SINGAPORE--Singaporeans have been ridiculed for taking little interest in politics and treating it as a lowly public spectacle.
"Previously, elections were something like a spectator sport," said playwright Alfian Sa'at, 34. "People didn't really feel the effect of direct participation in a democratic process."
But that view appears to be a thing of the past, judging from the number of serious theatrical plays on politics and social issues that have opened or are in the planning stages since last year.
Reflecting the gradual change in the public's perception, theatrical performances centered on themes such as elections and democracy have been popping up, one after another.
In a country such as Singapore where freedom of speech and assembly is restricted, performing a play centered on a sensitive subject that could lead to criticism of the government marks a departure from the past.
Late this month, "Cooling Off Day" by the Wild Rice theater group, will open. It is based on interviews of about 60 people, aged 17-72, about the general election held in May. Sa'at wrote the two-hour English-language documentary play.
The interviewees represented a wide variety of people ranging from a taxi driver and a teacher to a public servant and an opposition party candidate.
They include not only Chinese descendants, who form a majority of the population, but also ethnic minorities such as Malay Singaporeans.
The public's view of the government appears to have transformed, given the results of the two elections held last year.
In the general election, the percentage of votes garnered by the ruling People's Action Party plunged to its lowest since the city-state was founded in 1965.
The narrow victory of Tony Tan, a former PAP heavyweight, in the presidential election in August is another testament to growing public displeasure with the government. "Cooling Off Day" is filled with direct quotations from the interviewees on issues debated in the general election such as economic inequality and foreign laborers.
"Because of the sense of direct involvement and the mood people were feeling, the people on the ground were more willing to talk," Sa'at said. "So we have to start examining the issues a bit more closely."
It also discusses the importance of voting, the rights and responsibilities of the public and the way democracy should be.
Despite the sensitive subject matter, the theater group said the authorities did not make any complaints about the play when it gave a performance for a brief period in August after the presidential election. It added that local media outlets gave it favorable reviews.
According to people involved in the theater, nine plays on social issues and other serious topics have been given or being planned since the general election.
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