Interview with MyPaper for Hands Down at Going Local 4

MyPaper interviewed me for a story on Going Local 4.

Going Local is a production by Buds Theatre Company. Find out more from yesterday’s post.

The transcript of my interview, as follows:

  1. Name, age, occupation:
    Mr Laremy Lee, 32, playwright.

    I am presently a schools correspondent with The Straits Times. I will be moving to the School of the Arts, Singapore at the end of the month (June 29, 2015), to teach literature and literary arts.
  2. How do you feel about your play being picked as a feature of Going Local 4?
    It is both a privilege and an honour to be part of a proud tradition started by Buds Theatre Company’s artistic director Claire Devine.
  3. Summarise Hands Down in 14 words or less.
    A married couple discovers their incompatibility while in a competition to win a car.
  4. What inspired your passion for playwriting?
    I have always had a love for writing and the English language. Theatre is one of the avenues in which I express myself creatively.
  5. The play on paper can be vastly different from the creature on stage – are you prepared for any potential changes?
    Staging a play is like sailing a ship; with all hands on deck, everyone – from cast to crew – works to move the play forward.

    As with all ships I’ve built, I leave this vessel in the good hands of the director, who will steer it in the direction she thinks best.

    I’m fine with it taking a different tack – so long as it doesn’t go off course.
  6. What do you hope to achieve with Hands Down?
    I wrote the play in response to a trend taking place in Singapore society and mirrored in my circle of friends.Because of the way housing policy is designed, many young Singaporean couples ballot for public housing at a young age.

    When the key arrives some years later, some of these couples – having grown in age and maturity – realise they are not as in love with each other as they used to be.

    Understandably, the sunk cost is, sometimes, perceived as greater than the benefits of backing out of the impending nuptials. These couples end up entering an unhappy marriage, along with all its attendant ills.

    Is there a better way for Singapore to enact pro-marriage policies, while balancing housing considerations in a country with limited land? Or is it a case of mismatched expectations versus a practical reality, when it comes to finding a companion and a life partner? I hope the play gets people to start thinking about these issues – or even finding a solution, if possible.
  7. What are some memorable things theatre practitioners have said to you?
    One common sentiment expressed by many writers – playwrights, poets, novelists, etc. – whom I know: For every play that goes to stage, or every book that goes to print, there are dozens more that remain as unfinished drafts or rejected manuscripts, languishing in the bottom of the drawer.

    The Pareto principle suggests that 80 per cent of an artist’s best output is going to come from 20 per cent of his input. So it could well be that 80 per cent of your time might be spent achieving 20 per cent of your work.

    Having said that, don’t settle for inefficiency. Learn from the mistakes you make, and and don’t make the same mistake again. Better yet – get a good mentor who gives good feedback. It’ll cut down the time you’d need to take to get to where you want to go.

Book your tickets here. If you’d like to, you can read the 2012 version of Hands Down here.

I was in yesterday’s ST Life!

Checkpoint turns 10
(via @oonshuan)

There was a feature on Checkpoint Theatre, Huzir Sulaiman and Claire Wong in yesterday’s Straits Times Life! section – and I managed to get three paragraphs – three! – all to myself!

Unfortunately, I can’t post the entire article because of The Straits Times‘s overly-strict regulations so here’s the snippet about me from the article:

Another Checkpoint protege, Lee, who was also a teacher, quit his job to be a full-time writer. He says that “Claire and Huzir have been great mentors to me”. Lee, who wrote Full Tank and Radio Silence, two plays about national service, started working at Checkpoint from 2010 on a voluntary basis because he wanted to contribute to the company and learn about the arts industry.

After helping out with Occupation, he hopes to scale back on his Checkpoint activities to focus on writing. He is working on three projects: a novel about his mixed heritage family called Crossroads; a book of poetry called The Zookeeper’s Boy And Other Poems; and a full-length play called Sons And Daughters, exploring what would happen if Singapore had a chance to rebuild itself from scratch.

With a laugh, Huzir says he “can’t claim any credit or blame for Laremy’s decision”. “I’m happy for him. He’s a phenomenally talented writer and I’m very happy that he’s doing writing full-time.”

If you wanna squint your way through the article, here it is:

A decade on the stage
(via @chrispychong)

The email interview which I had with Adeline Chia:

Huzir mentioned that you will quit your job to be a full-time writer soon. Will you also be an associate producer for Checkpoint after this? Is it a full-time job with a salary or are you volunteering your services?

Yes, I’ve resigned from my teaching job to be a full-time writer.

I was a teacher for four years. I’ve really enjoyed teaching as it’s been a rewarding experience and I will miss interacting with my students.

However, I felt that I should explore my passion and try out writing as a career now since I’m free from major financial commitments like car and housing loans.

I’ve been helping at Checkpoint Theatre in a voluntary capacity since Jan 2010 as Claire and Huzir have been great mentors to me and I felt that I wanted to contribute to the development of theatre in Singapore.

But after Occupation, I’ll scale back my involvement at Checkpoint and focus exclusively on writing until early next year. I’ve not decided on my plans after that but I hope to remain in the arts industry.

