This month, “In the Flow” shines its spotlight on Goh Boon Teck, a multi-talented playwright,
director and designer who shares his insights on what it takes to get those creative juices flowing.
First off, please tell us a little about what you do.
I work full time in Singapore theatre. I am a playwright, theatre director and production designer.
What do you mean by design?
As a production designer, I design or advise the design team to create cohesive and aesthetically pleasing designs for theatre. In designing, my strength
is in set design. Having said that, I am mainly directing and writing for theatre most of the time.
How did you get into this industry?
I have always been interested in arts, but it helped that my mum was – actually is – in Chinese opera. I grew up watching many Chinese opera performances and got very interested in it myself. I was trained in fine arts. I learnt painting all my life and started to do drama when I was around 17 years old.
I started being involved in Singapore theatre. I went to theatre practice and worked under the mentorship of Kuo Pao Kun. Two years later, a group of us formed a theatre company called Toy Factory Productions. It started as Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble, but it is now called Toy Factory Productions. That was in 1990. I started directing because the newly set up group needed someone to direct plays. It seemed like I was fated to do it.
Are you still involved in Chinese opera?
I have no time. Singapore theatre has taken up all my time – contributing to Singapore’s contemporary theatre.
What draws you to directing and writing? What do you enjoy about these two aspects of your work?
I think I enjoy art creation. Writing and directing are tools that I can use to express myself. In directing, I am able to control how a story is told, who is used in a story – meaning who is cast in the story, which designer can be invited to collaborate to form the best visuals on stage. I can also decide on which musicians to work with in order to compose the best music for the show. You get to be in control of gathering the ingredients to create the best dish. You are like a head chef, getting to plan the entire menu.
I’ve realised that not everybody enjoys doing this. Even as I attempt to train actors to become directors, some of them prefer to stick to acting. I like to be hands-on in every aspect. Some people might refer to that as a control freak, which is a bad term. I’d rather say that I prefer to be a versatile person who enjoys communicating with many people to create things. That’s what a director does.
As a playwright, it is a completely different world. Most of the time you are in front of a computer writing words. I enjoy that too because sometimes after spending a lot of time with many people, you just like the quiet time in your own room, thinking of how you can express yourself through words. Having said that, I cannot spend too long doing this. I usually spend a few hours on writing and then the next few meeting the actors and engaging in hands-on physical work with the rest of the crew. I suppose that I am lucky that I am able to do both – I am able to enjoy quiet time by myself, as well as satisfy the sociable side of me. So yes, there is a good balance.
As a director you get to be the head chef creating the dish and as a playwright you get to do the writing. Where does creativity, if that’s a skill, fit in?
These sorts of things come quite naturally to me. I don’t know if I’m born with a lot of creative energy or if I am trained. We are very inspired with anything and everything, but we have to be selective in what we choose. You can be inspired by all kinds of sounds, music, visuals and people, but not everything is worth retelling. Not everything is worth showcasing.
If you’re talking about the level and standard of creativity, of course it’s different. When I was younger, what I felt strongly about may not be what I feel strongly about currently. I feel that there is a change. I look back on some of my work and wonder why I did that. It’s all part of the learning curve, looking back and learning from the work you have created. You become better at creating. If you stop absorbing, you will have a problem being creative.
Is creativity studied, borrowed, bought, traded? It’s difficult. You have to partially be born with it. Growing up, you have to be open to ideas, which will give you more inspiration for your work. I have also travelled to many places to observe and absorb things I wouldn’t get to see if I just stayed in one spot. In my opinion, creativity does not belong only to the artists – it belongs to anyone who has that opportunity to gain access to it and knowing that is an opportunity to learn about creativity.
What tips do you have for the younger generation?
You have to build on your knowledge base and learn as much as you can about your audience, creativity and life. Don’t pass off as an empty shell.
What advice would you give to your fellow writers or directors who are facing metal blocks?
Go swimming, jogging or do some yoga. Use movements to generate the best quality of your body; your body needs to move for your brain to think. Your body is a really important part of a whole other equation to be creative.
It is inspiring to hear how professionals at the top of their field make their magic happen, so thank you for sharing, Boon Teck!
Boon Teck highlights the importance of absorbing the myriad experiences and ideas around us. Whether or not we work in a “creative” field or think of ourselves
as creative individuals, the reality is that we all have the capacity to be creative – it all starts with having an open mind, integrating movement
and being willing to explore.
Check out Toy Factory for Boon Teck’s latest shows and performances.
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