Backstage

我们的作家 · 我们的文学 · 我们的故事

22 Jun 2012
Article by Max
English Translation by Sam Kee
Photos by Ping

《优剧》是个蛮奇特的名字,演出的形式也是。买一张票,看两出剧,而且还是一中一英。这样的形式,不禁让我猜想,它是要考验推行多年的既偏英又重中的语文政策吗?

两出剧的两段故事,其实没什么关联;唯一的共同点,就是它们都改编自本地文学作品。国家艺术理事会举办的新加坡作家节,这两年来把触角伸展到戏剧领域,和旧国会大厦艺术之家合作,以《优剧》独特的形式为大家呈献杰出的本地文学作品,也带出文字以外的可能性。

一部中文长篇小说-《画室》、两部英文短篇小说《黄色的大象》和《吞下太阳的女孩》;一部中文剧本《影子森林》和一部英文剧本《黄色的大象及吞下太阳的女孩》。这到底是一个怎样的演出?

把《画室》其中一段内容改编成《影子森林》的李集庆在电话访谈中透露,这次的机缘让他进一步碰触和探索他从中学时期就非常欣赏的作家的作品。他添加了并运用更丰富的戏剧元素,创作了尽量接近原著故事、氛围和节奏的剧本。他也提醒了我《优剧》的中心是小说,就是这样,我悄悄推开本地文坛的门,一探究竟。

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炎热的下午,走进开在国家图书馆对面的草根书室,摆在最显眼位置的就是《畫室》。是的,是繁体字的“畫室”,而不是简体字的“画室”。顿时我才想到这部由本地著名作家,也是这间书店的创办人-英培安写的2011年十大中文小说之一的《画室》,原来是在台湾出版的。

《画室》的背景从上个世纪开始,内容主要刻画画家面对的困境、挣扎、坚持和理想。被满满的优质中文书籍围绕着,英培安对我们侃侃而谈这部长篇小说的创作灵感、本地文学和文化、社会风气、理想、梦想… 我们深刻感受到一种持续了几十年对中文文学创作的热诚和坚持,其中也夹杂着一点点的无奈。他坦诚,书店其实快经营不下去了。书架上一本本精心挑选的好书,是艰苦经营事业的重要支撑力。我在想,一间这样的书店,不就像一间画室,是让人塑造自己的理想的地方吗?

另一个同样闷热的傍晚,经过曾经是本地的艺术殿堂、现在正被整修得“体无完肤”的维多利亚剧院,来到了旧国会大厦艺术之家。《黄色的大象及吞下太阳的女孩》的原作者胡添进刚下班就赶过来,编剧郑茵也从繁重琐碎的家务事中抽身一小时,和我们聊聊《优剧》里以英语演出的部分。这两位新生代的文学和艺术工作者,对于既本土又充满想象力的故事有着共同的喜好和兴奋感。两部短篇小说,两个超现实色彩的概念,被郑茵编织成一段富有张力的剧情。

无论是李集庆,还是英培安;郑茵,还是胡添进;四位背景各不相同的创作人,感染着我的是他们旺盛的创作力,和极富热忱的说故事能力。在本地,有多少人会关心曾经发生在这社会里的各种故事?当我们在抱怨着社会变得越来越现实、拜金、太国际化,我们是否花了足够心力去珍惜这座城市的记忆?

如果你觉得“历史”太僵硬或枯燥,那么“故事”就是有血有肉和想象空间的记录。我们或许更爱看舞台或银幕上精彩的演绎,那么毫无保留地收藏在一行又一行的文字里、这社会的记忆和想象力,也是非常需要我们去疼惜的。这些故事,或许收藏在英培安接下来还会继续写的长篇小说中,或者是胡添进筹备中的第一部长篇小说中,或是在郑茵手上关于新加坡本岛以外的几个小岛传奇故事的剧本里,还有其他众多的本地创作者的手稿里。

近几个月来有几家大书店陆续结束营业,对很多人来说都是令人泄气的消息。由得奖作家掌管的书店,并不因为有名气撑腰而逃过现实社会的冷言旁观。在 North Bridge Centre 三楼老旧和昏暗的走廊尽头,草根书室虽没有华丽的门面,却像一本新书那样整洁明亮。不过这年头整洁明亮并不会给一间书店带来可观的收入。不好意思地说,本地的消费者似乎偏好光鲜亮丽外表,看起来只是白纸黑字的文学作品要挑起消费欲望是越来越困难。我们不知道什么时候草根书室也会像那些大书店那样,承受不起沉重的开销,而消失在永远都那么光鲜亮丽的城市风景线中。

如果你从来没看过本地文学,或对本地社会的故事有那么一点点好奇,《优剧》可以是一个很好的开始。如果你觉得本地社会只是硬梆梆的组屋、一直在改变的市容和不断冲高的消费指数,你可以看看本地文学里记录和描写的上一代、这一代和下一代的理想、梦想和幻想。有朝一日,你可以让像《画室》这样的优秀本地作品,回到本地出版社的手中,在本地出版。

对了,我们离开草根书室前买了一本《画室》,英培安告诉我们,那是当天书店卖出的第一本书。当时是下午五点多。

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Our Writers. Our Literature. Our Stories from Home.

