Finding Your Inner Quirk

One. Week. Left!

It’s quite horrifying and unbelievable to think that I only have a week left in Singapore.

The first month has gone so incredibly fast; a whirlwind of teaching, meeting new people, going to events, learning about the culture, museum- and gallery-hopping, and eating many many egg tarts from Tiong Bahru Pau.ImageThe last week has been bittersweet, as my series of workshops have all culminated in different ways.

On Wednesday, I held my final workshop for adult writers. For the last 3 weeks, this ensemble has been coming together to share inspiration, gain support and advice, and to form a few collaborative documents that can help us with our creative process in the future. They have been a joy to work with, and I look forward to sharing some of our work with you all soon, to see if it inspires you on your own creative journeys.ImageI also wrapped up the final session of my Finding Your Voice workshops with writers aged 16-22. These young writers have been dedicated, open to new ideas, and have created a very exciting collection of monologues inspired by the setting of Tiong Bahru. These will be shared soon too!

In a stroke of perfect timing, fellow Australian writer Kim Ho, he of the much-acclaimed film The Language of Love, happened to be in Singapore.ImageKim came to share his film (watch it, here) and a Q&A with my team of young writers, and then was able to hear their final pieces of work being shared with the class.ImageFinally, yesterday was my final workshop in Singapore, a community event at Tiong Bahru Community Centre, focused on writing about the unique estate of Tiong Bahru.ImageIt was a very exciting day of sharing, storytelling and laughter, with a mixture of local residents and other people from wider Singapore. We engaged with the locations, people and stories of Tiong Bahru while sharing a few creative exercises.

I hope the workshop has inspired some people to start writing and keep writing, and share their stories with the wider world.ImageIt has been a challenging and rewarding opportunity to offer three very different masterclasses within a short period, but I have gained so much from the artists I have worked with.

This experience has brought home the realisation that everybody has a story, an inner quirkiness, a combination of odd passions, skills and loves that make them who they are. Once we tap into this inner self with dedication and rigour, we can create work that is personal, meaningful and engaging. Our unique way of seeing the world. Our own inner voice.

Thank you to the Tiong Bahru Community Centre and Grey Projects for hosting us so well.

Now back to the Pau stall.

The City that Eats

The City that Eats

Welcome to another week in Singapore, where again, nothing stops.



Singapore really is the city that never sleeps…not only because there’s so much to do, but because 8 hours of sleeping is 8 hours where you could be eating.

Food is important here…if you haven’t already got that vibe from my previous posts and Tumblr page.

Singapore is also an incredibly vibrant city in which to be an artist, because it feels like there’s always something new and very different happening.

For example, in the last week, I went to:

  • A night of playreadings of Checkpoint Theatre‘s Huzir Sulaiman’s graduate playwriting students, where a group of peers performed each other’s new writing to a warm crowd and, oh yes, a group dinner.
  • The gala night of W!ld Rice’s Jack and the Beansprout, where instead of the normal Australian post-show event of a few nibblies and gallons of wine, the audience was treated to a swanky buffet dinner. Furthermore, the entire cast came out into the foyer in their costumes, to take photos with over-excited audience members (that is, children and visiting Australian playwrights). It was a great opportunity to see how companies like W!ld Rice facilitate post-show conversation and natural networking. (Read my interview with Jack and the Beansprout scribe Joel Tan, here).

(the goose character makes this face when it is laying eggs. It made sense to all do the same face for this photo. IT DID)

This past week was also the beginning of my series of workshops with writers from Singapore.

Firstly, a workshop for slightly older writers with the aim of forming a support network to create work and learn new generative techniques together. We had a very fun workshop in the Grey Projects library, where the writers were asked to respond to the current exhibition of works in the Grey Projects gallery space.Image

I realised what a special opportunity it is to be a resident writer in an arts space; to find the links between visual art and text, and to see if different forms can complement each other.


Yang Jie’s “Mechanical Arm” in Grey Projects

To continue my story, I’ll need you to follow me down Kim Tian Road, past the art deco apartments, wind your way along the fringe of the green space, and pass Hua Bee Coffee Shop on your way to my next appointment.Image

Hua Bee has been around since the 1950s, but closed recently due a combination of factors. The spiralling rent in these areas as the hipster value of this suburb hikes up is a major concern for the elderly store owners. But with these challenges has come a strain of creative thinking from the entrepreneurs of Tiong Bahru – the idea of a “two-faced” restaurant has emerged.

By day, Hua Bee is a traditional fishball soup cafe, and by night, a swanky yakitori restaurant named Bincho. Another café down the road, TwoFace, has done just the same: noodles by day, pizza by night. It’s inspiring and a nice human compromise in the face of inevitable development here. The old and the new can live side-by-side.

