Anyone interested in the literature of Malaysia and Singapore shouldn't miss the forthcoming performance of Second Link by Wild Rice at Actor's Studio, Bangsar.
Let's go back in time a couple of years.
I was helping Mr. Raman to organise the KL Litfest. My job was to coordinate the whole kaboodle, which meant keeping in contact with all the writers and deciding on how to fit everyone into the programme and keep them happy. (Not at all easy!)*
I was in contact with the Singapore contingent through poet Alvin Pang. I slotted the Singaporean poets into the programme and was extremely pleased when Alvin told me that Singapore Arts Council wanted to sponsor an evening event of readings. We put our heads together about the venue and decided we could use the Renaissance ballroom.
Then, just three weeks or so before the Litfest, when the planning was thankfully over (after much sweat and buckets of tears) and the programme had gone to print, Alvin announced that there had been a slight change of plan.
The Singaporean contribution would not simply be readings, but a full blown theatre production directed by none other than the great Krishen Jit. Could we find a theatre for it? I went into full-blown panic mode, phoning round every venue I could think of. All fully booked. Fortunately, the folks at the Singapore High Commission were able to think outside the box and came up with a brilliant alternative: the coolest venue in town, nightclub Zouk.
Now shame on me for doubting that Krishen and his team could come up with the goods in such a short time frame!
The production called Riding the Nice Bus was easily one of the highlights of the entire festival. It was a unique cross-causeway collaboration between the two countries which share so much history, yet seem artistically divided by the causeway. The texts (lifted from plays, fiction and poetry) paid homage to the history of Singaporean writing and were brilliantly chosen by curator Eleanor Wong - the kind of stuff that slaps you right between the eyes. A Malaysian cast performed the whole thing seamlessly. The venue was perfect. (Featured writers and performers listed here.)
Afterwards, I had tears in my eyes as I thanked Krishen (seated at the bar, looking pretty enigmatic) for all his hard work. I could have hugged him, actually, for giving us such an amazing and unlooked for gift for our festival. It was the first and only time I got a chance to talk to this great man, although I had seen him at performances of his plays previously. He passed away suddenly in April 2005.
I wish I had gone down to the Singapore Arts Festival last year (still kicking myself!) because among other things I would like to have seen Riding the Nice Bus performed again - but this time alongside Tikam-tikam: Malaysian Roulette, directed by Singaporean Ivan Heng, featuring Malaysian writings, and performed by a Singaporean cast. (Jerome Kugan gives and excellent account of both festival and performance here.)
The upcoming performance at Actor's Studio merges both productions and brings together more than 50 celebrated texts and ten actors, from both sides of the causeway.
It opens 30th August and runs till 3rd September with tickets at just RM49 on the first two nights. I bought my ticket for 31st because I can't think of a better way to celebrate Merdeka Day!**
* This is what organising the programme for the festival felt like. So many egos to accomodate! The stories I could tell but won't, unless in my autobigraphy published posthumously!
**Though as a citizen of your former colonising power should I be celebrating??