Award-winning script writer Jean Tay explores Singaporeans’ experience of the property market in her play, BOOM. She tells Chin Hui Wen about her inspiration for the show, the use of Singlish and why a corpse is a meaningful character.

What inspired you to write BOOM?
In 1998, I wrote a play, entitled Plunge, about the Asian Economic Crisis. Ten years later, however, Singapore was instead facing a stock market and property boom, and when someone raised the idea of writing a sequel to Plunge, I jokingly suggested the title “BOOM”. I could see that rapidly rising property prices and en-bloc phenomenon were starting to impact the lives of ordinary Singaporeans and not necessarily in a positive way. I was interested in exploring the redevelopment of older buildings and loss of historical heritage.

How is Singlish used in the show?
Singlish is used very liberally throughout the show. In fact, all the characters speak their own brand of Singlish. It’s what distinguishes them from each other. This is actually the first play I've ever written that uses so much Singlish. It was a deliberate attempt to ground the play very specifically in this country, and to have authentic characters that the audience could relate to.

What were the biggest challenges writing the script?
I really didn’t want to write a typical, cliched piece about en-bloc sales with your typical villains. So I tried to make sure that my characters were more than just caricatures. They are real people dealing with very real issues. Another challenge was writing in Singlish. It’s much harder than it looks. You have to really hear the voices in your head before you can put them down in paper. The grammar and syntax of Singlish is so distinctive and specific.

Were the individual characters modeled after real life people?
I think almost everyone in Singapore has heard or read about en bloc sales and how they can divide neighbors, turning them nasty. There were a couple of articles that stuck in my head. The first was the case of an old woman who refused to move out of her apartment because she was afraid the spirit of her dead husband wouldn’t be able to find his way home. Another was about a couple in China, who initially refused to sell their house. The developer dug a massive moat all around their home, so that they were, quite literally, marooned.

One of the unique characters in the show is a corpse. What is the significance of having a dead character?
Someone told me about the fifteen year bury-in policy in Singapore. After fifteen years, the government has the right to exhume your body from the grave, to reallocate the land. Even the dead are not spared from the pressures of redevelopment and progress. It made sense to introduce a corpse to represent one of the “voiceless” victims of progress.

How are metaphors used in the play?
Physical, inanimate objects such as a decaying corpse, houses, and even a fig tree, play important roles. They symbolize the relationships within the play and memories of the human characters, bringing an added dimension to the themes of decay and renewal.

What would you like audiences to take away from the show?
I want to highlight that even in times of prosperity and progress, there are individuals who slip in between the cracks. There are untold, quiet tragedies that will continue to occur when we are so single-minded about progress. I also personally find it quite sad that a lot of the buildings that I grew up with, that were part of my youth, are slowly disappearing. With the upcoming exhumation of graves at Bukit Brown cemetery and redevelopment of old flats at Rochor and other locations, I hope to remind the audience of the importance of these historical sites. We have to fight to preserve them.

BOOM is on June 29-Jul 1, 8pm; July 1, 8, 3pm; 6-8, 8pm at the DBS Arts Centre home of the Singapore Repertory Theatre.


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Gearing up to perform at the Singapore Lyric Opera’s annual outdoor show, tenor Melvin Tan talks to Chin Hui Wen about interpreting songs, secret musical pleasures and using his voice to score.

When did you realize you wanted to make singing a career?
I always wanted to be a soloist. While I was studying English Literature in Edinburgh, I studied singing on the side and managed to clinch a place at the Royal Academy of Music. I realized that maybe I had a chance to make this dream come true.

How does your background in literature help in your current job?
It has allowed me to really delve into the psyche of the character and interpretation of the pieces I am performing. My teacher always says, “It is your job to make the words intelligible, the composer could have easily given that line to a cello but he didn’t!”

Do you listen to classical songs at home?
Yes, sopranos and mezzo-sopranos mainly—not tenors. But my secret pleasures are the tracks that the gym instructors play at my Bodycombat class: a combination of pop, rock and R&B.

What do you miss most about Singapore when you’re abroad?
Food is high on the list. Other than that, my family and friends, but now that I am back, I miss my surrogate families and good friends in Edinburgh, London and Belgium.

Have you ever used your singing talents to impress a romantic interest?
I have to demonstrate sometimes when new friends or dates don’t believe I’m a professional opera singer. Singing is an incredibly physical and virile action. When I sing a high note, it feels like I’m revving up a luxury Italian sportscar: power with control.

Melvin Tan will perform on June 9 at Singapore Lyric Opera: Opera in the Park 2012 at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.


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This famed dog behavior specialist—who has worked with celebs like Oprah Winfrey, Scarlett Johansson and Will Smith—is in town for his show Cesar Millan Live: Unleash Your Packpower. He tells Chin Hui Wen why he was destined for this career, his best tips and how important it is to challenge your pet.

What sparked your interest in dog psychology?
It wasn’t a choice. It was my destiny to teach dog psychology. I came to America to learn how to train dogs, but fate had a different agenda for me, it sent me to teach. I inherited the knowledge needed from my friends and family.

Do you have a favorite breed to train?
Every breed is different. It isn’t the breed that makes them hard to train. And I connect with dogs, I don’t train them. It’s up to the handler to find what inspires or motivates that particular dog. Find your dog’s passion and you can teach him whatever you want.

What’s the best tip you can give people who are having trouble with their dogs?
It isn’t the human that is having trouble with their dog. It’s the dog that is having trouble with the human. My best advice is to ask these questions. How do I feel around my dog? What is my energy like around my dogs? Do I walk with purpose so that my dog feels safe? And, am I consistent with my dogs?

Cesar Millan Live: Unleash Your Packpower is on June 2-3, 8pm at Marina Bay Sands.


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Chin Hui Wen talks to Markus Pabst, one of the directors of this off-beat performance, which blends music, circus acrobatics and comedy in a tale of bathtubs and eccentric characters.

How did the idea for this show come about?
I was inspired by pictures, performers, comedians and even a stripper who used bathtubs in her routines. I wanted to pull all my ideas together to create a whole show. I was drawn to bathing because it involves a natural sensuality and is a synonym for relaxation and recreation.

What do you think accounts for the performance’s international appeal?
It is quite quirky. But it attracts a broad audience because there is something for everyone. It is sexy but playful, comical and spectacular. The performance is very imaginative and erotic on a natural level, which everyone can relate to. I am often delighted to see how many different people love this show.

Are the cast members all from the original?
Many of them are long time members, but the cast keeps changing. We’ve been performing for five years nonstop, so it is inevitable to have different artists. Maximilian Rambaek, the other director, me and the producer choose them together.

Have any of the performers gotten seriously injured?
Thank God, no. Once, an artist fell onto a bathtub during his aerial routine, but luckily, he only suffered some scratches. The bathtub, however, was broken. The artists do indeed have to be careful not to slip.

Are there any special tricks you’ve used to make it safer for the acrobats to perform?
Surfer wax is one of the tricks, but the best one is training.

Of all the countries you’ve toured, which has been your favorite?
Every country has its own attactions, sometimes it’s the theatre and other times it is the audience. It is just the differences that makes it exciting. I once directed a dinner show in Singapore and love this city. The audience is great!

Soap! The Show is on Jun 15-16, 8pm; 16-17, 3pm at the Esplanade Theatre.



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