Time Out Singapore: Dean Lundquist

This month will see Asylum Theatre make its debut with a series of eight short plays written by its artistic director, Dean Lundquist. Gwen Pew gets him to tell us more.

Dean Lundquist

19 Sep 2014: Dean Lundquist is no stranger to the theatre world: he holds two Masters degrees in playwriting and directing, he’s a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, and his plays have, in his own words, ‘been performed all over the English speaking world’. Since moving to Singapore in 2004, the California native has also received several awards at the Singapore Short+Sweet Festival, including Best Director and Best Playwright, and taught at NAFA and Lasalle. Now, he’s established a non-profit company, Asylum Theatre, to produce works that he hopes to bring to our stages. Its inaugural performance this month, entitled Holiday in my Head, comprises eight short plays that were written by Lundquist, such as the award-winning I Can Tell Your Handbag is Fake, about three women all holding the same handbag on a train, andFinger Food, featuring an optimistic fork and a pessimistic spoon having a discussion about their future when a restaurant’s customers only order finger food. Many of the works have already been performed in Singapore or abroad previously, but this is the first time they will all be presented in one show – with two new pieces set to make their debut here – and we’ve been promised a stellar cast, too, including Seong Hui Xuan, Chio Su-Ping and Andrew Mowatt. We catch up with Lundquist to find out more.

Firstly, why did you name the company Asylum Theatre?
Like many theatre artists, I am a bit of a nut, so I created Asylum Theatre as an asylum that is both a place where they keep all the crazy people and a safe haven. I thought it would be a safe haven for theatre nuts.

What sets Asylum apart from all the other theatre troupes in Singapore already?
We want to do a mix of new theatre, reimagined classics and socially relevant contemporary plays. Of course, we also want to do work that is fun! I grew up going to the theatre with my family, so we want to do work that you can watch with your kids – but not necessarily children’s theatre.

It’s pretty ambitious of you to be staging eight short plays in your first production – which also all happen to be your own – is there a common theme within them?
I have had a lot of experience with the short play format as a writer, director, actor and festival organiser. In doing eight of them, hopefully there will be something for everyone. In this production, we have six actors and all of them play at least three different characters, so it’s a good workout for me as a director and a challenge for the actors as well.

When I started to put the show together, the plays I picked were just some of my most popular plays. However, as I looked at them again, I found that many had something to do with Christmas or at least mentioned the holiday. What has been incredibly fun is finding or creating little threads that tie some of the plays together. While most of them were written at various times over the past six years, we have found or made fun little running jokes that connect some of them and will no doubt delight an audience. Some of the plays refer to things that happen in earlier plays or a character is alluded to in another play. Also, if you look closely, you might find that some of the characters pop up in more than one play!

You’ve set a goal to raise $3,500 through crowdfunding to get the play together – how is it going?
That’s only part of our budget! Theatre is really expensive to produce in Singapore. This is my first time using a crowdfunding platform. I hope it works out. We’ve still got a ways to go. It is primarily to get us started, but we have also received help from W!ld Rice, The Substation, Lee Foundation and hopefully the National Arts Council. It’s going to be close, but I reckon if we can get 1,200 to 1,400 people to see the show, then it will all work out in the end.

I think crowdfunding is great. I have helped other artists fund their projects and it really gives me a great feeling. I guess it’s kind of a good karma thing. It makes me feel like I have a little bit more of a stake in someone’s project if I send them a few dollars to help get it off the ground.

What else can we expect from you and Asylum Theatre after this?
For a number of years I have wanted to direct Ruthless! the musical. I am hoping it will be our next project. It’s one of the funniest things I have ever seen on the stage. It’s about a talented young girl who wants the lead in the school play so bad that she is willing to kill for it. Did I mention it’s a dark comedy? As well as some great musical numbers, I think there is something about it that Singaporean audiences will surely identify with.

There are other projects I would like to take on as well – some contemporary works that I think are socially relevant and incredibly entertaining. Perhaps ifHoliday in my Head is a success, we may do another evening of short plays in the future as well. Whatever happens, we will keep on making top-notch, quality theatre that you’ll want to see and tell your friends about.

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