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Eight playwrights in their 20s present their plays over two weekends. In the first week (left picture, from left) Irfan Kasban, Annabel Tan, Kenneth Chia and Johnny Jon Jon. In the second week, (right picture, from left) Euginia Tan, Joel Tan, David Khoo and Kimberly Arriola (seated).

Voices from the millennial generation

A festival of plays by 20somethings brings fresh perspectives.
03/06/2016 - 05:50

VAPID. Entitled. Narcissistic. Fairly or unfairly, the millennial generation has been conferred many unflattering labels for their work attitude, lifestyle habits and social-media addictions. The criticisms come from the Gen Y, Gen X and baby-boomer generations who, ironically, had endured their share of stereotypes too.

But for some millennials, enough is enough. Opening next week, the Twenty-Something Theatre Festival offers eight plays by theatremakers in their 20s that deal with a wide range of issues, from topical ones such as political apathy in Singapore, to universal ones such as pregnancy and death.

They suggest, among other things, that 20something Singaporeans aren't obsessed with selfies, smartphones and sex - they do think about the world beyond Instagram and Snapchat.

As Euginia Tan, 25, the playwright of Tuition, puts it: "Millennials are often thought of as unsentimental and, sometimes, self-centered and vapid. But we are more aware about things going on around us than we appear to be. And all the plays in the festival feature facets of Singapore that are overlooked, neglected or nostalgic."

"We've taken a step back from our commonly misconceived identity as 'millennials' to offer plays that are broad, thoughtful and poignantly insightful."

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For instance, Irfan Kasban's Trees, A Crowd depicts a government decision to chop down either a 50-year-old tree or a 150-year-tree to make way for a road - a work which echoes the vigorous debates surrounding Bukit Brown Cemetery.

Appealing for a greater awareness of our natural environment, Irfan, 28, says: "It is easy to forget the value of trees. Progress and convenience trump nature and nostalgia, and it seems that certain things have to politicised before they can be considered saving."

Similarly ambitious are Annabel Tan's The Cave which centres on the female body and societal expectations of it, Johnny Jon Jon's National Memory Project which looks at historical memory, and Kimberly Arriola's Curry Puff which explores the treatment of foreigners through the story of a curry-puff seller.

Not all the playwrights, however, felt the need to take on topical issues. Believing that the personal is political, Kenneth Chia wrote a play titled Long Weekend which explores the platonic friendship between two young gay men. Chia, 22, says: "When older audiences watch our plays, they often say to us: why do you 20-somethings always write about yourselves? Why don't you write about the amah or the apah? But I think the experiences of the 20something are just as important as that of the older generations, and deserve to be written about and discussed."

Some of the stage hits in recent years, such as Oon Shu An's Unicorn Moment (2014) and Joel Tan's Mosaic (2015), were written by millennial playwrights. They were about their specific experiences of being 20something and were well-received by audiences and critics.

Joel Tan, 28, is now back to headline the Twenty-Something Festival with his new absurdist play Cafe. It centres on five characters sitting in a cafe and being more concerned with their selfies and truffle fries than the calamity that's about to strike Singapore - an acerbic comment on youthful self-absorption.

Tan says: "I think of the cafe as an absurd place where nothing happens. Yet we spend a lot of time in it, hanging on to our creature comforts, even though the world is changing daily and there is much bloodshed and tragedy elsewhere."

The Twenty-Something Theatre Festival is the brainchild of actress-producer Tan Kheng Hua. Working with the National Arts Council which funded the project, she explains: "What I am really interested in is listening to their voices, because you seldom hear voices in Singapore. For now, it's the 20something voice. But voices from all age groups matter too. So I hope to find platforms for them as well."

Eight to choose from

The Twenty-Something Theatre Festival runs for two weeks, with a different programmes for each week:

WEEK 1 (June 9 to 12)

Trees, A Crowd
By Irfan Kasban
A decision must be made about chopping down a tree to make way for a road. The audience gets to decide its fate.

Long Weekend
By Kenneth Chia
After the death of a good friend, a young gay man recalls the funny, bittersweet times they spent together.

National Memory Project
By Johnny Jon Jon
A national effort to collate historical memories runs into a snag when the memories of a murderer prove unreliable.

The Cave
By Annabel Tan
Is a woman's body her own? And how can she navigate societal expectations of what it should look like?

WEEK 2 (June 16 to 19)

By Joel Tan
A funny, existential play about five characters who sit in cafe and worry about trivial matters while the world comes to an end.

Curry Puff
By Kimberly Arriola
Based on a true 2015 story about Robiah Lia Caniago who was convicted for selling curry puffs without a licence.

Balek Kampung
By David Khoo
A futuristic play in which Singapore is run by artificial intelligence made up of memories and ideas of its greatest leaders.

By Euginia Tan
When a young female tuition teacher agrees to teach a bratty teenage boy, a witty game of one-upmanship ensues.

By Helmi Yusof