Meet an Artist: Joel Tan

It’s time to profile another local artist, and I’m delighted to welcome Joel Tan to the Tales of Two Cities blog!Image

I was lucky enough to work with Joel on a reading of my play Shabbat Dinner, which I’ve blogged about previously here.Image

Joel is a writer and performer. He read English at the National University of Singapore and studied playwriting with Huzir Sulaiman. Since then, he has gone on to write and direct for the stage with varsity groups as well as major theatre companies in Singapore. Productions of his writing for the stage include Family Outing (2011) for the Man Singapore Theatre Festival, People (2013) for USP Productions, The House (2013) for Flamenco Sin Fronteras, Mosaic (2013) for the Lit Up Festival 2013 and W!ld Rice’s annual musical pantomime, Jack and the Beansprout! (2013). Joel is an Associate Artist with Checkpoint Theatre.Image

As mentioned, Jack and the Bean Sprout is currently playing at the Drama Centre Theatre. Once a year, the fabulous W!ld Rice Theatre Company produce a Singaporean version of a classic story to usher their audiences into the holiday spirit. Jack and the Bean Sprout, written by Joel and directed by recent Cultural Medallion winner Ivan Heng, is a boisterous, cheeky, and yet very touching adaptation of the classic story of Jack and the Beanstalk.ImageI spoke to Joel last week about his work, his relationship to his home city, and more:

What words do you think sum up your writing?

Personal, wry, loving.

What drives you to write plays?

When I dream up, witness, hear about or live through a story that I want to tell, I start to write a play.

What is your current and/or next project?

I wrote the book and lyrics for this year’s W!ldrice pantomime, Jack and the Beansprout!, and that’s currently going through tech birthing pains (it opens 21st November). Future projects include some directing work for simple presentational readings of plays– Dan Koh’s event DERACINATE on the 26th of November, and the Checkpoint Theatre Associate Artist Readings from the 8-11th of December. January sees a restaging of my play People by Creative Edge, the youth wing of I-Theatre.


What is your dream future project?

I’d like to have the time and brain-space to complete a play I’m working on which condenses these big, confusing feelings and ideas I have about Singapore into a series of interlocking stories about very simple, ordinary people.

What are your favourite and least favourite spots in Singapore?

Favourite spot is that impossibly quiet little stretch along the Singapore River near the Asian Civilisation museum where in the day the CBD’s reflection is caught in the water, and at night the lights from the office buildings are hauntingly beautiful. Least favourite spot is the vulgar Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.

What is your favourite arts venue in town?

I love-hate the Playden at the Arts House. Love because it’s where I’ve worked with a lot of other young theatre-makers to put up our work. It’s a fairly fuss-free space, cheap and familiar. I hate it because it has a very poorly maintained lights grid, which I realise now actually gives the place some character.

What is your favourite play/film/artwork about Singapore?

Arthur Yap’s the space of city trees.

What is your favourite hawker centre?

Lavender Food Square along Jalan Besar. They’ve got everything and it’s all very good.

What is your favourite recipe to cook at home?

After I acquired a big cast iron pot I tend to just throw things into it and cook it all overnight. But I think I like making chicken soup the most. I make it from scratch, including the stock, and only on rainy days.

What do you think Singapore looks like in 20 years time? 

I think it will look alternately like someone’s dream and nightmare city. I think in 20 years time it will finally have flushed out those with pastoral dreams, and it will give inspiration to those who write the city with a pastoral vision.

Thanks so much, Joel! Make sure to catch Jack and the Beansprout before the season ends, by booking here.


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