Utter is an utterly unique name. So is their approach to staging performances. For the price of one ticket, audience gain entrance to two vastly different shows: one staged in Chinese, the other in English. (This led me to wonder if this mode of performance is an assessment on our nation’s policy of advocating bilingualism in our society?)

Essentially, the two stories in the performances are independent of each other. The sole common point would be that both productions are adapted from local literary works. In the recent couple of years, the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF), held by the National Arts Council (NAC), has been dabbling with arts in the theatrical arena. This time round, SWF collaborates with The Arts House to showcase outstanding local literary works in the form ofUtter, thereby presenting the potential to deliver context outside of words.

Presenting The Studio, an English novel and two English short stories namely, The Yellow Elephant and The Girl Who Swallowed the Sun, a Chinese playscript – Shadows in the Jungle and lastly, the English playscript – The Yellow Elephant and The Girl Who Swallowed The Sun. We await what could be installed for us in this season ofUtter – a melting pot of local works of literature.

We spoke to Mr Lee Chee Keng, the playwright who adapted an episode from The Studio into Shadows in the Jungle. In the phone interview, Lee revealed that this rare opportunity allowed him pay tribute to and further explore the works of his favourite writers from his secondary school days. He sought to infuse vibrant theatrical elements into the play, conserving the essence of its primary sources, thus creating a parallel ambience and tempo in the production. He reminded us that the true focus of Utter is ‘novels’. Peering through his looking-glass, we delve into the local literary scene and discover ourselves…

It was another sunny afternoon when we entered the Grassroots Book Room, adjacent to the National Library. The first thing that caught our eyes was The StudioThe Studio was written by the very owner of the Grassroots Book Room, Mr Yeng Pway Ngon, which also won him the Yazhou Zhoukan Top Ten Best Chinese Novels Worldwide in 2011. Apparent on the cover of the book, were two Chinese characters spelling out the title 《畫室》, in traditional Chinese font – not common for locally published books. Then it occurred to me that The Studio was published in Taiwan, not Singapore.

The Studio, spanning from the last century, illustrates the struggles, determination and ideals of an artist in the face of setbacks. Sitting in his bookstore, surrounded by volumes of Chinese literature, Yeng spoke to us earnestly about the inspirations of his novel, the Chinese culture and literary scene in Singapore, his ideals and aspirations… We could strongly feel his undying passion and enthusiasm for Chinese literature and writing for the past few decades as we spoke, but not without a hint of anguish. He admitted that the bookstore is hardly making ends meet. Looking at the each carefully chosen literature work on the shelves of his store, we realise they are really the backbone to support him in managing this challenging trade. Is this store not a manifestation of The Studio, where people come to shape their dreams?

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On another occasion, we passed by Victoria Hall – once the prestige of local arts scene – now undergoing a face-lift and walked into The Arts House of The Old Parliament. We met Mr O Thiam Chin, the author of The Yellow Elephant and The Girl Who Swallowed The Sun, and Jean Tay, who took an hour off her hectic schedule to tell us more about her role in the English drama ofUtter. Being contemporary artists in the local literary and artistic field, both O and Tay were thrilled in expressing a script full of local flavours and imagination. The English drama performance, which encompasses two surreal concepts from the two short stories that it was adapted from, was dynamically articulated by Tay, animatedly.

Despite the difference in their backgrounds, these four artists: Lee Chee Keng, Yeng Pway Ngon, Jean Tay and O Thiam Chin, has affected me with their fervour for creating and their passion in conveying stories. Have we taken time to reflect upon ourselves as we continue to rant about our globalised society becoming more pragmatic and materialistic? How many of us were concerned with the various events that have taken place in the society? Have we given a thought about the memoirs that once moulded this city?

If you think that history is monotonous and boring, then novels must be the flesh and blood of memoirs, with room for your wildest imagination. Most people fancy going into theatres to catch a staged performance or films on screen. On the same note, memories and imaginations of our homeland documented in prints should also be valued and treated with care. Perhaps, we may find these stories from home in Yeng’s next novel; or embedded in O’s current novel-in-progress; or set in Tay’s playscript illustrating Singapore’s offshore islands, or even in the hands of other up-and-coming young local writers.

Lately, several major bookstores have successively wound up their business. I believe this came as a blow to many people concerned. Although Yeng, a prize-winning literature writer, helms the Grassroots Book Room, the bookstore did not escape unscathed, from the harsh reality of this materialistic society. Local consumers are increasingly fussy about the packaging of goods, and conventional black-and-white prints are losing their appeal. Sitting at the end of a dimly lit corridor, on the third floor of North Bridge Centre, Grassroots Book Room may not be decked out in opulence, but she greets you like a glistening new book. We do not know if the Grassroots Book Room could stay afloat or meet the same miserable fate due to high overhead costs, and then vanish forever amidst the dazzling city lights.

If you have been curious about the stories of our homeland or that you have never seen local literary productions, Utter will be a good start. If you think that our tiny island is merely made up of rigid HDBs or perpetually increasing costs of living, you may want to take look at local productions, that illustrates the aspirations, dreams and hopes of our past, present and future generations. One day, you may become the key to open The Studio and return the prestige of local literary works to our homeland, in the hands of a local publisher.

We bought a copy of The Studio before we left. Yeng told us it was his first sale of the day, and the time was five in the evening as we walked out the Grassroots Book Room …

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