24-Hour Playwriting Competition - 2017
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Notes from the Judging Panel
A majority of the plays submitted for the Youth category revealed the creative and articulate voice of young people. Much of the conflict looks at the current gripes of young people such as education, self-identity, meeting parental expectations and worrying for the future. While it is encouraging that theatre becomes a useful medium to allow for such thoughts to be explored, a play simply cannot be a mention of statements or highlighting the status quo that is common knowledge to many. Our young playwrights should be willing to imagine possibilities of these issues resolved or burgeoning over time, and theatre allows for that leap of imagination so that the exploration of these issues pushes the boundaries of what they think they understand - All this can exist safely within the world of the play. The winning plays have shown an ambition and maturity to empathize at a deeper level the complexities between people and within a society which make them promising and enjoyable to read.
- Ahmad Musta’ain Khamis, Judge, Youth Category
The challenge of writing a good script in 24 hours is significant – especially using unknown stimuli that are given to you on the day. Hence the texts that stand out are those that have a sense of theatre, staging, and the dynamics of live performance. Writers with a good ear for dialogue, a strong visual sense of how the stage can be used, and a convincing idea about an aspect of being human that they want to explore, are those that indicate a potential for theatre. I applaud these efforts and hope that the ones who have been awarded will develop this potential further. Sadly none of the scripts stood out as exceptional and thus worthy of the 1st prize – this would demand good structure, strong sense of language, inventive staging and striking characters that capture the imagination. To do this I suggest you read many kinds of scripts, watch several kinds of theatre, and avoid watching television and film as a reference for theatre. It’s crucial that you see the difference and learn to cultivate your own voice. Many scripts mimic a television sitcom style that does not suggest something original or evocative in relation to the Singapore space. Look around and realise there is much to write about if you peer deeply and probe with rigour.
- Charlene Rajendran, Judge, Youth Category
Kampung Kampus provided fertile ground for this year’s 24-Hour Playwriting Competition. All the entries held seeds of something special, none without potential. Themes of climate change, sustainable practices, and human migration reflected issues impacting the contemporary world paralleled more personal stories of love and loss. I am eager to follow these playwrights journeys; their courageous efforts under exquisite pressure encourages us all to take the plunge.
- Edith Podesta, Judge, Open Category
Every playwright’s voice is special for in every playwright lies a unique well of experience that fuels that voice in every work crafted. Yet it takes more than good turns of phrase, snazzy lines, or even wit to craft a play. Craft can be learnt but the desire to give that voice space requires commitment, and to commit that voice to text requires courage. The diversity of works that were produced in a mere span of 24 hours is really inspiring. From movement based works, to apocalyptic Garden of Edens and heartfelt multi-lingual pieces of generational conflict - the plethora of themes explored was tremendous, no doubt the result of an alchemy between the diversity of participants and the fertile space given to, perhaps, force those voices to sprout. Congratulations to all the winners and all participants for what you accomplished in such a short time. May the seeds you have sprouted continue to grow and bloom.
- Tan Shou Chen, Judge, Open Category
Judges Speech at the Prize Presentation by Ahmad Musta’ain Khamis
Dr Maliki Osman, Mayor of Southeast CDC, the wonderful people of Southeast CDC and NAC, Tay Tong and the brilliant folks of Theatreworks, playwrights, ladies and gentlemen.
The panel of judges this year comprises Tan Shou Chen, Edith Podesta, Dr Charlene Rajendran and myself. And so, since the other 3 cannot be here today, I’m here to share some comments and ideas based on this year’s entries. I have 2 key ideas to talk about but before I do that, I thought we’ll start with some audience participation with all you playwrights.
Here’s a challenge – Construct a 5-word sentence that explains what you do as a playwright.
Anyone would like to share their sentences?
Thank you for your responses. You will realise that many people sort of share the same sentiments, but they are worded rather differently. Many have different ideas about playwriting in 5 words. Some can express what they think in less than 5 words, and some need more.
But the game is to think of a 5-word sentence. Which means, if you can’t count, or if you don’t know how to construct a sentence – You’ll face problems playing the game. Which leads me to my first key idea.
Key Idea 1: Form
Whether it is a 5-word sentence, or 550 word GP essay, or an 18-page playscript, you need to know about form. You need to realise that an idea lies in a story, in the version of a play that is typed into a script. So that means you need to know how a script looks like. It’s more than just writing dialogue on paper -- You need stage directions, description, clarity, sequence, layers. So you need to read many kinds of plays, and you will come to realise that in writing an email or a letter to your MP, or a good-morning-sweetheart text message, the ideas that you contain in each text type follows its own rules and limitations.
And the limitations somehow force you to be concise (just 5 words). It forces you to be clear in what you really think but it also allows you to be creative. And it is in that spirit of creative-thinking nurtured in this competition for the past 20 years, that through the unique environment, the stimuli, the deadline that you will be challenged to think and write a good play.
When we imagine a story in our heads, it exist in pictures like a reel. It’s like having an iMovie in your head. But then, only you see it and experience it and understand it in your mind. Having to translate that on paper, is another process of drafting and re-imagination because you need to be able to express that imagined world onto paper without losing the essence of what was conjoured in your mind.
Especially when it’s a playscript, it’s to be performed on stage – It too must be within the limits of a fixed space. Yes, the space can transform but it can’t transform the way we pan in and out and shift from school to beach to kitchen within seconds. So you’ll need to watch more plays, different kinds of plays, and realise that much of what we understand in a play is through what is said and very often what is unsaid, and what is suggested. So think about the body language, the gestures, the silences, the actions carried out by the characters and think about how much of that contributes to the complexity of the action or the characters. Why would a character do what he/she does? What drives him/her? By the way, how do you make a character relatable and human? You make them infallible and flawed like you and me. But then, you must consider what happened in their lives to make them that way?
So this leads me to my second key idea.
Key idea 2: Backstory.
Let’s come back to the start of the game – A 5-word sentence that that explains what YOU do as a playwright.
In order for you to answer that, you have to look inwards. You have to be reflective and think about yourself. You have to think about what you think is important, what’s bugging you in your life, your versions of reality, your truth, and more importantly, what happened to you in your life to have motivated you to answer in those 5 words.
And eventually, you tell us what you know and what only you understand. That’s your sense of the real, and then you imagine. You see, imagination requires truth. It is anchored in realness, and then you allow yourself to be open enough and think about the what-ifs even if no one else believes you or understands you or knows of what you think.
Like your personal five-word sentences, no one knows why your characters say or do what they did. But there must be a reason why he or she behaves and reacts that way. This may or may not be revealed in the play. But as writers, we need to know their histories, baggage, hang-ups, whatever. We call this the backstory. You must be able to imagine a character who is borrowed from your life, and you allow your imagination to develop this character in his or her truth, realness, groundedness. When the characters have been given lives as clear as they can be in your head, this makes it easier for you to empathize with them and so, it merely becomes a process of translating or even transcribing their words on paper. Your imagination is key, and it is THAT powerful when you write plays.
In summary, key idea 1: you must be sensitive not just to what is written, but how it’s written. You must pay attention to form. Key idea 2: you must allow your characters to have a life outside of the pages of the script. You must develop a backstory and you do this with openness, patience, and courage. With that congratulations to all winners, and for the rest of us, may you grow in skill and courage to write.