A Date With Gifted Playwright Jean Tay

When Charlotte from SRT asked me to help her share about the new writing program targeted at young people aged 16 to 25 for 2015, I was scratching my head how to do so, until I saw a name on the flyer — Jean Tay!

I know that name!

I know Jean as a fellow mom from school — Jean’s youngest daughter and my daughter are classmates in the same primary school. We didn’t know each other long as she and her family relocated to sunny California for a year for a course that her husband was doing and had only just returned in the mid of this year. But during the short time that we got to know each other, I found Jean to be warm, friendly and most modest about her incredible achievements.

Jean is a gifted and well-respected Singaporean playwright with many illustrious accolades that include several acclaimed plays including the award-winning “Everything But The Brain”.

Everything But The Brain (2006) and her real estate tragicomedy, Boom (2008)  were selected as prescribed school text in English Literature for upper secondary students!


Being a curious wart, I took this opportunity to arrange a playdate for our girls and score an interview with Jean.

How Did You get Into This Project With SRT?

JT: I was a resident playwright with them for about 3 years. SRT has a young company for acting and they run a 2-year program to develop actors. In 2012, SRT approached me to run a similar program to develop young playwrights. It started as a year-long program but we shorten it to 4 months because it was very difficult for participants to commit to that length of time.

It is very encouraging to see aspiring playwrights who have no confidence in writing develop and come into their own. They form a community of like-minded people who become friends. 

What Can Participants Look To Gain From This Workshop

JT: This program offers a great exposure to both theatre and theatre writing in a safe environment. If you love both, this is also a great opportunity to meet the other actors and people you can collaborate with in the future. The nice thing is that because we work with SRT, we get them connected with the young actors from the Young Company and we have a showcase at the end. Participants can meet aspiring young directors and actors whom they can work with and collaborate with in future works… It is exciting!

How Big Is The Class Size?

JT: Our past experiences have been eight to 10 writers. It is a really nice size to get to know each other and I don’t know if it’s luck, but we have had very good dynamics throughout the years…

Do They Need Experience or Good English To Join The Programme?

JT: It is a writing class, but I am not there to correct the grammar. Having said that, there are also other writing programs organized by the Mandarin theatre like Theatre Practice and Drama Box have good writing programs they can try…

I have had students who had no experience in theatre writing but their enthusiasm and passion made them invaluable contributors to my classes. It helps to enjoy theatre and be familiar with theatre but you don’t have to have any experience in writing plays to join the program.

How Did You Become A Playwright?

JT: I have always loved theatre even as a young girl, and I went to a lot of plays but I never thought I could write for it. In the mid to late 90s, I went to America on a MAS scholarship, I did all my electives in creative writing, play writing and literature. I managed to come out with enough credits to graduate with a Creative Writing Degree (on top of the Economics Degree).

I applied for this play writing class and had wonderful professors who mentored me in playwriting even though I did not have any experiences. When I returned to Singapore to fulfill my bond, I took any opportunities I could find to write plays. I kept submitting my plays in competitions and finally won one of Action Theatre’s 10-minute plays. 

Boom by Jean Tay

Any Advice For Aspiring Playwrights?

JT: Watch lots of theatres, read lots of plays. Keep writing. Take every opportunity you get..

What Inspires You To Write Your Plays?

JT: Usually stories that fascinates me and gets under my skin; they stay with me and haunt and provide me with the impetus to translate them into plays. The stories can come from the news, documentaries or adaptations.  I usually do the research and read up a lot. I like history pieces because they are so fascinating – quite a few got translated into plays like Bukit Ho Swee and Pulau Senang.

Where Do You Do Most Of Your Writing?

JT: I will like to say at home, but usually I have got lots of distractions like my daughters or worse, the internet (laughs). I usually head to a café like McDonald’s or Starbucks and try to be productive there.

Who Are Your Favourite Playwrights?

JT: My favourite playwrights are the likes of Edward Elbe, Tennessee Williams, Sara Rue, Paula Ruga – my influences are quite American because I studied there. Back home, I have been inspired by many local playwrights like Haresh Sharma (who has been a mentor), Chong Tze Chien  incredible writer and director, Olivia Yu, Eleanor Nor, and Tan Tarn How

Jean Tay Singaporean Playwright
With the family at the 2012 production of Boom.

For more information on the writing program, please refer to this LINK.


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Till our next post, love yourself, love one another.

Meiling Wong

Meiling is a Singaporean mom who loves spending time with her 2 kids until they ditch her for slime-making and digital gaming. These days, she keeps herself busy trying to keep up with the social media while still contemplating if she should learn how to play "Clash Royale".

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