Interview with Director, One Metre Square Zelda Tatiana Ng
Playwright San Mu interviewed the stakeholders of the Sungei Road Market a year ago. In Singapore, the Sungei Road market, also affectionately known by locals as “thieves market”, consists of collective sellers of old objects. Since the announcement of closure by the government, many activists and researchers have engaged in interviews with the vendors. In the 2018 Singapore Theatre Festival, director Zelda Tatiana Ng takes up San Mu’s meticulous verbatim archive of information and creates a piece of verbatim theatre. More than 95% of the interviews will be used in the theatre production consisting of quotes and data from all sources. The script will also be organised according to the substance of the data collected.
Zelda Tatiana Ng will single out interesting characters from the research to be presented on stage. Besides bringing out the interesting characteristics of the personalities in the now defunct Sungei Road market, the play will also feature their stories and experiences. Clarity is key, for audiences could access the information fully and comprehensively in order for them to make conclusions. Based on the lines, the actors will attempt to play the characters, as close as they real selves.
When asked if the play would take a stance to suggest recommendations to improve the situation, Zelda Tatiana Ng says that it is not the play’s intention to do so. Objectivity is important. The play will present different points of view from different stakeholders in the Sungei Road case. She also says that both sides have “valid positions”. A theatre practitioner is not in a position to make judgements. Most importantly, it is a matter to be left to the Singapore society. As a member of the society, theatre is a good platform to lay out the facts of the case.
The desired outcome of the production lies in whether audiences would or wouldn’t be able to connect to the play. Only when audiences are able to connect with the play personally, they can make informed decisions. To Zelda Tatiana Ng, the theatre questions and not provides answers. Theatre’s role is to illuminate the questions clearly so that audiences could make up their own minds. As an artist, it is not her role to be teachers. She likens herself as an explorer looking for answers.
As Singapore develops and progresses rapidly, there is a need to raise more awareness on arts and culture. Singapore education could do more of that. Singaporeans haven’t been thinking and reflecting a lot about their state of being. There should be a constant effort retain history through education for our children. She also stresses that it is not out of nostalgia that she says so – important sites and spaces need to historically archived so that the next generation could have access to them. Zelda Tatiana Ng also constantly ponders on strategies to preserve Singapore culture. She is concerned about the lost of language, historical places such as Sungei Road, as well as Singaporeans’ personal culture. How could Singaporeans move beyond the usual Chinese, Indian, Malay and Others (CIMO) categorisation?
About Singapore culture, she is optimistic that Singapore does have a culture. However, not every person would agree to some existing cultural forms. More work needs to be done. She feels that there are ‘habits’ that make up a Singaporean. When asked why a play about Sungei Road matters, Zelda Tatiana Ng feels that there are many questions and issues to be worked out. The issue with the Sungei Road case has a large shade of grey, nothing is as simple as black or white. Could the Sungei Road market be conserved instead? A nice building could be built in its place to house the vendors? Or was it a larger issue about a change of culture in peddling in Singapore? Maybe, a ‘shopping centre’ of Sungei Road could be built? Another essential question that needs consideration, how far should conservation go in Singapore?
Lastly when asked to whose benefit would the play be staged, Zelda Tatiana Ng encourages more people to come and watch the show instead. Audiences could make their own minds about the predicaments about the Sungei Road vendors.