Keep walking, passing the Resident Centre where I got to watch some senior citizens cut loose to Chinese karaoke songs last week, and make your way to the Tiong Bahru Community Centre, a buzzing open space full of ping pong championships, basketball playoffs, and a community of people sharing a table and that morning’s breaking news. Here is where I’m hosting a workshop for teenage writers called ‘Finding Your Voice’.Image

This workshop is an introduction to dramatic writing with the aim of creating a monologue by the end of the 4 sessions together. Situating the workshop in my current base, Tiong Bahru, has offered us the unique opportunity to respond to our surroundings. For example, a casual “scavenger hunt” in the Tiong Bahru hawker centre has generated some great material for next week’s workshop.

It has been a lot of fun to work with smart and creative people of a variety of ages and to see what sort of work we can create together. I look forward to seeing what our final project looks like.ImageSee you next time to update you on things seen, things written, and obviously, things eaten.

Welcome to Singapore

Welcome to Singapore

Australian playwright Jessica Bellamy is in Singapore, as a writer in residence in Tiong Bahru. For our Tales of Two Cities blog, Jessica will be charting her 6 weeks in Singapore, as she talks to leading arts figures, collaborates with Singaporean artists and finds out about Singapore, generally while eating. Find out more about Jessica, here and follow Tales of Two Cities on Facebook, here. Here begins the blog…

The New Burial Ground

Before I came to Singapore, I had an image in my head of a typical cityscape. High rise buildings, 9-5 office workers, every nook and cranny protected by air conditioning, and malls akimbo. Also a sculpture that looks like a trident with an airplane on top of it, which shoots out green laser beams at 8pm every night.

Jess and Marina

That’s one part of Singapore, but it’s not where I’m staying. For the 6 weeks of my residency, I will be living in Tiong Bahru, a neighbourhood still very close to the city, but with an identity of its own. I’m resident artist at Grey Projects, a multi-disciplinary art space with the best library I’ve ever seen.


Tiong Bahru is a mixture of Chinese and Malay words, and means “new cemetery”. It has a much older demographic than other parts of Singapore. There is a thriving wet market and hawker centre, the first in Singapore. The blocks of flats are much smaller than the huge high rises that dwarf them on the horizon. Most importantly, you can get a plate of carrot cake for breakfast for $2.50 and a kopi for 90 cents.


On both ends of one street you’ll find a Monkey God Temple, a traditional bakery (with the butteriest tapioca square you’ll ever taste in your life), a hipster optometrist and a day spa with specialty-built packing crates in which you’ll get a massage. Meander down the road and you’ll find one of the best bookstores in the country, Books Actually, which boasts 3 resident cats, one of whom hates me.

It is wonderful.

Shabbat Shalom

I arrived in Singapore at 3.30pm on a Monday, only to go straight to my rehearsal at Checkpoint Theatre.

I had written a piece called Shabbat Dinner earlier in 2013 for the Tamarama Rock Surfers Bondi Feast Festival, directed and dramaturged by Anthony Skuse. As part of my residency in Singapore, I was given the opportunity to experience a locally produced reading of the play.

Shabbat Dinner is a very culturally specific piece about the experience of being a Jewish woman coming from a history of survivors. It was written with the knowledge that its premiere production would be in Bondi Beach, an area where Jewish history and culture is a major part of the landscape.

I wondered how it might resonate in an entirely different country and culture; one where a Jewish community exists, but it is not by any means a very visible one.


I realised I was in very safe hands with my friend and collaborator Joel Tan, a local playwright, director and performer, as well as Associate Artist with Checkpoint Theatre. His production, performed first at Lowercase at LASALLE College of The Arts and then at the lovely Artistry Cafe, was beautiful and thrilling. He found a way of uniting our chorus of female performers via the universal links of the piece – as feminists, as family members, as survivors of their own histories and religious traditions. It was most powerful to see the way in which music brought people together. Hearing Singaporean voices sing in Hebrew will be something I’ll never forget. (Check out photos from the readings, here.)

The Other Stuff

There’s so much more to this residency that I can only touch on now, but will continue to draw on in the weeks to come.

Most overarching is my realisation that Singapore is so far from the uptight, controlled city that people might think. The artists here are naughty and hilarious, making avant garde theatre and saucy performance art. For example, an exhibition called Singirl, which takes photographs of women’s bare bottoms to merge into artworks.


Singlish continues to elude and excite me, with words like “chim” (meaning hugely intelligent and a bit hoity-toity) and “lah” (an emphasis at the end of a sentence that I constantly get wrong) seeping, grammatically incorrectly, into my vocabulary.

This is a society where a typical “how’s it going” greeting is “have you taken your lunch?” My answer is always “yes, of course” because the food here is so fabulous that you find yourself eating all day long. More on that next time, because it really deserves its own post.

I’ll be back with a wrap-up each week, as well as regular interviews with leading Singaporean artists whom I’d like you to know about, dear readers.

Until then…have you taken your lunch?

Jessica will be leading workshops for young writers exploring Tiong Bahru over the next month. Find out more, here.

Don’t forget to check out Jessica’s photos on Tumblr, her twitter feed and our facebook page!

Jessica’s Tales of Two Cities residency is made possible through the generous support of the Australian Chamber of Commerce (AustCham) in Singapore.