Well, that was fun!

We found our voice.

Farewell, lovely youth participants of the Finding Your Voice workshop series. They have made beautiful work over the last 4 weekends, and I hope to share their final pieces with you soon.

We were also delighted this final weekend when Kim Ho, the writer and star of the short film The Language of Love, popped by the workshop to show his acclaimed film and talk to us.

Ellen DeGeneres thinks Kim’s film ‘amazing’ and we all agreed.

Watch the film, below.

kim and jess

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Write Way Home: a workshop about Tiong Bahru

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What makes Tiong Bahru feel like home?

The architecture? The wet market? The Monkey God Temple? The bookshop? The fishball noodle soup?

Join your neighbours and Grey Projects resident writer Jessica Bellamy for a free workshop exploring what makes Tiong Bahru so unique. For ages 16+

Jessica Bellamy is a playwright from Australia currently in residence at Grey Projects week residency, part of which involves offering this workshop for the community (and for fans of Tiong Bahru from outside of the estate).Whether you’re a budding writer, or just interested in a day of creativity, come and engage with your home and your community for a day of writing workshops

When? Sunday 8 December 2013

Where? Tiong Bahru Community Centre

How much? FREE

To express interest and reserve your place, contact jessica@jessicabellamy.com.au

The City that Eats

The City that Eats

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

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…vroom…

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).
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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Meet Jessica Bellamy

Meet Jessica Bellamy

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.)

Tiong Bahru Day 1!

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.

Tb tumblrWhat will you be doing there?

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.)

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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.
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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!

Find out more details about the Tales of Two Cities event at the Singapore Writers Festival, here. You can find out more about the full program for Jessica, here.