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Young SG Directors: Hazwan Norly

The playwright-turned-director


Published: 7 Sep 2023

Time taken : <5mins

Hazwan started out in theatre in 2010 as a playwright, independently and with the playwriting collective Main Tulis Group. By 2017, he was sharing directing duties on some of his works, including the short plays Tompang (2017) and Block 15D (2018) presented during the Singapore Night Festival. He was Assistant Director on the full-length play Pandan (2021), staged at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival with his Rupa co.lab collaborators. Hazwan’s first solo directorial credit was the 10-minute outdoor performance Pitch Witch (2019). Most recently in 2022, Hazwan was a participant of Tunjuk Arah Iyakkunar, a developmental programme for directors of Malay and Indian theatre initiated by creative producer and dramaturg Fezhah Maznan, during which he directed Pisang Ahmad Berbuah Lagi, a performative response to the Noor Effendy Ibrahim play Ahmad (1996).

What sort of director are you?

I love incorporating some sort of movement, and gesture work into the pieces I direct. I can sometimes be a little bit maximalist, rather than minimalist, and I love looking for new unexpected angles to transform how the audience perceives the texture of the space.

Hazwan Norly (right) directing a scene in <em>Pisang Ahmad Berbuah Lagi</em> (2022).

What got you into directing for theatre?

I've always been afraid of directing and hid a lot in my playwriting where I feel I can make decisions within my own controlled space. But after going through several directing programmes, including the recent development programme for theatre directors—Tunjuk Arah Iyakkunarunder the guidance and mentorship of Edith Podesta, it made me discover the joy in meaning-making and composition outside the pages of the script.

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

I liked Pitch Witch, which was a lovechild of playwriting and directing with fellow Main Tulis Group members Nabilah Said and Raimi Safari. It was a site-specific piece involving three witches pitching a strategy to increase national pride amongst Singaporeans, and it was just a whole lot of fun. Plus, we used a real-life head of a pig.

<em>Pitch Witch</em> (2019). Image courtesy of Nabilah Said.

Do you do anything else in theatre besides directing?

Yes, I am a playwright with Main Tulis Group. I am also part of a second theatre-making collective called Rupa co.lab, where our roles shift from playwright to director to producer to tech crew to surtitlist to the-runner-who-goes-to-buy-food-for-production-on-foot-to-save-money.

What superpower do you think a good director needs?

A strong sense of self. Everyone's politics and the way they see the world is different, and that's what's brilliant. Trust your gut and follow through! What will be, will be. 

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

That it's unnecessary to do your homework before coming to rehearsals. And that your actors are just there to do what you want, instead of being valuable collaborators to creating fiction. 

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

More pink, campy and absurd. With a mix of rock kapak (old Malay rock music).

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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