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Young SG Directors: Chng Yi Kai

The director of untold stories


Published: 5 Sep 2023

Time taken : <5mins

Yi Kai made his directorial debut in 2021 with With Time, which he also wrote. With Time is a verbatim theatre performance about the mental health struggles of youths. His interest in creating and directing socially-conscious theatre works carried over into When cloud catches colours (2022), which explores queerness and aging. Yi Kai graduated from the second cohort of Drama Box’s youth training programme, ARTivate, in 2016. He later returned to Drama Box to mentor the third cohort of ARTivate during his time as Resident Artist at the company.

What sort of director are you?

I’m very motivated by real and untold stories that reflect certain social phenomena that our communities experience (or neglect). Instead of a fixed directing style, I allow my directorial approach to derive from the particularities of these stories.

What got you into directing for theatre?

One of the first shows I saw was Drama Box’s outdoor community forum theatre piece in the heartlands. I probably caught it when I was in secondary school. I recall being so surprised and inspired at how unconventional theatre can be, being out in the open, interactive, very relatable! Since then, I often have the urge to create something different or special. 

Chng Yi Kai in rehearsal for <em>When cloud catches colours</em> (2022) which he wrote and directed. Image credit: Azhar Jalil, for Drama Box.

What's one favourite/memorable show you have directed and why?

With Time. It was my directorial debut and I believe no one can forget their debut and all its excitement, anxiety and even confusion. It was scary and exhilarating!

Do you do anything else in theatre besides directing?

Yes! In fact, I'd say I started more as an actor and have been meaning to hone this craft as well. I also do facilitation and education. 

<em>With Time</em> (2021). Image credit: Zinkie Aw, courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.

What is the strangest misconception you’ve heard about directing in theatre?

I heard this from a primary school student: a director's job is just to “point here and point there”, and tell people to “walk here or walk there”. Not wrong though! 

What would you like to see more of in Singapore theatre?

I hope for theatre and the arts to be much more involved, used or applied in important discourses and discussions in Singapore. 

Contributed by:

Daniel Teo

Daniel Teo is a freelance writer. Previously, he worked at Centre 42, a theatre development centre, as a researcher, archivist and documenter.

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