Theatre education in Singapore has occurred primarily through non-formal processes of ‘learning by doing’ in theatre productions and co-curricular activity in schools. Drama educators and youth theatre practitioners engage young people in a range of improvisatory and devising processes that draw from their experiences, interests and contextual knowledges to develop spaces for critical dialogue and reflective practice. These are largely propelled by a desire to enhance the capacity of young people to express different views, articulate questions and create performances that prod review and inspire change. So how do young people deal with difference and what is their approach to staging issues of difference in multicultural Singapore? The work of dealing with cultural difference has been a significant part of contemporary theatre making since the 1980s, and continues to impact the development of local performance styles and forms. This has included dealing with diversities of language, religion, ethnicity and sexuality as part of the cultural fabric in this small but complex nation. Pioneering director and playwright Kuo Pao Kun proposed ‘Open Culture’ in the 1990s as a framework for grappling with difference, tradition and modernity in a postcolonial, urban and technologically driven city. His proposition advanced the need to experiment and work with the dynamics of difference, rather than revert to stipulated and inherited norms of Selves and Others. Does this approach still resonate in twenty-first century Singapore? This chapter considers some ways the youth theatre stage has provided potent proposals for diversity and inclusion that warrant research and study for theatre education and learning in the twenty-first century. It focuses on some platforms that have been created for youth theatre, and the performance vocabularies that emerge in the process of staging these original works. In particular, it examines the work of the M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival, produced by ArtsWok Collaborative, as a case study of how cultural difference is performed, by and for young people in the Singapore context. Analysing the curation of the festival, recorded dialogues with young people involved in the festival and the performances themselves, the chapter will articulate some key features that emerge and interrogate whether an ‘Open Culture’ frame remains feasible in twenty-first century Singapore.
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For articles on the increased involvement of young people in theatre, and their willingness to engage issues often avoided, see Lee (2016) and Tan (2016).
For further discussion on devising theatre frames and processes, see Oddey (1994).
M1 Peer Pleasure has its roots in the M1 Youth Connection (M1YC) festival that began in 1998 and was organized by The Necessary Stage, a Singapore theatre company that was founded by Alvin Tan. When the M1YC festival was replaced by the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival in 2005, the youth dimension was lost. In 2014, Alvin Tan approached ArtsWok Collaborative, an arts-based community development organization, to revive the festival and restore a focus on youth theatre. Tan then served as the M1PP Artistic Director for 3 years.
The play was originally written and devised under the mentorship of Buds Youth Theatre, and received development support from Centre 42, a theatre development space committed to the creation, promotion and documentation of texts and writings for the Singapore stage.
The Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) focuses on the Co-Curricular Activities of Singapore schools, to provide a platform where students can perform in a range of disciplines that include theatre, dance, visual art and music. This is a very large endeavour, and hundreds of performances are created every year for this event. In 2016, SYF celebrated its 50th anniversary and ‘over 700 presentations by almost 25,000 students’ were featured in a month-long event (Ministry of Education, 2016). While termed a festival, the event is effectively a competition, as the presentations are judged and certificates of distinction, accomplishment or commendation are awarded accordingly.
For details, see M1 Peer Pleasure (2017) website with details of specific engagement programmes.
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Rajendran, C. (2019). Dialogues on Difference Through Youth Theatre: M1 Peer Pleasure Engages The Other in Singapore. In: Lum, CH., Wagner, E. (eds) Arts Education and Cultural Diversity. Yearbook of Arts Education Research for Cultural Diversity and Sustainable Development, vol 1. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-8004-4_12
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