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On rebellion

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From problem student to performance artist, Sim Yan Ying's rebellious personality has always challenged the status quo.

I've always had a rebellious personality.

From primary school to junior college, I constantly got into trouble with teachers, and was the black sheep in the students' council. Nothing too serious, but enough to annoy the people around me. Why can't I just accept things as they are? Why the need to stir sh*t?

Aspiring theatre and performance artist, Sim Yan Ying (front row, second from left), in the Hwa Chong Students' Council.

The refusal to conform extended to my choice of higher education as well. While most of my friends applied for university courses in law, medicine, economics etc, and obtained prestigious scholarships, I became the only one in my graduating class to pursue theatre.

I became certain that I wanted to pursue it as a career during my gap year, when I interned and worked with several theatre companies in Singapore in different capacities. I love the sense of community that theatre builds, and its honest exploration of life and of the human condition.

I did not doubt my decision, but comparing myself to my peers was inevitable. I knew then that in 10 years, they are going to be successful and comfortable, while I am likely to be yet another struggling artist trying to make ends meet.

"Wah, your friends all the high-flyer type, next time earn a lot of money…You? Perform by the side of the road," said a close friend, in good fun. Well, she's not wrong. 

A photo from College Student x Wall Street Sugar Daddy, a performance art piece I created in March 2017,
which explored the ethics of transactional relationships and the problem of rising college debts in the United States.

About a year ago I chanced upon a quote from the movie Dead Poets Society: "And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for."

Suddenly, everything fell away – the comparisons I had made about the value of my work compared to my friends'. It became clear to me why I held on so tightly to theatre as my career choice even though the Singaporean pragmatism was telling me otherwise. 

Theatre is where I channel my rebellion productively.

At Tisch School of the Arts, where I'm currently pursuing a degree in theatre, I'm taught to think critically, perceive the world in fundamentally new ways, and respond to those discoveries with my art.

I directed a segment of ART by Yasmina Reza in May 2017 for my second-year final project.

Without Reason is a play I wrote upon realising that I knew very little about other cultures and races in Singapore. Through the trials and tribulations of a young interracial couple, I explore the questions of identity, which includes notions of race and religion, and examine how the ties that anchor us can sometimes chain us down.

It has been a long but fulfilling process and I'm looking forward to it being staged at the M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival in August.

The rebellion that once manifested as getting into trouble at school now shines in the works I create – works that question the status quo – and are hopefully intellectually stimulating, emotionally engaging, and aesthetically refreshing.

         06:58 is an interdisciplinary production, devised by The Rooftop Collective, which I directed in August 2016.

I don't profess to be able to create social or political change through theatre. Nevertheless, I hope that through my work, people can entertain the possibility of doing or thinking about things in a different way – hopefully in a way that's more empathetic and compassionate.

Without Reason, will be staged at the Esplanade Theatre Studio from Aug 2-4, 2017, as part of the M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival. Tickets are available at SISTIC.


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