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Coming Soon: “Turn By Turn We Turn” – A Conversation With Director Chong Tze Chien

April 1, 2011
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Event: “Turn By Turn We Turn” by The Finger Players
Venue: Drama Centre Black Box
Run: 14th Apr – 23rd Apr 2011

If you’ve been to a SISTIC outlet lately, you might have noticed the beautifully printed brochures shaped like a little treasure chest (see above), which pertains to The Finger Players’ newest upcoming work “Turn By Turn We Turn”.

We’re very much looking forward to this upcoming production, because it looks really interesting.

According to the official synopsis on SISTIC, “Turn By Turn We Turn is a sweeping epic about the lives and fates of members in a traditional Chinese hand puppetry troupe from 1920s China to present day. Holding steadfastly to their craft, traditions, beliefs, and one another in the face of civil and world wars, political strife, changing times and tastes, the puppeteers survive one ordeal after another, testing their mettle and resolve to perform, entertain and preserve the lineage of puppetry.”

And I guess the nature of this story plays nicely into The Finger Players’ strengths, as over the years they have consistently been creating intriguing and fascinating multi-disciplinary theatre works, most notably in the discipline of puppetry.

We at Buttons in the Bread are grateful to director Chong Tze Chien for granting us a short interview, so that we could gain a bit more insight into “Turn By Turn We Turn”.

Tze Chien is, of course, nominated in this year’s Life! Theatre Awards (Best Original Script) for “Charged”, a play which I sorely regret having been unable to catch when it played last December.

And The Finger Players are, of course, responsible for the marvellous work of art that is “Poop”, a multi-disciplinary tour de force that played to critical acclaim both in 2009 and 2010.

Q: What interesting bits can you tell us about this play? Anything in particular that we can look forward to?

Tze Chien: Audiences can look forward to an emotional epic that spans 80 years in the life of a master and his puppetry troupe. Via this story, the play charts the development and eventual demise of traditional hand puppetry in China. For this play, the ensemble underwent traditional hand puppetry training from 2 masters of this art form since September last year. Li Bofen and his son Li Yi Hsin are quite possibly the last surviving leaders in their centuries-old family troupe. The finger players is indebted to Li Bofen because he taught both Beng Tian and Kian Sin (the co-founders of Finger Players) in the 90’s. When Beng Tian returned from China after her training with Master Li, she started the company with Kian Sin. In its early years, the company’s repertoire consisted of traditional hand puppetry until the turn of the century when the company evolved into a multi-disciplinary contemporary theatre that we are today. So with this play the company is revisiting its roots as well as pay homage to the two masters and generations of puppeteers who had fought to keep the art form alive in the most challenging circumstances in China’s history (civil war, world wars, communism and cultural revolution etc).

Q: Was there a particular impetus for writing this play?

Tze Chien: The impetus for writing this play came from a phone call 2 years ago. A Mr Lim wanted to donate his late father’s hand puppet collection to us as he didn’t know what to do with them. His father was an avid collector of traditional hand puppets and had amassed boxes of these puppets in his lifetime. When we received the delivery at our office we were surprised to find hundreds of these beautiful and exquisite puppets stacked on top of one another in huge boxes. It was both exhilarating and disheartening. We were humbled and honoured to have inherited such a precious gift but it was also heartbreaking as these puppets looked as though they were buried in coffins. I wanted to resurrect them for a performance, using Master Li’s life as the source material for a play.

Q: When was this play written, and how long did it take you to write this play?

Tze Chien: The writing process started in June last year with research: Mainly on China’s modern history and evolution of traditional hand puppetry. In September I interviewed the 2 masters, who came down to Singapore to train the actors. I collected as many anecdotes as possible from them; based on their stories and personal experiences, I created characters and scenarios that reflected the struggles and livelihood in China from the 1920s to present day.


“Turn By Turn We Turn” by The Finger runs from 14th April to 23rd April at the Drama Centre Black Box.

Tickets can be purchased (here).

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