Churning out award-winning plays in just 24 hours

  • The pressure was on for more than 80 budding playwrights when they had just 24 hours to put their creative juices on paper and, at the same time, come up with an award-winning piece.
  • As the seconds ticked away, TheHomeGround Asia was with a couple of them, watching as they sweat it out.

Twenty-four hours … or if you want to count it to the last second, 86,400 seconds.

As the hours turned to minutes and seconds, the participants put their thoughts on paper, hoping they would not suffer writer’s block.

And after battling time, fatigue and sleepiness, Ms Amanda Chong and Ms Sarah Zafirah emerged victorious in their respective categories at the second digital edition of the 24-hour playwriting competition. It is Ms Sarah second win in the Youth category.

Both Ms Chong and Ms Sarah were among the over 80 budding playwrights who participated in the marathon 24-Hour Playwriting Competition, organised by independent and international arts company T:>Works.

Ms Chong, a 31-year-old lawyer, took the top prize for the open category with her work #WomenSupportingWomen,  a layered and nuanced exploration of the hashtag trend of rallying women to support other women when personal traumas and privileges are stacked against systemic limitations.

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Ms Chong told Her World magazine last year (2021) that her love for writing stems from its ability to take her to a place of vulnerability, saying it is her way of “grappling with unanswered questions” such as the loss of a dear friend to suicide and coming to terms with her grandmother’s dementia.

Her 24-hour play will be showcased under the How To Break A Window II platform. Initiated in 2020, How To Break A Window is a nod to the ingenuity of the featured playwrights and includes a month-long mentoring programme culminating in a presentation. 

The second prize winner Kudumbam by Malaysian writer Melizarani T.Selva and a script from 2019 titled Green Leaves by Yin Mei Lenden-Hitchcock will also be staged at the same time.

How To Break A Window will also include an afternoon focused specifically on young writers aged 18 to 25 years old. In this forum, two staged readings — Effets de soir (French for Effects of the Evening) by Ms Sarah and second prize entry 80s Power Hour by Tania Lam.

Artistic Director of Festival of Women N.O.W. (2019-2021) Noorlinah Mohamed, who moderated three annual competitions since 2019, says the judges read over 70 scripts and were impressed with the standard and “ultimately, the key difference is the maturity of the stories and the spark of ingenuity in the way each of the stimulus was weaved into their scripts”. 

Citing the example of Ms Chong’s #WomenSupportingWomen, Ms Noorlinah says: “It had all the elements, from the use of stimuli and technology to her sharp, concise and impactful writing. One of the highlights was how well she used Zoom. It is used not only as a platform for staging but also significant in heightening the dualities that are both separate and yet blurred in our lives. Zoom becomes a metaphor on what is seen, said, unsaid, private and public.” 

As the writing vividly presents “the complexities and tensions of facing and speaking truths to power in situations when nothing is obvious and seen”, the decision to award #WomenSupportingWomen the first prize was unanimous, Ms Noorlinah adds. 

This competition saw the largest turn out in the Youth Category with 38 participants and Ms Sarah caught the judges eyes and hearts with a script which has “a melding of art and technology”. 

“In Effets de Soir, she describes the use of Augmented Reality (AR) on eight pieces of artwork. Embedded in each artwork, the story of a fractured relationship between father and daughter gets animated through AR. Last year Sarah Zafirah won in the same category and she wrote a father and son story. So, it seems Sarah is unpacking familial relationships,” Ms Noorlinah says, hoping Ms Sarah will return for a third time next year, “though let’s not put undue pressure on this young writer”.

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