Can you believe TheatreWorks’ 24-hour playwriting competition — whereby contestants are trapped in a space for 24 hours and have to write a play by then — has been around for — gasp — 16 years?

Darn straight.

The popular competition returns this year on 17-18 August at the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. Open to anyone 15 and above, the popular annual competition has given rise to new and fresh work from some of Singapore’s rising playwrights, plus — hey — getting stuck in an area for 24 hours seems like the perrrrrrrrrfect slumber party. As with previous runs, contestants will be given 5 stimuli to incorporate into their play, be it in the form quotes, venue tours and anything else the organising team has under their sleeve.

One of the winning plays will be treated to a full production and taken on a performance tour of 10 venues in the South East District in 2013/2014. The competition is in collaboration with the South East Community Development Council (CDC).

With the tagline “Liberate Your Ideas” (yay, freedom!), this year’s competition will draw inspiration from the 1911 Chinese Revolution and Dr Sun’s revolutionary activities in Singapore. Speaking to Popspoken, TheatreWorks engagement executive Brendan Tan said that this year’s tagline is also inspired by the intent of the competition and the works it has produced thus far from new writers trying their hand at playwriting.

“We have also seen in the past years that many of the participants are new or even closet writers and therefore the tagline acknowledges the competition as a platform for these writers to liberate their ideas for 24 hours,” said Tan.

Veteran playwright and TheatreWorks’ competition game master Dr Robin Loon said to Popspoken that scripts from the competition have evolved from an imaginative nature in previous runs to an autobiographical nature.

“I think it has to do with this new generation of participants who equates good art with authenticity of emotions and experience,” said Dr Loon.

Dr Loon recounts three memorable scripts from the past runs: the “imaginative and emotionally textured” Hungry by Ng Yi-Sheng, the “witty political satire” that is A State Of Consternation by Edgar Liao and the “intensely personal and emotional” Serunding by Ahmad Musta’ain. Although Dr Loon expressed concern at how play submissions now are becoming more personal, he said Serunding was “exceptional in its story-telling — it has craft and emotion”.

Considering the CDC tie-up and recent chatter about freeing up the state of arts in Singapore, we asked Dr Loon if there was a tussle with balancing artistic freedom and government considerations. He told us that there was never such an agenda by the CDC in the first place.

“I think this competition is unique in that it is almost “politics-proof” — there is absolutely no way anyone can predict how the stimuli will be used even though one can conceivably politicise the stimuli. So much is improvised and so much is about reaction.”

“The nature and objective of this competition is not to produce scripts that can be staged but to encourage writers and potential writers to write: to give them a controlled environment where all they need to do is write. More often than not, the scripts are not stage-ready and need to be heavily redrafted. As such, the competition is a seeding event and to be honest, the argument of artistic freedom versus official agendas never came into question,” clarified Dr Loon.

Download the application form on the competition website here and submit it to [email protected] by August 3. Only 70 slots are available.

Photo: TheatreWorks (Singapore)