Southeast Asian Plays
Eight Plays from Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia
Selected and Edited by Cheryl Robson and Aubrey Mellor
Playwrights: Jean Tay, Floy Quintos, Tew Bunnag, Ann Lee, Nguyễn Đăng Chương, Joned Suryatmoko, Alfian Sa’at, Chhon Sina
A collection of plays by eight playwrights, both new and established, from seven countries in Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia.
Though now in English, there is little in common in these eight plays from seven very different nations in a region connected mainly by geography. Covering topics as diverse as the global financial crisis, religious faith, the sex trade, corruption and exploitation, Southeast Asian Plays provides a fresh and unique snapshot of the rich variety of performance work that in many cases is only beginning to be written down, and insight into the differing concerns of those living in a part of the world which is experiencing profound change.
Much of the new work in this region remains unknown beyond the borders of language; within countries, plays are not readily circulated, as they are not commonly published in their original (often local) language, and are further neglected in translation. This is the first volume of Southeast Asian play texts to prioritise material that other countries (including SEA) might be interested in performing. The aim is to introduce not only the writers but also the cultures that produced them. Theatre scripts are merely blueprints for productions, especially in this region. As elsewhere, second productions and revivals are rare, so publication is key to preserving some of this ephemeral art form and to allowing play texts to find a wider international readership.
It is exciting to discover the other forms of play-making that exist in this region, and it is no accident that this collection includes many plays by women – a sign of the equity that has emerged as a feature of nations that are growing in pride, in industry, investment and in tourism, in innovation and in cultural originality.
Plunge by Jean Tay (Singapore)
An Evening At the Opera by Floy Quintos (Philippines)
Night of the Minotaur by Tew Bunnag (Thailand)
Tarap Man by Ann Lee (Malaysia)
Dark Race by Dang Chuong (Vietnam)
Frangipani by Chhon Sina (Cambodia)
Piknik by Joned Suryatmoko (Indonesia)
Nadirah by Alfian Saat (Singapore)
In his introduction, Aubrey Mellor writes:
“Until the founding of ASEAN, in 1967, Southeast Asia (SEA) was known to the world as the East Indies. Covering 11 nations and 626 million inhabitants, over more than 4.4 million square kilometres, the southeast of the continent plunges into the sea, diversifying into many thousands of islands and languages as it reaches into the Pacific. One of the largest and fastest-growing economies of the world, with a combined annual turnover of 2.8 trillion US dollars, it contains arguably the richest variety of arts, customs, cuisines and landscapes, and distinctively defined peoples. However, this part of the world is under-represented, especially in theatre and dramatic writing, and its vivid diversity deserves to be known beyond its splendid beaches and tourist spots… Publication is not a necessary goal in the performing arts, and theatre scripts are merely blueprints for productions, especially in this region. As elsewhere, second productions and revivals are rare, so publication becomes important to preserving some of this ephemeral art form and to allowing play texts to find a wider international readership. Though some of these works were written and performed in English, a play’s origins are of course defined by language, e.g. a Vietnamese play is written in Vietnamese etc. Consequently, the majority of new dramatic literature in this flourishing region remains unknown outside of language borders; even within countries plays are not readily circulated, as they are not commonly published in their original (often local) language, and are further neglected in translation. The development of skilled literary translators in the region is happening slowly, but the focus is primarily on poetry and fiction.”
About the editors
Aubrey Mellor Theatre Director, Dramaturge and Teacher, expertise in new work and classics, especially Chekhov, Shakespeare and Brecht. Formerly Dean of Performing Arts at Lasalle and Director of the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), associated with arts training colleges across Australasia. Has directed a range of genres from opera, dance and film. Well-known as an acting teacher to a generation of acclaimed Australian actors, and renowned for translations and productions of the classics, and for the development of new work. Brought up in Variety and Circus, Mellor trained as a dancer, visual artist and musician and graduated from NIDA Production Course. In 1972 was awarded a Churchill Fellowship, the first Australian to study Asian theatre, from Japan to India. Artistic Director of the Jane Street Theatre (Sydney). Co-Artistic Director of Nimrod Theatre Company (Sydney). Deputy Director of NIDA, Artistic Director of the (Royal) Queensland Theatre Company, Artistic Director of Playbox-Malthouse in Melbourne. Awarded Order of Australia Medal in 1992 for services to the arts, Australian Writers’ Guild’s Dorothy Crawford Award for services to Playwriting and the International Theatre Institute’s Uchimura Prize for best production, Tokyo International Festival. Visiting professor to theatre schools in Japan, China. Mongolia, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Cheryl Robson Writer, editor and filmmaker. Cheryl was born in Australia and has recently been creating literary projects in Singapore. She worked at the BBC in London for several years before setting up a theatre company producing and developing women’s plays. She also created a publishing company where she has published over 150 international writers and won numerous awards. As a writer, she has won the Croydon Warehouse International Playwriting Competition and has had several stage plays produced. Her film Rock n’ Roll Island, has been selected for several film festivals in UK and USA and won a Gold Remi at Houston Worldfest and was nominated Best short film at Raindance London. www.cherylrobson.net.
