Interview: Playwright Goh Boon Teck

By Zaki JufriEvents - 09 March 2015 12:00 AM | Updated 2:52 PM

Interview: Playwright Goh Boon Teck

He has documented the lives of aspiring Mandopop artistes, transsexuals, star-crossed lovers, of men whose careers were ruined by their genitals, and the trials and tribulations of his own mother when she was a fledgling Chinese opera actress.

Goh Boon Teck is perhaps one of Singapore’s most prolific, if not contentious, playwrights.

At the young age of 19, he founded Toy Factory, a bilingual theatre company where, as its chief artistic director, he went on to helm more than 60 productions, including ‘December Rains’, ‘Glass Anatomy, ‘Shopping & F****ing’ and ‘Bent’.

This year, Toy Factory celebrates its 25th anniversary in the Singapore theatre scene, and Goh mined the company’s repertoire to bring back two of its most beloved works – ‘Titoudao’ now playing at the Drama Centre, and ‘December Rain’, to be shown in August.

In June, the company will be staging a show about Singapore’s Chinese theatre scene that spanned the past 50 years, in collaboration with the Esplanade.

inSing caught up with Goh to talk about his 25 years in the business and what he hopes to see more in the local scene.

Toy Factory's 25th anniversary

"I’m very surprised to be able to do what I love for so long. Theatre, especially bilingual theatre, is not an easy medium to do in Singapore. I didn’t know when we started 25 years ago that what we put out would be so well-received, be restaged so often, and win awards. I am also really glad to be putting out my old works again, especially ‘Titoudao’ for a new generation of audiences." 

On his baby, ‘Titoudao’ 

"It’s a human story. It resonates with everyone. The story is simple: about a young woman who is being told by everyone that she is not good enough and that she cannot go far in life. She has a fighter's spirit and a belief in herself. So she created her own stage for herself to shine. It is about overcoming the odds. That is the core aspect that connects to people." 

Writing new material for the stage

"It’s always different for different productions. For me, it could be a song or just an actress. If there is an actress that I really would like to work with, I will write a new script just for her. I also like to take old stories and re-imagine it for the stage."

His directing style

"In the past I would begin by conceptualising how the entire production would look like, then I would slot the actors in. But as I grew older, I realise that starting from the actor’s point of view helps a lot.

Over the last few years, I always start a production with an actor’s workshop first to get feedback and learn more about their quirks and styles before going to the production team to create a new world around them. That has been happening frequently recently, and it’s a very different way of approaching a new work from when I first started."

Challenges in theatre 

"The challenges remain the same: it’s always how to better my craft. There is still a great number of theatre techniques that I want to learn and develop for the stage. I really want to spend my life learning and discovering new things."

Hope for Singapore theatre

"I want to see more crossovers of genres, languages and mediums in Singapore theatre. That is one way that Toy Factory can evolve and adapt with the times. I want to direct Malay plays and I want Indian theatre groups to work with me. We live in Singapore and I don’t feel the need to segregate. Art is universal and it transcends boundaries. Everyone should collaborate more."

Singaporeans should watch more plays

"It’s not just buying a ticket to watch a play or musical, it's about keeping Singapore art alive. I think it is a duty for Singaporeans and residents to support the homegrown scene. I cannot imagine Singapore having no art of its own. It’s just weird – we cannot import everything."

‘Titoudao’ | Date: 5-15 March 2015 | Time: 3pm, 8pm | Venue: Drama Centre, Level 3, National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street | Tickets: $49, $59, $69 from Sistic