There’s always another performance to look forward to next month

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Eugene Koh (extreme left) performing in The Vault: Project Understudy in 2016 with the rest of NUS Thespis.

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Eugene Koh (extreme left) performing in The Vault: Project Understudy in 2016 with the rest of NUS Thespis.

It is at once a bustling rehearsal compound, a retreat for writers, and a festival ground of ideas. The house itself is unassuming and quaint, its facade just like a house that any child would draw, square with pitched roofs, complete with the cloud hanging over it. On a typical weekday, it is quiet and still, at night sometimes filled with the murmurs of a line read, testing the words of a new creation. On some weekends, there are emotive arguments, some fictional, some not. And there’s always another performance to look forward to next month.

Several people milling around a room with exhibition panels on the wall. In the middle are tables set up in a rectangular fashion, with two persons in black clothing and headphones seated in front of laptops and other electronic equipment on the tables.

With/Out by Loo Zihan, staged in the Rehearsal Studio as part of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2015.

It is the same building, but it never looks quite the same every time I step into it. In 2016, the carpet flooring of the Rehearsal Studio feels comfortable as my fellow writers and I sit around a table, typing away on a shared document for Project Understudy under The Vault. Yet, one year ago, I wander through this very same room transformed into a completely different world with bright lights, recording equipment, and exhibition materials for Loo Zihan’s installation With/Out for M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. And at Late Night Texting 2019, the Rehearsal Studio becomes a room of short and quick dramatic picks, where I am an audience member seated on the carpeted floor, entranced by a moving play by Brown Voices.

There were projects: With Project Understudy, a team of seven writers including me worked out a sequel to Tan Tarn How’s Undercover. We took a classic play from the 90s and responded to it, extending the universe of the original story into a fictional present. It was exciting and, at times, hilarious. We were really creating a fanfiction of Undercover. The Vault allowed us to respond to historical Singaporean theatre pieces, but even more than that, it allowed us the freedom to geek out and imagine the what-ifs beyond the original.

A female-presenting person seated in front of a camera on a tripod, speaking while glancing up to the left.

The Vault: @thisisemeraldgirl, written by Eugene, was performed in 2018 at Centre 42.

In the first Late Night Texting, all the venues in the Centre were packed back-to-back with play-reads, performances, spoken poetry and more.  I had written 3 Rules of Whore, staged by Saga Seed Theatre as part of Seedy Stories. In 2019, a piece that my friends and I created for The Vault, @thisisemeraldgirl, was restaged at Late-Night Texting. It is always a dizzying experience for anyone’s written work to be spoken in front of a listening audience. But with Late Night Texting, new works are given the license to be heard without expectations of perfection – this is why I look forward to it every year, both as artist and audience.

Even on quieter days, there is always a sense of activity around the house. There are rehearsals, meetings and discussions all the time. When I worked on Bintang Temasek under Saga Seed’s Incubation Programme in 2017, the Meeting Room provided the physical location of this incubation. My work was scrutinised, quibbled over, and edited several times by my mentors. The cosy room gave a sense of familiarity and comfort within which a performance could grow and flourish. And this experience is constant throughout the various times I have been in the Centre’s spaces. Most recently, working on The Utama Spaceship for M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2020, the security of knowing that we have a space to work out our ideas gave me the confidence as both a creator and an actor to push the work to greater heights.

There are many times when a performance or rehearsal would end late at night, and I become one of the last few people to leave the blue house, a pre-war bungalow transformed by the art it houses. Each time I come back, I am excited for the new experiences and discoveries that await a day’s work. The place is kept alive through the activity of the community that enters and exits through its gates, breathing works into it. And as always, there’s always another performance to look forward to next month.

Published: 14 January 2020

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