5 Minutes With... Stephanie Street, Pangdemonium’s Resident Playwright

Art & Design

August 24, 2017 | BY Hashirin Nurin Hashimi

The Singapore-born and UK-based actress, playwright and passionate arts diversity advocate explores the meaning of home in her brand-new play.

From climate change posing a threat to our planet and Brexit causing chaos all over Europe, to the relentless terrorist attacks by radical extremists around the globe, the world is facing turbulent times. However, amid the crises and conflicts, we need to find reason for hope. This is explored in Pangdemonium’s new, original play, Dragonflies, written by Singapore-born and UK-based Stephanie Street, the theatre company’s resident playwright. 

Set in 2021 in a post-Brexit world, Dragonflies tells the story of a UK-based Singaporean dealing with the fallout of tighter immigration laws, and forced to leave his home in England and return to his birthplace—a country different from the one he knew as a child. Street, who has had a 16-year career in the UK working in theatre and television, explains, “The play poses the questions: what is home? How do we find a home in a climate where everybody seems to be closing borders? And with tighter controls, who belongs where?” 

Presented from August 24 to 26, at the Victoria Theatre, as part of this year’s Singapore International Festival of Arts, Dragonflies is directed by Tracie Pang and stars Adrian Pang. From staging popular contemporary classics, Pangdemonium is now developing a slate of new, original works—the first was homegrown playwright Joel Tan’s Tango in May.

An arts diversity advocate who co-founded Act for Change in the UK to campaign for representative diversity in live and recorded arts, Street is also helming Pangdemonium’s playwriting mentorship programme, where she mentors an aspiring writer over the period of one year for the development of a full-length play. 

Dragonflies
Dragonflies is a story of a family fighting for survival in a hostile world. Photo: Courtesy of ChrispianChan

How is Dragonflies personal to you?
Stephanie Street (SS)
Throughout my adult life, I’ve had this debate about where I belong, and I don’t have an answer. People who have been given the freedom of movement, who had the option to seek livelihood, love or happiness elsewhere, other than where they were born, are now having those things taken away from them. This play is as much about me thinking about what the future holds for me in the UK, and what it doesn’t for my kids. 

In a world increasingly intolerant of differences, how can theatre help address such issues? 
SS There’s something about the “present tenseness” of theatre—the present moment of watching live theatre together with others—that forces you to think in a way that not many other media do. The best theatre is written on cultural history, and rooted in words, ideas and debate.

 

What conversations do you hope to spark with this play? 
SS I would love for us in Singapore to talk about our position in the world. We are privileged in terms of our standard of living, and the fact that change can be implemented fairly quickly due to our small size. A lot of people in the world look to Singapore as a sort of flagship for the way things could be done as well as for its multiculturalism. You want everyone to be able to live by their principles and beliefs happily alongside one another. I would like for us to think about how we can do better and treat people who come here seeking betterment in the same way that our grandparents or our great-grandparents did from wherever they came from. Why should anybody else be denied the same aspirations for their families? 

As Pangdemonium’s resident playwright, what kind of tatler_tatler_stories do you want to tell?
SS The only type of work I’ve done as an actress and a playwright is contemporary plays that are political—not party politics but human tatler_tatler_stories that deal with the undercurrents of society. 

What are the learning points you can share from Act for Change when it comes to changing mindsets? 
SS There’s so much unconscious bias. We tend to take comfort in the things we’re familiar with, but once we start to find out about the unknown, it becomes less intimidating. For change to take place, we need to start talking about it. One thing we’ve learnt from our approach is that we’ve got to be consultative, engaging people in dialogue.