Sing to the Dawn

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I am currently sitting at the National Library. It is packed with people, and is probably the quietest library I’ve ever visited. Like much of Singapore, the library is a new building, spacious and filled with light. The view from the upper floors is fantastic. From here you can see the Singapore Flyer and the Marina Bay Sands Casino. You can also see the water, and several “national birds of Singapore,” construction cranes. (Get it?!)

I’ve had several adventures today. The morning began with a massive, excuse me – MASSIVE, thunderstorm. I’ve never seen it rain that hard. It was amazing. Like a dope, I couldn’t get the window closed (will I ever master that?!) so the rain flooded part of my apartment.

After the rain stopped I headed to LaSalle. They took me to a rehearsal at the Drama Center in the Library where I watched a rehearsal of ITheatre’s upcoming production of Sing to the Dawn..

I was incredibly impressed. (And, if you know me, that’s saying a lot…)

The play is based in a novel written by Singaporean writer Ho Mingfo. It is a beautiful and powerful story about a girl who wins an academic scholarship over her brother, and how she navigates through the cultural traditions standing in the way in order for her to pursue her education. One by one the members of her family begin to support her, challenging tradition.

The production is powerful and beautiful, weaving together music, dance, puppets and movement in a way that sings itself. I was nearly moved to tears several times during the show.

I stayed after the rehearsal to listen to the director give notes to the cast. I was really curious to hear how he envisioned improving the production. He asked me to give some feedback to the cast (that was a little awkward, but I stammered out something that made several of the cast members nod sagely…) and then he started with notes.

The conversation suddenly turned to an acknowledgement of racial differences; one cast member joked how the theatrical parents of the lead character were of two different ethnicities, both of which were different than the ethnicity of the lead character and her theoretical brother. The cast laughed about it and moved on.

I rode down the elevator with one of the actors. During our elevator ride he told me about his graduate acting work. After he finished his undergraduate degree, he went to the UK to do his master’s degree in musical theatre. He stayed in the UK for a year afterwards, but got frustrated because the directors there “casted for race.” In Singapore, he said, as you could see from the cast, the directors don’t think about this.

Someone told me the other day that multiculturalism is ingrained in the people of Singapore; that Singaporeans are constantly around people who are different than they. In fact, the government even has a quota for the number of people from one ethnicity that can live in a particular HBD. If multiculturalism is “ingrained,” then what part does (or can) drama play in deepening the relationships, to help young people move beyond tolerance, or being “used” to each other, to being more open to each other.

When you talk about multiculturalism in Singapore, it is also necessary to talk about food. Food, as almost every person who I have talked to has said, is the thing that ties Singaporeans together. There are hawker centers (essentially what we might call food courts in the US) which cater to the many different cultural traditions in Singapore. In the Adams Road hawker center (where I ate the deeeelicious Malay nasi lebak yesterday), a Chinese stall sits next to an Indian stall, and next to a fruit juice stall, and next to a Malay food stall. And everyone sits at the tables and eats, together. It is really beautiful.

This evening I am going to have my first version of chicken rice, a local dish several people have said I should try. I am looking forward to it.

After rehearsal I visited a well known Hindu temple on Serangoon Road. I got lost, of course, and found myself wandering around the streets of Little India drunk in the perfume of jasmine flowers. So wonderful. I look forward to heading back to that area another time to have a good curry.

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