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Young SG Directors: Renee Yeong

The director of women's stories


Published: 12 Sep 2023

Time taken : <5mins

Renee is a young director interested in the lesser told stories of women. For instance, she has directed When We Were Young and Unafraid (2018), which tackles the topic of domestic abuse; I LOVE WHITE MEN (2019), about an Asian woman’s obsession with white men; and Lotus Root Support Group (2022), about women facing polycystic ovary syndrome. As part of Esplanade’s TRIP development programme for early career directors, Renee directed I am trying to say something true (2023), a monodrama about a woman negotiating the conflict between her sexuality and religion.


<em>I am trying to say something true</em> (2023) directed by Renee Yeong. Image credit: Bernie Ng

What sort of director are you?

I enjoy telling contemporary stories about women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalised groups in Singapore and beyond. These stories are usually grounded in realism, with visually arresting and theatrical imagery, though I hope my style of work continues to develop as I do.

What got you into directing for theatre?

My start in theatre was similar to many others—I was an actor in my English drama club in secondary school. I acted in almost every school performance up until one performance where I blanked out and forgot all my lines on stage during a pivotal moment in the play. The experience scarred me and I vowed never to act again. Nevertheless, I still wanted to engage with theatre in some way, but I didn’t know how to.

That was when a teacher got me to direct a small play in an intra-school drama competition. I didn’t know anything about directing and just went with my instincts. A rehearsal that was supposed to last two hours turned into four, which turned into six. And despite having no budget, our small self-written 15-minute play by a bunch of ragtag 17-year-olds went all the way to the finals. In those rehearsals, I learnt so much about collaboration, storytelling and playwriting, which ignited my passion for directing and new work. 

Renee Yeong in rehearsal for <em>Lotus Root Support Group</em>.

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

I LOVE WHITE MEN, a show about white worship and postcolonial baggage will always remain close to my heart. I developed I LOVE WHITE MEN (created and performed by Sim Yan Ying and staged in New York in 2019) with some of my closest collaborators and friends, and it had one of the most rigorous development processes I had ever been a part of. 

Do you do anything else in theatre besides directing?

I am also a freelance sound designer! I’ve designed for theatre, audio fiction and mixed medium shows. During the pandemic, I sound designed for several New York City productions completely remotely. I even sound designed an interactive “choose your own adventure” telephonic, where you had to call a number and press numbers to progress the story.

What superpower do you think a good director needs?

I think the best directors are able to give clear and concise direction while empowering their team to make their own creative choices. Finding the right balance of both is key—designers and actors need space to work creatively on their own so that they can produce their best work, but everybody must work cohesively towards a specific vision. When it all successfully comes together is when theatre becomes more than the sum of its parts.

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

That we just tell people where to stand! Of course, onstage blocking is a quintessential part of directing, but as a whole, directing is about leading a team of experts to deliver a compelling story for the audience. 

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

A new work development process that has a longer gestational period and includes more in-progress showings.

Unfortunately because of how expensive space is and how financially unsustainable it is to have a career as an artist in Singapore, a piece of new work has a shorter lifespan. Having been a part of I LOVE WHITE MEN, which was developed over three years with three in-progress showings in three different venues, the show was able to grow and change beyond what we had imagined and was received extremely warmly by different audiences.

How I Learned To Drive, directed by Renee Leong, will be taking place from 19 – 21 Apr 2024 at Esplanade Theatre Studio.

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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