Saturday, August 20, 2011

Wild Rice's "Family Outing" - LGBT plays are a cornerstone for Singapore culture

(Photo courtesy of Charmaine Tan)

I attended Wild Rice's staging of first-time playwright Joel Tan's play "Family Outing".

Significantly, this is the first time a local gay play attempted to fuse religion with sexuality where the son did not turn away from his sexuality*. The playwright manages to present what was once un-presentable on Singapore stage. It wasn't a perfect piece - it ended where I felt it was to be an interval. For a devout religious family to come to terms with a gay son, experience of my friends showed that it can take years or decades. A friend once told me, "when a son comes out of the closet with his parents, the parents often go into a closet of their own." Perhaps the mother would deploy her arsenal of church friends and even pastor to 'set the boy right', perhaps she would have to struggle privately. For a drama mama, the protagonist's mama sure got over herself in a period of time that is nothing short of miraculous. But Joel should be applauded for writing an enjoyable play with a gay protagonist that, even in death, insist on being happy and true to himself. I'm sure the story connects with many religious gay people, and even a non-religious gay person like myself can relate to the struggle to reach out to mom and dad. The play is a notable entry into a canon of LGBT plays in Singapore, and Joel is a young playwright whose future works will be thrilling and exciting.

(*Strictly speaking, The Necessary Stage's "___ Can Change" contains a segment with a gay religious son too. In that play, the son chose to leave his boyfriend, get married and start a family to please his mother.)

I'd watched a few notable gay plays in the recent years (Drama Box's "Bondage" and Wild Rice's "Asian Boys Vol 3"), wrote the first Mandarin gay play (Drama Box's "Another Tribe") and all my plays feature gay characters and some gay themes, including this year's Arts Fest play HERStory. Since Russell Heng's "Lest The Demons Get To Me", Eleanor Wong's "Mergers and Accusations" and Michael Chiang's "Private Parts", I'd attended some local gay plays.

A majority of the local playwrights have their own gay plays. Virtually all local drama groups have staged gay plays. Asking friends to name some, I was greeted with a barrage of plays old and new. It appears that gay plays are not just a regular occurrence in the local scene, but one of the main themes that kept propping up. No amount of bullying or discouragement seemed to have dented our merry spirits.

Yet, our local media authorities have continued to discourage this genre of plays. Shouldn't they recognise the LGBT's huge contribution to the development of local culture instead? Without exaggeration, the gay play IS a cornerstone of Singapore culture and should be recognised and acknowledged as such. Below is a Facebook discussion of local gay plays. 

My dear LGBT friends, let it be known that we are the soldiers who built Singapore's Great Wall of Culture**. Unlike the thousands who died anonymously building the Great Wall of China, we will not let our contribution be swept under the rugs.

(** This is not to disparage the straight giants of culture in Singapore - Kuo Pao Kun for example. If I name straight names, I might be unwittingly outing the gay ones who're not out-out yet.)

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