Sowing The Seed

Published on 26 May 2017

Singaporean playwright Jean Tay starts new theatre company to support fresh talent.

By JOEL TAN

In 2016, quietly and without much fanfare, playwright Jean Tay started her new theatre company, Saga Seed Theatre. Its calling is simple: to provide a home for playwrights to develop new plays. “If your play doesn’t fit within the mandate of a theatre company, and frequently, it doesn’t, then there is no platform,” says Tay. “So how do we get new works? And how do we support new works?”

In a way, Tay’s role as artistic director of Saga Seed Theatre, which does an open call for plays, and workshops them with directors, actors, and dramaturgs, harkens back to her days as a beginning playwright. In 1997, she returned from her undergraduate studies at Brown University in the United States, where she majored in economics and creative writing, studying playwriting under Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights Nilo Cruz and Paula Vogel. She quickly became active with Action Theatre while working full-time as an economist with the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Through Action Theatre’s new play programmes and mini-festivals, Tay staged several short plays alongside other up-and-coming playwrights like Ng Yi-Sheng and Young Artist Award recipients Natalie Hennedige and Chong Tze Chien.

It was at Action Theatre that she met the late director Krishen Jit, who would direct her plays Plunge (2001) and Everything But the Brain (2005). Tay enjoyed a steady rise soon after, following up with plays like Boom (2008), and books to musicals like The Admiral’s Odyssey (2005) and Man of Letters (2006). The Great Wall: One Woman’s Journey, a musical for which she wrote the book, opens next month.

Twenty years after Tay’s initial forays, her new company aims to provide playwrights with the same stimulating environment she enjoyed, except with more structure. “Those plays we put up were all first drafts. I really wish I had the luxury of having a director, actors, a workshopping process, even a dramaturg,” Tay says, pointing to the thorough development process a play goes through at Saga Seed.

The company currently serves as an incubation platform, with no resources for productions beyond dramatised readings. But Tay hopes the connections made during the process between writers, directors, and actors will, much like the way she crossed paths with Jit in the busy courtyard at Action Theatre, create a launch-pad for future collaborations and independent production.

The Great Wall: One Woman’s Journey opens 14 July at the Drama Centre Theatre. Click here for details.

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