Interview: Joel Tan from Jack and the Bean Sprout

How do you know when you’ve written a piece that’s good to go?
As a playwright, I willingly surrender a lot of creative control to my collaborators—the script is not complete until it goes into rehearsal, and the play is not complete until it meets the audience.

Do you believe fairy tales were made by mischievously witty folk?
No, I think fairy tales were dreamt up by oppressive adults who wanted to scare or lull children into submission. In the same way, there is a kind of fairy tale aspect to a lot of religious and nationalistic texts, and very little of it is witty or mischievous. The Merlion, for example, deserves its own fairy tale.

How did you come up with Jack and the Bean Sprout?
I wrote this year’s script based on a treatment that Desmond Sim did for W!ld Rice in 2006, re-using most of his characters, but more or less rewriting everything else, including the songs. I came up with that over numerous cups of coffee.

How would you describe your own writing?
For this musical, I’ve had to shift into a frame of mind that I don’t normally use for my other plays, so I’m not sure I can give a straight answer. I guess the one thing that’s been carried over is my attention to the way people speak and a tendency to constantly undercut myself.  My writing is usually a lot less ‘cock’ than Jack, and I use ‘cock’ in a good way. 

What are some of the most poignant things you’ve learnt about theater?
That the stage is littered with agendas and egos. But at the same time, I’ve learnt that in the final consideration, it’s all for the audience. It’s very humbling. I think shows make it or break it depending on the attitude the theater-makers take towards audiences, how generous they allow themselves to be from the very beginning.

How much theatrical talent is out there in Singapore?
A lot, much of which becomes absorbed into the legal business, the corporate world and the civil service.

Jack and the Bean Sprout is now on till Dec 14 at The Drama Centre Theatre. Various timings. Tickets at $45-$70 from Sistic.