About the authors
Jean Tay graduated in 1997 with a double-degree in creative writing and economics from Brown University, USA. Plays produced include Senang (2014), Sisters (2013), Boom (2008, 2009, 2012), Everything but the Brain (2005, 2007, 2013), Plunge (2001, 2009), Hopper’s Women (co-written with Cindy Koh, 2000), The Knot (1999) and Water from the Well (1998). She has also written the books for musicals The Admiral’s Odyssey (2005), Man of Letters (2006) and Pinocchio (2010). Her plays have been performed in Singapore, the US, the UK, and Italy. She attended the prestigious monthlong International Playwriting Residency in 2007, organised by the Royal Court Theatre in London and has also participated in LaMama’s International Playwrights’ Retreat in Umbria, Italy in 2010. In 2000, her play The Knot was awarded first prize for Action Theatre’s 10-minute Play Competition and selected as a finalist for the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s 10-minute Play Contest. She has been nominated four times for Best Original Script for the Life! Theatre Awards, and won for Everything But the Brain in 2006. For her fiction, she was awarded the Weston Prize for Fiction from Brown University, as well as the first and third prizes for the National Arts Council’s Golden Point Short Story competition in 1995 and 2001 respectively. Tay’s most recent projects include being scriptwriter for the 2015 National Day Parade Golden Jubilee celebration and collaborating with Drama Box on the verbatim theatre piece It Won’t Be Too Long: The Cemetery for the Singapore International Arts Festival 2015. She presented her latest play, The Shape of a Bird at the M1 Fringe Festival 2016. She was attached to the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) as resident playwright from 2006– 2009, and has been helming SRT’s Young Company Writing Programme since 2012. She was also writer-in-residence at the Nanyang Technological University in 2013 and is currently an adjunct lecturer in playwriting there. Her plays Everything but the Brain and Boom have been published by Epigram Books, and Everything but the Brain is currently used as an ‘O’ and ‘N’ Level literature text for secondary school students. Tay is the founding Artistic Director of Saga Seed Theatre, set up in 2015 to bring Singaporean stories to the stage, and provide a platform to showcase and nurture local talent.
Floy Quintos Writer/Director, well-known for his plays and musicals. He is the owner of the Art Gallery Deus in Manila. He has also been involved in the Songs For Heroes concerts and has written screenplays such as Wating (The Tough Guys) 1992, the last film directed by Philippine National Artist for Film Ishmael Bernal. He directed Ang Bagong Harana, a showcase of Filipino music for the Philippines Opera Company.
His plays include:
St. Louis Loves Dem Filipinos – First produced as a straight play in 1991, then as a full-length musical in 2005.
Atang: Dulang May Musika – A full-length play on the life and times of Atang De La Rama, star of the zarzuela and wife of nationalist Amado Hernandez.
Isang Panaginip na Fili – A daring, revisionist take on Rizal’s El Filibusterismo, juxtaposing the plot of the novel with Rizal’s tortured process of writing.
Fake – An examination of the various hoaxes that have become a part of the Filipino psyche. From religious visionaries, to the Tasaday, to the controversial Code of Kalantiao. The play asks, ‘When is a lie better than the truth?’
Ang Kalungkutan Ng Mga Reyna – First Prize, Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature One-Act Play in Pilipino, 2008.
An Evening At The Opera – First Prize, Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature One-Act Play in English, 2011.
Suor Clara – Second Prize, Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature One-Act Play in Pilipino, 2010.
Shock Value – A biting, unapologetic look at the world of television. The lies, the fabrication, the delightful madness. A circus of a show.
Fluid – Second Prize, Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature Full-Length Play in English, 2005.
