Playwright Jessica Bellamy has just arrived in Singapore, to take part in a program for the Singapore Writers Festival, and to begin a six week residency in the neighbourhood of Tiong Bahru, where she will be working with Singaporean playwrights Joel Tan and Faith Ng. Her piece SHABBAT DINNER, exploring ideas of food, memory and family history, is presented this weekend (Sun 10th November) at LASALLE College of the Arts as part of Singapore Writers Festival (To register, free of charge, click here.)
Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a Sydney based writer who has been working as a freelance playwright for a few years now. In the last 3 years I’ve had opportunities to write my own plays, my first short screenplay, and to participate in some devised productions. My work is heavily inspired by the environment and by poetry, and I am also trying to write more about my own history and cultural background.
And what are have you been working recently?
I have just wrapped up two devised projects: The Grief Parlour with Clockfire Theatre at Parramatta Riverside Theatre in Sydney, and a multi-playwright show LoveNOT with Philippines-based performance company Sipat Lawin Ensemble. I was the winner of the atyp Foundation Commission for 2013, and my play for children, Compass, premiered in October of this year.
You have written both plays and short films. Which do you prefer?
Theatre is still my first love and always will be – there is something so special about the community that is formed in a room of strangers sharing a story together that I can’t deny.
I am still very new to screenwriting and am seeking more opportunities and experience in that area. I was lucky to be paired with director Damien Power and producer Bec Cubitt for my first film, BAT EYES, two very exciting filmmakers who have helped me through the experience of making a film, and then promoting and screening it.
So, why Singapore? Have you been here before? If so, what were you first impressions?
Singapore is the first overseas country I ever visited, when my parents took my sister and I there for a holiday as children. I remember the tropical heat and regular downpours being so exotic, the excitement of so many cultural districts within one city, and the interesting blend between constructed and natural beauty. I was able to tour Tiong Bahru on my 2012 trip to Singapore, and found it to be such an exciting area rich in art, literature, historical architecture and of course food. I can’t wait to learn even more about it.
I’ve enjoyed visiting a host of South and South East Asian countries in the last few years, including doing some devising work in Manila. I am excited by the prospect of collaborating with Singaporean theatremakers and immersing myself in a different country’s theatrical culture. For so long, Australia has taken its cultural inspiration from European and American models, despite Asia being our neighbour, and it is high time to develop strong links between our two countries, for the future.
There will be a few facets to my residency ( at Grey Projects in Tiong Bahru, made possible through the generous support of the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Singapore ). The first is a performance of a new work I have written, Shabbat Dinner, that was first mounted at the Bondi Feast Festival with Tamarama Rock Surfers, directed by Anthony Skuse, in July 2013 (details of the performance, here). I will be working with Joel Tan to bring this to fruition in Singapore. It is a piece of dinner theatre that explores the role of food, family and history in our secular lives. It is a very specific piece, grounded in a particular cultural context, and I look forward to seeing how it translates into a Singaporean context. (Read more, here)
I’ll also be talking about the representation of cities on stage at Singapore Writers Festival, alongside Joel, Huzir Sulaiman and Faith Ng (two leading Singaporean playwrights), and Australian playwright Lachlan Philpott, whose play SILENT DISCO is also being read at the Festival (details of the panel discussion, here.)
I will also be working with young writers to develop new writing inspired by significant foods in their lives, and a few masterclasses with older writers. By the end of the residency, I will have created the beginnings of a new devised work with Joel Tan and Faith Ng, and hope to further pursue developmental opportunities for the project.
Why the focus on food?
Food is essential to our survival, but it is also meaningful. Food ties us into our culture, our ethnicity, our religion, our family, and our history. When I wrote Shabbat Dinner, I wanted to use food as a way of bringing a community together over the act of “breaking bread”, even if only for the length of the show.
There has to be a reason why humans still sit together and obsess over spice and herbs instead of eating space-food from packets to save time. Good food reminds us that there is more to life than just survival, just nutrition. In the act of eating and tasting, we remember that we are part of a long line of other humans, and that this act of coming together to eat will stretch on for as long as we exist.
And how did you meet Joel and Faith?
I met Joel and Faith at National Studio at Bundanon,organised by the Australian Theatre for Young People, where I did a reading of Shabbat Dinner. Later that week, I was lucky enough to host Joel at election party, where he got a bit of an insight into how emotional Australian left wing artists can be when politics aren’t going their way. I learnt that all three of us have in common a pretty major love of food – and a tendency to photograph what we eat because the world simply must see it.
What are you looking forward to and what are you hoping to get out of your time in Singapore?
I can’t wait to become a fixture in Tiong Bahru – to suddenly stop being that random girl with the notebook, but a member of a community. I can’t wait to meet other artists and find out what ideas and passions drive them, and see what we have in common. I can’t wait to eat Singaporean carrot cake.
I am hoping that I will leave Singapore with a bunch of new collaborators and friends, and that I will then be able to embark on many years of cross-cultural theatre-making between our countries. I hope that the writing program I set up for teenagers can become self-seeding, so that new work is constantly being generated.
And I hope that my residency paves the way for many more such residencies in the future, and a robust engagement of our two countries for a long time to come.
How can people be involved?
I will be sharing details of all of the programs through the Tales of Two Cities Facebook page, on Twitter, on Instagram, and on our Tumblr. I’ll be regularly updating with stories from Singapore, interviews with fellow artists, pictures of food, and more!