hotel, a play that examines the 100 years of Singapore’s history through a hotel that is opened at the turn of the century (rhyme unintended). By checking in (pun totally intended) the hotel once every ten years, the audience will get to meet not only Indian mutineers and Cantonese nannies, but also drag queens and suspected terrorists that have contributed to the Singapore story.
In anticipation of the STF, we’ve managed to speak to some of the cast and playwrights of Hotel, to find out more about this immersive and multi-generation epic play. Read as we speak to playwright Marcia Vanderstraaten, director Glen Goei and cast Ghafir Akbar and Brendon Fernandez to get behind-the-scenes of Hotel!
A little background on the cast and crew before we begin:
Co-Playwright – Marcia Vanderstraaten
With a background in theatre studies, Marcia is one of the playwrights of Hotel. She is the writer of the end of Part One and 1985, 1995 and 2005 segments of Part Two.
Co-Director – Glen Goei
One of Singapore’s leading theatre directors, Glen’s body of works includes film, theatre and musicals. As the Associate Artistic Director of W!LD RICE, Glen’s hits include Hotel, The Importance of Being Earnest and Emily of Emerald Hill.
Cast – Ghafir Akbar
A Malaysian actor, Ghafir first made his debut at W!LD RICE in Public Enemy. Ghafir is also one of the leading cast in Hotel.
Cast – Brendon Fernandez
A familiar face in both the theatre and television scene, Brendon’s theatric works include The Optic Trilogy, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Romeo & Juliet.
1. How did you become a writer/director/actor?
MV: I have an overactive imagination and an obsessive love for telling stories. Somewhere in between, I am also deeply fond of the English language. I suppose a slow-cooker combination of the three has resulted in me not wanting to do anything else!
GG: My teacher in Primary 6, Mrs Eunice Sim arrowed me to direct the school mid-term production and I have been directing for 42 years ever since!
BF: I took an A-level in Theatre Studies & Drama at Victoria Junior College and fell in love with acting. I’ve been doing it ever since.
2. What are the inspirations behind Hotel?
MV: I think one of the biggest motivations was actually the SG50 celebrations. We were observing the main narrative being presented to the world (the usual “Singapore used to be a fishing village” history) and we were thinking surely there are other stories that are not being told, other parts of our history that need to be made known to people in order for us to have a fuller sense of where we came from and who we’ve become.
GG: My theatre education included watching Peter Brook and Robert LePage’s epics. I always wanted the opportunity to create one of my own.
3. What is the biggest challenge in writing/directing/acting in the play?
MV: The biggest challenge personally was rewriting pages as the actors were also rehearsing – we couldn’t take as much time as we might have taken otherwise because the actors needed to rehearse quickly.
GG: We threw 13 wonderful actors, 2 writers, 2 directors and a team of stage managers into a room over the course of a full year and just improvised without a single page of writing. The challenge eventually became the factor of satisfaction.
GA: The process was truly collaborative between the actors, the writers, and the directors to create the play. The challenge was to encapsulate the complexity and fullness of these characters in the short scenes that they appear in.
4. We love putting people in a spot so name your favourite character in Hotel!
MV: I have two favourites – Mr Matsuda and Sharifah (her older self, in the later part of the play). I can’t explain why without giving the story away, but it’s safe to say that I am very moved by the relationship between them.
GG: It is the character of the P Ramlee fan in 1955 which reappears in 2005 played by Siti Khalijah. The two scenes couldn’t be more different and the character encapsulates the mood and changes throughout the decades.
GA: This is a really difficult question – I feel this would equate to choosing a favourite child! I would say that minor characters often reveal just as interesting a life as the major roles, and Hotel really does show you that even a supporting character carry a significant weight in the story. I would encourage our audiences to pay attention to what these characters are sharing with you as well. (no choosing sides for Ghafir then!)
5. Summarize Hotel in less than six words
MV: History you should have studied.
GG: A rollercoaster ride through Singapore’s history.
BF: Made for us, by us. Epic.
GA: 100 years: hotel walls finally talk.
6. What’s your all-time favourite locally written play?
MV: The Book of Living and Dying by Chong Tze Chien. I watched that every day it was performed in 2013; it’s such a deeply layered text and so masterfully crafted a production that every time I watched it I learnt something new.
GG: It is a close tie between Stella Kon’s Emily of Emerald and Alfian Sa’at’s Nadirah.
BF: That’s easy: Hotel! (we totally saw this coming)
7. What advice would you give to budding writers/directors/actors?
MV: Read as much as you can, watch as much as you can, and don’t wait for someone to give you a reason to write (amen to that!)
GG: Be interested and curious! About everything!
BF: Try something else first. Work a job that has regular hours, opportunities for promotion, annual bonuses and CPF. After a year, if you’re still willing to give all that up to be an actor, then you’ll know that acting is for you.
GA: Always do your homework and always come to rehearsal prepared. In between that, watch as much plays/dance/concerts/exhibitions/art as you can.
Besides being an epic play itself, Hotel was also a sell-out at last year’s Singapore International Festival of Arts and has racked up seven nominations at the 2016 M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards.
Can’t wait to catch Hotel now that you’ve heard from its cast and crew? Here’s your chance to be one of the first few to catch the play by
Winning a pair of tickets to an exclusive performance on 3rd July 2016!
Simply LIKE and SHARE this post on Facebook to stand a chance to win a pair of tickets to Hotel by 29th June 2016! Yes, it’s that simple! Do note that play will be a whole day affair so do keep the day free!
This article is awesomely brought to you by DiscoverSG X Singapore Theatre Festival.
(Header image by W!ILD RICE)