Said & Done

Published on 26 July 2017

Photo: Erfendi Dhahlan

Newspaper journalist Nabilah Said sheds light on her journey into playwriting.

By Joel Tan

“I’d never done theatre before, and I felt, as an adult trying something new, that the whole thing was very scary,” says Nabilah Said of applying at the age of 25 to Teater Ekamatra’s Mereka, a theatre-training programme for young people. “So I sent them an email saying I didn’t think I could act, and they told me to just turn up. I went, and I enjoyed it.” This was the beginning of Nabilah’s fruitful relationship with the company, and her introduction to an exciting new form.

“I realised I really enjoyed writing. And after one year they invited me to join their playwright mentorship programme under [playwright and director] Zizi Azah, and from there, I felt like this was what I wanted to do.”

Nabilah is now a resident artist with the company, though she has also made her rounds with Singapore theatre companies and other playwriting mentorship platforms, steadily building her body of work. This month, she presents her new play Drip with The Necessary Stage, directed by Haresh Sharma. The play centres on an interracial couple, a Malay-Muslim man and his Chinese wife who is converting to Islam.

Religion, the shifting contours of Malay identity, and language are major themes in Nabilah’s work, much of which is multilingual. Commenting on the strong pull of these themes, Nabilah says, “I do feel the urgency. I talk about a range of issues: how we have been treated as a minority race. I’m looking a lot at Malay society. Not so much Muslim society, but the Malay race, from the Orang Laut till today.”

Nabilah has also been key in creating Main Tulis, a platform for Malay-language playwrights. Founded last year, Main Tulis is a collective of nine writers focusing on creating Malay-language and bilingual plays. It’s a writer’s circle and a support system, and the group meets once a month to discuss works in progress. Plays that have emerged from this platform include Adib Kosnan’s 28.9 and Zulfadli Rashid’s Harap, the Malay-language adaptation of Haresh Sharma’s Hope.

The group is a who’s-who of emerging and established Malay-language playwrights, including Sabrina Dzulkifli, Johnny Jon Jon and Nessa Anwar. “I’m interested to see more new and exciting work coming out from the Malay theatre scene,” says Nabilah. “And it’d be very cool to see even more young writers come out of the woodwork.”

Drip, part of The Necessary Stage’s The Orange Production project, is on from 10-13 August at The Necessary Stage Black Box.

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