Merlynn Tong’s play Golden Blood is a surprising comedy that tells the story of an orphaned young woman whose favourite guardian turns out to be the mastermind of Singapore’s biggest Ponzi scheme.
Ahead of the Cybec Electric readings, Merlynn tells us how she came to be a playwright and what inspires her to keep creating words for the stage.
What made you start writing for the stage?
Many moons ago, I was working as an administrator and manager of an arts organisation. I longed to take the stage myself, but I did not know how. One day I saw a call out for a festival in town asking for entries and my dear friend, Soonufat, persuaded me to write a show about my mother. I took his advice and Ma Ma Ma Mad (about my beautiful mother, who succumbed to suicide) was born. It was a one-woman-show so I also got to perform 10 different roles. That show not only launched my acting career, but also invited me to truly fall in love with playwriting.
Can you tell us more about your Cybec Electic play, Golden Blood?
My most recent play is about family and betrayal and whether we can sustain relationships once we have been deceived. It is loosely based on my life when my parents passed away when we were young and my brother and I – who barely knew each other – had to forge this new life together. I remember how our first night at home alone was like an awkward first date!
‘With this work, I am responding to what is haunting me right now. The effects of capitalism and the lust for material growth on family and country is abunfdant around us; it fascinates me’
I am also endlessly curious about the effects of power, money and the human longing for eternal financial growth – and how our relationships stand up to that yearning.
Why this play and why now?
Jenni Medway from MTC has been such a brilliant dramaturg and facilitator. I met her when she was a dramaturg for my recent adaptation of Antigone for Queensland Theatre. I was actually pursuing a few disparate ideas that frustrated me because I could feel that they had no legs. Jenni gently guided me back towards my heart and what I was truly interested in. I sometimes try to write ‘what is expected of me’ (which is in itself a complete fantasy on my part) and it never works. With this work, I am responding to what is haunting me right now. The effects of capitalism and the lust for material growth on family and country is abundant around us; it fascinates me.
Can you tell us more about your writing process, where you write and why?
I write on my balcony by my plants, on the living room carpet, in my office and on the sofa. And when I crave some civility, I head to the local cafe. I stab at corkboards with Post Its and then rip it all apart in anguish. This play also seems to demand I move; I jog and swim laps when I get stuck. I have to commit to showing up to the page. I also tend to get paralysis by analysis; there is always a cruel, crucial stage for me when I have to coax myself to bid goodbye to my dear friend Google.
How do you know when an idea should turn into a play?
I have to stalk it a bit, chase the idea down, wrestle it and then try writing it. Sometimes it sticks. If it’s rubbish I usually find out pretty quick. But the best way for me is having people – having great intelligent people around – who can give me feedback.
What excites you most about your participation in Cybec Electric 2020?
This opportunity means a lot to me because I get access to some truly brilliant brains that have already been teaching me so much about the craft of playwriting. I am so excited to meet the actors (I cannot believe MTC found me a Chinese-Singaporean young female actor, exactly what I asked for!) and to be exploring an original work again, working with a team in a room (which I love) and getting to showcase this work in Melbourne. Can’t wait!
Cybec Electric play readings run from 27 to 29 February 2020 at Southbank Theatre, The Lawler.
Cybec Electric forms part of MTC’s ongoing commitment to the development of new Australian writing, and is only possible due to the support of the late Dr Roger Riordan AM and The Cybec Foundation.
Published on 24 February 2020