Meet Singapore’s rental flat youth who are dispelling stereotypes through theater

Beyond Social Services is a voluntary welfare organization (VWO) that mainly works with children and youths living in various rental flats. Tonight, for the third year in a row, Izzaty Ishak, community worker at Beyond and applied theater practitioner along with her team of youth volunteers, will be presenting Sayang by the Community Theater, held under a block at Jalan Bukit Merah.

In case you didn’t know know, the so-called rental flat residents are low-income Singaporeans who have few housing options and reside in government-subsidized rental units under the Public Rental Scheme. Dispelling stereotypes around the community is a major outcome of the play.

The story revolves around a teenage boy, Jamil, who has lost his mother to cancer and struggles to balance his responsibilities as a brother, his relationship with his father and his schoolwork. But that’s just half the story. The play employs techniques of forum theater, which allows the audience to engage with the stories and talk about issues in a safe space. Audience members are invited to step into the place of any character and enact their proposed solution to the conflict the character is facing.

, Meet Singapore’s rental flat youth who are dispelling stereotypes through theater
Danny, who is playing Jamil. Photo credit: The Community Theatre

This year, more youths from the rental flats community joined in as actors, many without prior theater experience. Izzaty says she never would have imagined them to be a part of the project and has seen a wonderful transformation of shy youths into confident stage performers.

, Meet Singapore’s rental flat youth who are dispelling stereotypes through theater
Actors performing in one of the scenes. Photo credit: The Community Theatre

One of the actors, playing the role of the father, is Muhammad Danny Azrin Bin Abdullah, 17, who lives in a rental flat in Redhill. He likes to rap and plans to pursue his passion for arts after joining this project. He feels that there is a misconception with his community he wants to change: “Most people on the outside think there are a lot of hooligans here,” he says. “But even though it’s a rental flat community, everyone treats each other like family.”

But it’s not just the rental flat community members who benefit from the annual production. Participants from outside the community have found their perceptions changed through the process of rehearsals and performance. Jasmine Chew, a cast member, found a lot of common ground. She says, “The problems they share are everyone’s problems in every single family”.

Another volunteer, Sean Au, who graduated from Applied Drama and Psychology in Singapore Polytechnic changed his prejudice about children after performing in the previous show. He confesses, “I admit that I had this prejudice that kids when they intervene, it’s all just going to be for laugh, for show, nothing is going to be effective. But then, I was surprised that when the kids intervene, the solutions by them were dealing the root of the problem”.

You can catch their second performance this Saturday (Jan 7) at Blk 139, Jalan Bukit Merah, 7pm.