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Mindscapes: Literary Evening 2018

Text by Brina Li & Ethel Chen (2T02)

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CJC’s annual Literary Evening is a night of delight for artistically-inclined minds--a showcase of original plays written, directed, and produced by our own graduating Literature cohort, based on any combination of the five texts they study for the A-Level exam. Textual content is spun into unique literary visions, in the form of crossovers, prequels, or sequels. Students delve into their texts with artistic freedom, challenging preconceptions through new interpretations and filling spaces between and within the texts.

This year’s theme, Mindscapes, is a nod in the direction of the elective paper, “The Mind and Self in Literature”. Be it the landscapes of the mind or how the mind seeks escape, the theme allowed diverse responses united in exploring the human condition and the role of the mind.

Hosted by Literature students Samuel Sim (2T02) and Naomi Low (2T03), the evening opened dramatically with 2T01’s A Portrait of the Young Artist Drowning. A darkly riveting fusion of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man with the abrasive dialogue of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, it showcased a volatile night in a spectacle of wit and minds pitted against each other. Joyce’s Bildungsroman was given new life in an Americanised and contemporary setting, where Stephen’s mind is revealed in monologues and soliloquies, a stage interpretation of Joyce’s free indirect discourse. In one of its taut moments, the manifestations of the mind are presented by the shadowy ensemble physically encroaching Stephen’s space, ultimately driving Stephen to his end in a stunning conclusion of a mind succumbing to outside forces.

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Without a moment to catch a breath, the audience was immediately thrust into a whirlwind of stumbling revelations and bloody histories bedazzled under glittering smiles. 2T02/04’s We All Fall Down--a crossover between F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Albee’s Woolf--crafted a glamorously deceptive Gatsby-era party, where Tom and Daisy’s romanticised facades are stripped down to barest marrow by the blood-hungry George and Martha. Mindscapes was here interpreted as a method of escapism, a reconstruction of truths that are perhaps more fiction than fact. With an unsaid emptiness between them that they cannot breach, the couple teetered on an edge of a ledge as the ending of the play paid a solemn homage to Woolf, in an ambiguous close that left the audience wondering: had Tom and Daisy truly grown, or had they sunken back into an abyss of ignorance?

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The finale saw an unusual blend between George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan and Albee’s Woolf, in 2T06’s Slow-Dance in My Mind. Science and Religion were brought into conflict as Joan’s mystical experiences are skeptically questioned by the pragmatic and scientific mind of Nick. The modern setting cast new light on Joan’s medieval mystical experiences, harshly uncovered in an alternative world Woolf where Nick and Martha are on the fringe of (self-)destruction. Issues of the mind and of control were agonisingly explored as Martha’s mindscape becomes increasingly volatile, and her illusions encroach upon reality. This production also was also the first in CJC’s Literary Evening to feature live music, adding to the haunting tension on stage as illusion and reality collide in a confusing world where nothing is as it seems.

Besides being literarily engaged, the audience was also literally engaged through the interactive talk show segment, featuring representatives from each play on the panel. With particular focus on the literary techniques employed and intended audience effects, students shared their creative process and textual adaptation--an exclusive insider’s look into the production team’s very own Mindscapes. Following their sharing, the panelists braced themselves for questions from their peers in an open Q&A segment, which saw questions relating to production choices and characterisation.

CJC’s Literary Evening demonstrated the value of giving students the stage to explore the richness of their texts. Creative adaptations encouraged broader, out-of-classroom learning and deeper appreciation for the forms and writing of the texts. In the process, the plays presented poignant understanding of the human condition, of the durability of the mind, and also of its fragility. Yet the mind’s capacity for damage is matched by its ability to create, to heal, and to rebuild. When everything is done and dusted and dusted and done, we carry with us memories of this Evening of words and light, and know that our mindscapes are ours to control.