“It is a keystone event that the larger community including alumni can come together and celebrate.”
- Tomithy Too (Computational Biology + USP, Class of 2013)
Fifteen minutes to the show. Hundred and twenty audience members waiting to go in. Cast members backstage, getting ready for action; technical crew, scrambling for last minute checks; front-of-house, busy giving out programme booklets. “And then watching, with satisfaction, the final product of our months of hard work happen in the black box itself,” says Sarah Kow (Psychology + USP, Class of 2019), the producer of Stalemate & Everlife for USP Productions 2017.
Over the weekend of 20-22 January, USP Productions was in full force, putting up two original, student-written plays to packed audiences at the Yale-NUS Black Box. That was the culmination of six months of effort from over 50 USP students who took on different roles, whether it was creative, technical, or administrative in nature.
Stalemate presented the plight of “Lee” and “Benjamin”, two male JC students who liked each other, but were kept apart because of their ambitions and differences. When asked about the inspiration for Stalemate, the Director Raag Sudha Sanjay (Political Science + USP, Class of 2019) says, “Love is love. You don’t necessarily have to be an ally or an activist to understand that the basic concept of love and companionship should be something freely accessible for every single person.”
As for EverLife, it told the story of the eponymous technology which allowed people to project their deceased loved ones as holograms, and the struggles that an EverLife employee (“Richard”) faced when he fell in love with one of his clients (“Xin Yi”). The Director Riley Cheok (Information Systems + USP, Class of 2020) elaborates, “[The two protagonists] lost loved ones in their lives...but they dealt with the loss in different ways. I wanted the audience to ponder upon the intricacies of the story without having them think what was right or wrong.”
As the audience, we saw how “Lee” and “Benjamin” in Stalemate negotiated the realities of being a homosexual couple, having to face up to their friends and families about the relationship. Then, in Everlife, we saw how “Richard” tried to hang on to his past and loved ones using the Everlife technology, while “Xin Yi” embraced her loss, let go, and moved on. Both plays revolved around the compelling themes of love and loss, and made us think about these questions as we walked out of the Black Box: Are we able to do what is “right”, even if it is painful? And what exactly is “right”? Is there such a thing?
Years of Theatrical Magic in USP
USP students have been putting together their collective creative minds to create the magic of theatre for 11 years now, starting as early as 2006. The shows run the gamut in form and subject matter, from comedies set in Singapore (In Front of the Yellow Line in 2010) to a double bill about the realities of social media (Less Than Three / 404 Not Found in 2016), but all offered the audience something thought-provoking. Every year, new scriptwriters take over, but the magic of theatre holds the audiences spellbound year after year. “It’s a reminder of our capacity to understand each other at our most human,” says Denise Khng (English Literature + USP, Class of 2015), co-director of Patchwork for USP Productions 2014, and scriptwriter and director of Somnogram for USP Productions 2015.
Being entirely student-led, students must take charge of everything, from handling the finances to contacting venue partners to building the sets. Each iteration of the USP Productions has stretched students’ creativity, resourcefulness and problem-solving skills to the fullest.
Natalie Chia (Political Science + USP, Class of 2016), the production manager of People for USP Productions 2013 and the producer of Patchwork for USP Productions 2014, recounts an experience she had, “For Patchwork, we were desperate to make a frame around one of our televisions. There was a weird gap between the TV and the set wall we placed in front of it. The rectangle we initially cut out was too big. We searched around for any spare materials. We almost gave up when we could only find some old dismantled and dumped garden benches. The wood was fragile in some places but in the end, we found a few working pieces to fashion a frame! Moments like these are why I say Productions really taught me to make the best of any situation.”
USP Productions has already become an important mark on the academic calendar for the USP community. As Tomithy Too (Computational Biology + USP, Class of 2013), the producer of Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue for USP Productions 2009, says, “It is a keystone event that the larger community including alumni can come together and celebrate.” Indeed, many USP alumni and faculty members attend the plays to extend their support. To Tomithy, it is also an “avenue of artistic and talent showcase”, an annual highlight displaying the vibrancy of life @ USP.
It’s About the People
The interviewees I approached talked about one common “takeaway” in USP Productions – the people they worked with, and the friendships forged. Be it cast or crew members, they have all encountered these issues—solving problems only to see more problems emerge, build a table only to be told it is not needed, forget a line and pray that no one caught it. Putting up a production takes a lot of time and effort, but what matters most, is that WE DID IT TOGETHER, and that at the end of the day, we made our closest friends we can ever have in university, here in USP.