National Service (NS) has been the point of debate for many years now, especially in Singapore, where men are conscripted to two years of service and to serve reservist after. This year, for Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day, NS men get to ride the public transport for free as long as you are dressed in uniform. Though it may be a step, is it enough? What about the rest that have served before? With these happenings, Lucas Ho‘s play FRAGO came at a timely period – the month of SAF and NS’ 50th Anniversary.
FRAGO shows a group of men in their seventh year of reservist together. In the years, many things have changed – jobs, families, priorities and what it means to ‘adult’. As this armoured infantry unit comes back for a war game exercise, we witness the changes in the dynamic and what it means to grow with this brotherhood.
Inspired by his own personal experiences in the unit, Popspoken interviews Lucas to discover what exactly is the change from your 20s to 30s, and what NS can mean to the men of this nation.
Popspoken: What do you wish to speak to your audience through FRAGO?
Lucas: I wanted to explore how army life impinges on our civilian lives and vice-versa. As we grow up, we have to shoulder greater responsibilities – family, work and relationships. The play, FRAGO, gets its title from the military term “fragmentary order”. During battle, situations will arise where conditions change and existing mission orders are no longer relevant. A modified order, known as a FRAGO, then needs to be issued. In that way, a reservist call-up is sort of a “fragmentary order” which affects the daily lives of Singapore men.
PS: Name us one thing you wished someone taught/told you before you started “adulting”.
L: One thing I wish I had known is that the time we spend with each other is fleeting. You never know when close friends will – either by choice or circumstance – leave your life. So seize those moments to have deeper conversations, and to listen to each other.
PS: Do you think age actually makes a difference in anybody’s life? What is the huge jump between 29 to 30, if any?
L: The late 20s are for many people a period of transition and upheaval.
You enter into the working world and you begin to make decisions for yourself that will define the rest of your life. As you approach 30, you’re expected to have a stable job, buy a house, get married and have kids. But what happens when you don’t check all those boxes, or when you have but still don’t feel fulfilled?
That’s what FRAGO is interested in exploring. It’s about men and women in Singapore who’ve arrived at various milestones in their lives and are made to assess how far they’ve come vis-à-vis societal expectation, and each other as well.
PS: Does going through the army really force you to become an “ah boy(s) to men”? Going through cycles of reservist with the same mates, how are the relationship dynamics like?
L: The commonly-held notion of NS in Singapore is that you enter as a boy and come out as a man after two years.
In those two years, you suffer and you laugh together; it’s a very intense experience and unique bond that you share. By writing this play, I was asking what happens to that unique bond forged among brothers as they became of age many years later.
And as for what the relationship between men in reservist is really like? You’ll have to come to watch to find out!
PS: Do you think having to serve NS and reservist affects your creative pursuits? Has anything fallen through because of this commitment to the nation?
L: In terms of creative pursuits, I’ve not had anything fall through due to reservist commitments, but while in reservist I have sometimes felt my creative and critical faculties curtailed by restrictions. Perhaps I wrote FRAGO to resist falling into that.
But beyond that, I hope this play leads us to consider how Singapore is shaped by an institution that men commit two years to, and then two weeks every year, for ten years after.
Date: 13th to 23rd July 2017
Venue: Drama Centre Black Box
Time: Tuesday to Saturday – 8pm, Saturday & Sunday – 3pm
Admission: $45 (Concession rates available. Get your tickets here.)
Photographs courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre. Photo credit: Joel Lim @ Calibre Pictures.