How did you get involved with Checkpoint Theatre? What made you want to join them?

It was a natural progression; something that happened quite organically. Huzir taught me playwriting at the National University of Singapore and I got to know Claire through Huzir after watching Cogito back in 2007.

I was impressed with and inspired by the work that the both of them had done and were doing

Huzir, Claire and I hung out from time to time – sometimes it’d be at Claire and Huzir’s home, during play readings that Huzir organised for the playwriting classes he was teaching. Other times, we’d meet for meals or coffee to chat about life and to catch up.

It was over these sessions that we discussed ideas and possibilities for the future.

At the end of 2009, I asked if it were possible for me to join Checkpoint Theatre in a voluntary capacity as I wanted to contribute to the company they had founded (seeing the good work they were both doing) and also learn about the arts industry at the same time.

They agreed and I officially joined Checkpoint Theatre in Jan 2010.

What are your plans now? I know you have outlined them here. What sorts of creative writing will you be concentrating on?

My last day as a teacher will be on 9 Sep. I’ve really enjoyed teaching as it’s been a rewarding experience and I will miss interacting with my students.

After I leave the teaching service, I’ll write full-time for at least six months.

I don’t have any other scheduled commitments besides being the dramaturg for the National University of Singapore Drama Fest 2012 (which I agreed to do earlier in the year).

I want to write for six months, partly so that I have a ‘target’ to meet and also to allow myself to evaluate whether a career as a writer is suitable for me.

I have several projects in mind and I hope to accomplish all of them. They include:

  • Exploring the writing of a novel about my family, hopefully with a grant from the National Arts Council’s Arts Creation Fund. The working title for this novel is Crossroads; it will be a fictionalised recount about my family and my life as a Singaporean of mixed heritage.
  • Finishing a manuscript of poetry for submission to a publisher. The working title for this poetry collection is The Zookeeper’s Boy and other poems and will contain poems I’ve written from 2009 until the present. I currently have 14 poems, including the eponymous poem, which is about teaching. I aim to have 30 poems in the collection – 30 because I’ll be 30 next year!
  • Writing a draft of a full-length play that will be ready for the stage either next year or the year after. The working title for this play is Sons and Daughters after a song by The Decemberists and will ask questions about what would happen if we had the chance to rebuild Singapore from scratch.

Exciting times ahead for all of us and I’m looking forward to it!

BTW I realised I said the same thing about what I wanted to work on four years ago – I’ve actually been waiting for four years to do this because I had to serve my dues and I didn’t want to shirk that responsibility.

Last but not least, very important links which you MUST click on:

E-mail Interview for Feature Story in NUS Artzone.

This post has been sitting in my Drafts folder for the last few months because I never found the chance/opportunity to post it. But today, I have the perfect excuse to do so: Google Alerts notified me about this article earlier this morning, and me relating this incident to you provides a nice segue for me to put up the e-mail interview and my responses in full!


  1. How is it like working with each other?
    Great! Jon and I have learnt a lot from each other over this production and the last. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to work with him, as he’s very committed to the craft and is always working to get the best out of the text: whether it is in terms of using the best line to convey a certain meaning, or in terms of putting the actors through their paces in order for them to convey the best emotion.
  2. What changes were implemented from the previous run of OTOT in 2008?
    The main consideration has always been giving the customers what they want, so we’ve listened to audience feedback when revising the plays. We wanted to make the play a better experience for audience in terms of entertainment and artistic value, so I’ve made changes to the action and the dialogue. For example, there were some concerns that last year’s version of Full Tank! was draggy and heavy-handed; I’ve gone through the script again to cut out repetitive lines and reduce clumsy expressions.

    At the same time, I actually experimented with a few different scenarios, character motivations, etc. while making revisions to the script that was used during the OCBC Singapore Theatre Festival 2008. However, I’ve returned to the original plot that made Full Tank! a success, because I realised the stories that were told were what endeared the play to the audience. All that was needed was a bit of tweaking to the mechanics of the plot and it’d be good to go.
  3. Did you join any Arts clubs/Theatre societies when you were an undergraduate?
    I was a hostelite through and through so I participated mainly in activities within Kent Ridge Hall. I co-wrote and edited two Hall Productions and contributed three short plays for an Inter-Hall Drama Fest in 2008 (one of which – The Last Political Animal – was censored by the Media Development Authority).

    However, I think it wouldn’t be wrong to say that participating in activities outside of clubs and societies might have had a greater part to play in helping me hone my writing abilities. I read two modules taught by Huzir Sulaiman – EN2271: Introduction to Playwriting and EN3271: Advanced Playwriting. It was during that period that an early draft of Radio Silence, an absurd play about National Service, was read by Ivan Heng. This resulted in Ivan nominating me to participate in World Interplay 2007, an international playwriting festival held in Australia. My participation in this festival was co-funded by grants from the University Scholars Programme.
  4. What led to your decision to pursue a career in the Arts?
    Unlike the others, I’m not working in the Arts full-time. I’m actually teaching the General Paper at Saint Andrew’s Junior College, but I still enjoy writing as a means through which I can take part in the Singaporean conversation about things that aren’t always very easy to talk about in the mainstream.