‘When I got the phone call saying I was accepted I was so excited I almost jumped out of my skin,’ Merlynn Tong says. For this actor and playwright, the residency affirms her craft as a writer and she hopes to use the next year to finish writing her very loosely autobiographical play about an orphan raised by the mastermind of Singapore’s biggest Ponzi scheme.
You’re an actor as well as a playwright. How did you first get involved with theatre and drama, and realise this is what you wanted to do?
It’s actually a bit of an odd story! Growing up in Singapore, I was never really exposed to much theatre (although I was always in awe of storytelling in books and films). When I was 13-years-old, one of my best friends stole a bottle of perfume from a shopping centre and was caught. As part of her punishment, she had to go to a local community centre for drama classes (this bewilders me now as an adult). She did not want to go alone so I was enlisted to go with her. Then, there I was in a drama class surrounded by a group of ‘delinquent’ teenagers and we were all doing breathing exercises, crawling around like animals and doing little passages of Shakespeare for each other.
That drama class was a turning point for me. I adored absolutely everything that we did, In the end, most of the students dropped out save for myself and my best friend. We somehow ended up touring Singapore together in a mime production! Thus began my love story with theatre and drama. There were many more ups and downs before I got to fully commit to acting and playwriting but ask me about that when we next bump into each other in the foyer!
What inspires your writing and creativity?
I am inspired by stories, the people around me, and this weird and wonderful world that we live in. I love the feeling of awe and wonder. Anything that ignites those sensations in me tend to inspire my creativity.
‘Such opportunities are so important, especially at a time like this, because it says to artists out there that they are still seen, they are still valued and that their work, their voice and their offerings still have a place in the world.’
Your play Golden Blood was part of the 2020 Cybec Electric readings. How do you hope the NEXT STAGE residency will build on that experience?
It was magical working on Golden Blood at part of Cybec. The literary team at MTC gave me fantastic dramaturgical support, vast amounts of creativity and a safe environment where I could really stretch my artistic muscles and play. I hope to continue on that journey during my residency and finish writing the play.
Can you tell us a bit about what you hope to achieve, during your residency?
I hope to learn as much as I can from every department possible at MTC. I hope to keep chipping away at my play Golden Blood by sifting between real life and my creations (the play is loosely, very loosely, based on my life growing up as an orphan in Singapore raised by a gangster brother), by creating a story that is authentic, intriguing and potent, and by crafting a journey for an audience that will hopefully ignite your hearts and fill you with wonder.
What does being a NEXT STAGE writer-in-residence at MTC mean to you, personally? And why are such opportunities important more generally?
It means everything to me. When I got the phone call saying I was accepted I was so excited I almost jumped out of my skin. The NEXT STAGE residency means I can commit to my craft of writing, I can receive support when I need it and it really affirms my craft as a writer.
Such opportunities are so important, especially at a time like this, because it says to artists out there that they are still seen, they are still valued and that their work, their voice and their offerings still have a place in the world.
NEXT STAGE is made possible with the support of our Playwrights Giving Circle Donors, The Ian Potter Foundation, Naomi Milgrom Foundation, The Myer Foundation, Malcolm Robertson Foundation and The University of Melbourne.
Published on 26 October 2020