Tew Bunnag was born in Bangkok in 1947, and educated in the UK where he studied Chinese and Economics at Cambridge University. He has been a teacher of t’ai chi and a lay teacher of Buddhist meditation since 1975, and has given courses in England, Spain, France, Switzerland, Greece and the US. In Spain, where he lives most of the year, he also contributes to the Palliative Care Movement, running workshops on issues concerning Death and Dying, and he is the current president of the Asociación Vinyana.
In Bangkok he works in Klongtoey, the biggest slum situated in the port area of Bangkok where he is one of the directors of an NGO that helps street children, and adults and children who are HIV positive (The Human Development Foundation, Mercy Centre). The funds that he helps to raise in Europe go to these projects.
His fiction works in English include Fragile Days, After the Wave, The Naga’s Journey, Curtain of Rain, and three published short stories (A Most Generous Uncle for the Asia Literary Review, The Mistress Wants her Freedom, for the Bangkok Noir collection, and Eyes of Karma for the Asia Literary Review). All deal with the contradictions and anomalies thrown up by the confrontation of traditional values and the modern aggressive materialism that has become a feature of Asian society. He writes both as an insider and an observer using his ability to slip in and out of the different strata of Thai society that are usually inaccessible to both Thai and foreign outsiders.
His work has been serialized in Thai magazines and translated into Spanish and Greek. The Naga’s Journey and Curtain of Rain have been translated into Italian.
He is married to a British artist, has three children and five grandchildren. His eldest daughter lives in Italy with her family. His son is a filmmaker based in Paris and Bangkok and his youngest daughter is a musician. Because of these family commitments he divides his time between Europe and Thailand.
Ann Lee was born in Tawau, Malaysia. She is a playwright, writer, and currently a PhD student at the National University of Singapore, researching political satire in Southeast Asia. She began writing for theatre as a member of the Royal Court Young Activists theatre group, London, where she joined a writers’ workshop with then writer-in-residence Hanif Kureishi. She holds a BA (Hons) in Applied Photography, Film and Television (Westminster) and an MSc in History of Science, Medicine and Technology (Oxon). She is also an Asia Leadership Fellow (ALFP, 2001), awarded by the Japan Foundation and International House of Japan, where she spent time in Tokyo with colleagues from China, India, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand, and presented her research on ‘the ghosts of Asian values’. Lee was Artistic Director and co-founder of Kuali Works (1994–2011), an all-women theatre group in Malaysia that first produced her plays, including the critically acclaimed, Kuala Lumpur Knock-Out (1994), about a young factory worker who dreams of boxing Mike Tyson (which received a Director’s Exchange Award from the Australian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur); Hang Li Poh – Melakan Princess (1998), a re-telling of the myth of the Emperor of China’s daughter who married the Sultan of Malacca; and From Table Mountain to Teluk Intan (2001) by Shahimah Idris with Lee, Sue Ingleton and Jo Kukathas, based on the true story of a Cape Malay child in South Africa who leaves apartheid but ends up on the ‘right side’ of the tracks to face her most difficult trial.
The last play Lee directed was Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, which was banned in Malaysia in 2000. Her last full-length play, Tarap Man, revised for this anthology, won ‘Best Original Script’ at the 2007 Boh Cameronian Arts Awards, Malaysia. She is working on a new full-length play, provisionally titled Not Far Now.
Lee’s work for the stage has been performed at the Asian Monodrama Festival, Commonwealth Games Theatre Festival, Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, Sydney Writers Festival, and the New York International Fringe Festival.
Nguyen Đăng Chuong was born on May 25, 1964 in Khanh Trung commune, Yen Khanh district, Ninh Binh province Vietnam. He has gained a Bachelor of Arts, a Master of Cultural Studies and is currently a graduate student at the Institute of Art and Culture, Vietnam.
He is well-known for his plays. From 1998 to date, Nguyen Đăng Chuong has written more than twenty works for the theatre, and has recieved thirty prestigious awards in the categories of plays, screenplays and TV drama, as well as the top awards from the Vietnamese ministries and Literary Arts Society.
Dark Race was awarded the Gold Medal for plays in the Professional Dramatics National Contest of Tuong, Folk and Drama 2013 and the Gold Medal for plays and Best Writer in Professional Dramatics National Contest 2015. He was awarded Prize A for Best Play in 2013, and Prize of Best Drama Script in 2012 from Vietnam Stage Artists Association.
While exploring philosophical issues through his drama, Đăng examines characters whose actions often contradict their purported good intentions.
He is currently director of the Department of Performing Arts, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and a Member of the Executive Committee Stage Artists Association Vietnam, terms VI, VII and VIII (from 2005 to date).
