Upclose with playwright Tan Tarn How and director Ong Keng Sen

How would you describe Fear of Writing?
Tan Tarn How (TTH): It is simply an experimental and self-reflexive play about what is the point of theater in this country.
What was it like collaborating with Tarn How after a decade?
Ong Keng Sen (OKS): We have constantly been in touch as we work together with young writers in The Writers’ Lab programmes. It was on Christmas Eve in 2006 when he started talking to me about the desire to write a play. Since then, I have been encouraging him to produce one and we finally have an excellent piece that focuses on a writer’s crisis.
How is the play different from recent works like Singapore and Cooling Off Day?
OKS: Most Singaporeans still deal with politics from a consumer’s perspective; it’s always about who is giving a better deal despite the political awakening in this year’s General Elections. This is not what Fear of Writing is about; instead it’s all about invisible borders, what we are afraid to say and the fear of control in a society that has Big Brother watching every little move that you make. It’s about the self as opposed to the other plays which are more concerned about the collective.
What is one thing that you have learnt while working on this play?
OKS: A straw poll about censorship in Singapore was conducted as part of the play’s research, which revealed that locals are unanimous in their support for censorship. I guess we are a damaged brood because the ruling government has imparted to us a certain kind of ethos.
What do you think are some challenges in the local arts scene?
TTH: I think that writing of all sorts remains a weak point in Singapore’s arts scene. It’s crucial to introduce kids to quality literary works at a young age. Besides, Singaporeans don’t generally read much fiction, let alone local works; all we have is a nation which sustains itself on self-help and motivational books. The other major challenges to being a local writer are self-censorship and being faithful to our language, especially when it comes to writing dialogue. And not forgetting there are simply not enough writers here.
Fear of Writing runs through Sep 3, Sep 6-10.