Monday, April 21, 2008

MDA delay results in no-show of play at NUS Dramafest

The Ridge Online: "Dramafest Producers Mourn for Play's Loss" (by Ho Yi Jian, 20/4/2008)

“The Last Political Animal is my favourite play by far, it was the main reason why I signed up to be a producer here at Dramafest,” remarked Chethan Anil, executive producer of Dramafest 2008.

In an interview with the four producers of Dramafest 2008, the producers – Chethan Anil (Engineering, Year 1), Danielle Woong (Business, Year 2), Eva Pillai (Bioengineering, Year 2) and Musaddaq Raibin (Civil Engineering, Year 2) – together with playwright Laremy Lee (English Literature, Year 4) and director Desiree Choo (Psychology, Year 2), expressed their disappointment over the effective censorship of The Last Political Animal.

Laremy’s The Last Political Animal was slated to be part of the six plays at Dramafest, a collaborative drama event staged by three halls of residence on campus – Eusoff Hall, Kent Ridge Hall and King Edward VIII Hall.

Even though the Media Development Authority (MDA) finally gave the play permission to be staged after suggestion numerous changes to the script, the go-ahead only came four days before the production.

For the producers, that was several days too late – the decision had already been made to replace The Last Political Animal with I Fake It In Bed, also written by Desiree Choo, a resident of Eusoff Hall.

Limits of Political Sensitivity

When quizzed on why the play might have been axed, Eva Pillai, a producer from Eusoff Hall, explained that the MDA’s main grouse with the play had been with the name of one of the characters, Harry.

Because the name was deemed to carry certain political connotations, the play was ascertained to have crossed certain limits of political sensitivity.

Eva explained that the assistant director of NUS Centre for the Arts (CFA) initially told them that the play was approved, except that the names ought to be changed because it was too obvious.

“As the play went on to the higher levels, they got back to us… they told us it might be ‘politically sensitive’,” she explained.

Laremy, an English Literature honours student from Kent Ridge Hall, said about his play, “It’s about a family travelling in a car, dysfunctional as they be, and they knock down an animal. Suddenly, a wildlife officer/crocodile hunter appears and tells them that they’ve killed the last political animal.”

In response to his opinion on the censorship, Laremy merely shrugged and exclaimed, “I’m an artist. I have no political agenda. I just want to write and I write what I see.”

Musaddaq, one of the producers from King Edward VII Hall, told us, “When I got the message from Danielle that it got cut, I went, ‘What! What is going on?’ And this was after the priest scene got cut too.”

The priest scene was a modification to another play, The Night Before, changing a priest to an advice hotline. They were asked to change it out of religious sensitivities.

Incredible Chemistry

All four of the producers were extremely confident of The Last Political Animal and what it could have been. Laremy’s scripts were among the few that kept the producers excited and motivated through out.

Passionately, Chethan defended the play. “The play is very short, but every single bit had a lot of detail. On the surface it seems like such a short simple play, but there’s so much meaning in it.”

Danielle, a producer from Kent Ridge Hall, who was directing The Last Political Animal until the censorship issues cropped up, said that the actors cast in the roles had incredibly chemistry together.

“When we actually did the rehearsals, [the actors] really worked well together. Every time we rehearsed, there were new ideas coming out. It was really sad that everything got taken out in the end,” Danielle remarked.

The Consolation Is Coolness

Despite the disappointment, there was a small consolation: Laremy noted that people were more inclined to find out what his play was about.

“Now people who normally do not want to even watch a play are interested in reading my script,” said Laremy.

Danielle added, “It definitely ups the coolness factor.”

Dramafest is a collaborative event jointly organised by Eusoff Hall (EH), King Edward VII Hall (KE7) and Kent Ridge Hall (KRH). It features six short plays and is usually held after Semester Two’s mid-term break. This year, it was titled “Six: Confessions”, following last year’s title, “Six: Colours”. Although it was a free event, it had an M18 rating.

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