Chhon Sina is a playwright, actress and teacher. She pursued her studies in directing Modern Theatre at the Faculty of Choreographic Arts, Phnom Penh, where she obtained her Bachelor of Arts. She has been involved in educational theatre and film projects on drug abuse, domestic violence and other serious themes.
She collaborated with Singaporean artist William Teo on his Cambodian play Year Zero in 1995. She is currently a Modern Theatre Teacher at the National School of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh.
She and other Cambodian artists were sponsored by the Theatre and Visual Arts Deprtment, Fordham University at the Lincoln Center, to visit the USA and present their work there in 2010. She is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime, which saw the killing of up to ninety percent of artists from this time.
Joned Suryatmoko was born in Solo, Indonesia in 1976. His educational background is in International Relations Studies (Bachelors degree) and Media and Cultural Studies (Masters degree), both from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
He has run his theatre group, Gardanalla Theatre, since 1997 and produced various performances. Known as a theatre-maker and playwright, he also works as a media consultant for community-based media programs with various international, as well as local, NGOs in Indonesia.
Currently he is the Festival Director of the Indonesian Dramatic Reading Festival (IDRF), and a Theatre Specialist for the Creative Community Program, initiated by the Kelola Foundation and the World Bank. https://idrf.wordpress.com
Alfian Sa’at is a Resident Playwright with W!LD RICE, one of Singapore’s most recognised theatre companies. His published works include three collections of poetry, One Fierce Hour, A History of Amnesia and The Invisible Manuscript, a collection of short stories, Corridor, a collection of flash fiction, Malay Sketches, two collections of plays as well as the published play Cooling Off Day.
He has been nominated ten times for Best Original Script at the Life! Theatre Awards, eventually winning in 2005 for Landmarks, in 2010 for Nadirah, in 2013 for Kakak Kau Punya Laki (Your Sister’s Husband) and in 2016 for Hotel (with Marcia Vanderstraaten).
In 2011, he was awarded the Boh-Cameronian Award in Malaysia for Best Book and Lyrics for the musical The Secret Life of Nora. In 2013, he won the Boh-Cameronian Award for Best Original Script for the play Parah.
In 2001, Sa’at won the Golden Point Award for Poetry as well as the National Arts Council Young Artist Award for Literature. He has also been nominated for the Singapore Literature Prize three times, for Corridor (Commendation Prize, 1999), A History of Amnesia (2004) and his translation of the novel The Widower (2016).
About the translators
Suon Bunrith is an advisor to the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, developing a performance programme at the Chaktomuk theatre. He is a former Director of Phare Ponleu Selpak, a local non-profit organization which uses the arts in human development projects. Prior to this post, he worked as Country Director for Amrita Performing Arts, a US non-profit and a pioneer in promoting creativity in Cambodian music, dance and theatre. He was also Head of Production of Cambodian Living Arts, overseeing the performance series at the National Museum, Phnom Penh.
The first Cambodian to win an award from the Asian Scholarship Foundation, he conducted a research project on arts management in Indonesia in 2003. He also attended the Kennedy Center Arts Management Institution’s Summer International Fellowship Program (2010).
In 2014, Norodom Sihamoni, the King of Cambodia, awarded him the Gold Medal of the Royal Order, for his contribution to the restoration, preservation and development of the Cambodian performing arts.
Previously, he worked for UNESCO’s Phnom Penh Office as an Intangible Cultural Heritage Specialist and assisted the Royal University of Fine Arts and other arts organizations with numerous projects.
Barbara Hatley taught Indonesian Studies at Monash University, then at the University of Tasmania, and is currently a Professor Emeritus in Asian Studies at the University of Tasmania.
Her major research interests are in Indonesian performing arts, modern literature and gender studies. Barbara’s publications include: Javanese Performances on an Indonesian Stage: Contesting Culture, Embracing Change (NUS Press, 2008), Theatre and Performance in the Asia Pacific: Regional Modernities in the Global Era, co-authored with Denise Varney, Peter Eckersall and Chris Hudson (Palgrave, 2013), and an edited volume on performance in post-Suharto Indonesia – Performing Contemporary Indonesia: Celebrating Locality, Constructing Community (Brill, 2015). She previously produced many Indonesian language plays with student groups, and her translation of one of these, Time Bomb (Bom Waktu) by Riantiarno, is published in Time Bomb and Cockroach Opera: Two Plays (The Lontar Foundation, 1992), republished in Islands of the Imagination: Modern Indonesian Plays (Manoa, Hawaii University Press, 2014).