12 December 2017: Yale-NUS student playwrights stage original works in double bill feature

Text and images by Kevin Low

From 2 to 5 November 2017, local theatre production group The Second Breakfast Company staged two plays written by past and current Yale-NUS College students in a double billing. The Wedding Pig was written by alumna Chelsea Cheo Baoyun (Class of 2017), while Lemmings was the work of Myle Yan Tay (Class of 2019). The plays marked the stage debuts of both playwrights and were presented at Centre 42’s Black Box theatre.

Yan’s script Lemmings touched on the complexities of faith, identity and relationships against the backdrop of a domestic dispute. The play revolved around an otherwise happy young couple whose conflicting religious beliefs threatened to destroy their long-term relationship. The issues that Lemmings confronted are those which are highly relevant to youths today, and which Yan successfully captured in the 45-minute-long play.

Lemmings was written in 2012 and was inspired by the conversations Yan had with a group of close friends he had at the time. “There were four of us, of which two were religious and two were non-religious. We would often argue amongst ourselves on the topic of religion, but the arguments always resolved amicably.” Yan recalled. “However, I realised that nice resolutions rarely happened in real life.”

Yan (pictured above) believed that he has changed as a person since he wrote Lemmings at seventeen years old. “The 2nd Breakfast Company has been inviting me for rehearsals so that I could comment or make edits. However, I felt like I needed to distance myself from the production, because I wanted to see what would come out of it with minimal interruption,” he explained.

In the years since he wrote Lemmings, Yan has diversified into other writing genres. He credited the various literary-related courses he has taken at Yale-NUS for helping him find his personal voice. “Every semester, I have taken at least one or two courses that have shaped the principles of my writing style,” said Yan. He also shared that he had analysed literary classics such as The Iliad in relation to classic gangster films like The Godfather. “It really challenged me to think about narrative structure and how some methods of storytelling have endured for centuries.”

Chelsea’s play The Wedding Pig was originally written for her Arts and Humanities capstone project and went through numerous revisions before its debut. The dark comedy portrayed the relationship between two sisters after the death of their mother, and their argument over ownership of the eponymous pig-shaped golden necklace that the younger sibling inherited. The performance explored themes such as family and feminism, grounded in believable relationships and dysfunctional family drama, and communicated through witty and endearing dialogue.

According to Chelsea (pictured above), The Wedding Pig was an exploration into the aftermath of grief. “Grief was the stimulus for my characters to discover more about themselves and about what it means to be a woman in modern society,” she explained.

She also said the play was born out a desire to portray different versions of femaleness from common depictions. “I’ve always seen women portrayed in domestic settings as one-dimensional or static characters. But this portrayal does not match up with the interactions I have had with the real women in my life.” She challenged this stereotypical portrayal in The Wedding Pig: the play subverts the usual dynamics set in a domestic context, and the women are the ones who lead conversations and drive change in their lives.

The structure of the final year capstone project gave Chelsea an excellent opportunity to develop her writing. “The capstone year really gives you a sufficient amount of time to work on your passion projects,” she said. “The programme’s structure and support from my professors helped me to learn and grow as a writer.” Even after her final submission in March, Chelsea continued to refine her play and has since made many edits to it.

In the process of writing The Wedding Pig, Chelsea gained a greater appreciation of the interaction between the different aspects of theatre. She likened it to the interdisciplinary nature of liberal arts and sciences education: “If you want to write a good piece of theatre, you have to approach it from many perspectives.”

In their more recent endeavours, Yan has co-written and directed Yale-NUS’s first musical Overtime, which ran for five shows on the Yale-NUS campus from 16-19 November 2017, while Chelsea is working on another creative piece, based on an earlier version of her capstone.