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Young SG Directors: Sim Yan Ying "YY"

The innovative director


Published: 15 Sep 2023

Time taken : <5mins

YY got an early start at being a director—back in high school, she co-directed the theatre club’s production of The Silly Little Girl and the Funny Old Tree (2014). During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, she embraced the digital medium as a performance space, directing Where Are You? (2020); Who’s There (2020, co-directed with Alvin Tan); Roundabout: POV (2021); (un)becoming (2021, co-created with Nabilah Said); and #WomenSupportingWomen (2022, staged as a hybrid online and offline performance). More recently, YY directed live performances of Where Are You? (2022) and No Particular Order (2023). She has a BFA in Theatre from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and has been honing her directorial chops in residency programmes at W!ld Rice, Singapore Repertory Theatre, and most recently, Esplanade’s TRIP programme for early career directors.

What sort of director are you?

I gravitate towards projects and processes that embrace innovation and experimentation while maintaining a rigorous investigation of both content and form. I am particularly excited by the melding of theatre and dance, and am primarily guided by curiosity and compassion in my art-making.

Sim Yan Ying “YY” (bottom left in white and blue) with the cast and stage management team of <em>No Particular Order</em>.

What got you into directing for theatre?

I was first inspired to pursue directing through Nick Ng, my high school’s theatre instructor, who introduced me to visual storytelling and ensemble-driven processes. Additionally, Alvin Tan at The Necessary Stage opened my mind to the boundless possibilities of theatre, encouraging a constant exploration of diverse perspectives and nurturing curiosity within the art form.

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

Where Are You?, a devised physical theatre production about how we experience grief and confront death. It weaved stories from both the performers and the interviewees, encompassing a rich tapestry of cultures and perspectives, and this deeply personal work fostered an intense connection amongst the collaborators and with the audience. I’ve worked on four vastly different iterations of this project over four years—twice in New York (in 2019 and 2022), once in Singapore (in 2021), as well as digitally on Zoom (in 2020)—and it was a fascinating experimentation of how devised works can be profoundly influenced by their context and collaborators. 

<em>Where Are You?</em> (New York, 2022). Image credit: Marcus Middleton

Do you do anything else in theatre besides directing?

I do a lot of devising and new work creation, sometimes produce (if I have to), and occasionally perform, write and teach. I’m also an arts administrator and currently hold a part-time administrative role at T.H.E Dance Company.

What superpower do you think a good director needs?

The ability to balance: attention to detail with a big-picture mindset, the multiple moving parts in theatre, the diverse needs and personalities in a room, openness towards new ideas while maintaining a clarity of vision—and the list goes on.

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

That it’s a promising career because I can be the next Jack Neo.

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

I would love to see more departure from tried-and-tested norms of art and art-making, and instead, more thoughtful exploration of new ways of working and processes of creation to foster greater inclusivity and innovation.

I also hope to see more works that hold relevance to our society and our times, and that truly answer the crucial question of "why this play, and why now?"

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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