An Interview With Mark Cheong, Playwright Of Random Access Memory
Where did you get your inspiration for this play?
The inspiration for the play was a deadline induced panic to submit something for a university playwriting module.
Okay. In all seriousness, the starting point for my play came from my father, who wrote a blog post for my birthday, weaving in memories of our time together with the lyrics of the song Beautiful Boy by John Lennon. My father currently lives in Penang, having moved there a while ago. Until recently, he was a permanent resident in Singapore from across the causeway, during which he married my mother, had my 2 siblings and me, and eventually got a divorce. Lucky for me, he was still very much present in my life. The post he did made me question “What if my dad was an asshole?” and also to realise that despite being the oldest, I really didn’t remember much about that year my parents got divorced.
I visited him the year before, marvelling at how similar Penang was to Singapore and the different paths it took due to a difference in governance. This got me thinking about memory on a wider level too. In the same way that I didn’t remember bits of my childhood, does Singapore not remember bits of its past because it threw some of it away?
This also came at a time I was getting increasingly frustrated at an aging laptop and was looking for ways to upgrade it. I got to reading about Random Access Memory, storage space, the difference between HDD and SSD, and other computer geek things I probably should have known earlier given my preference towards gaming as a hobby.
Lastly, I had just watched a few episodes of Black Mirror and began thinking more deeply of what the future might be like.
All these inspirations came together to form the 10 minute piece I would eventually call Random Access Memory.
Have you hidden any Easter Eggs in your play that only few will find out?
There are a few Star Wars references here and there that I included just for fun, some more obvious than others.
You might also spot a few references to real places in Singapore, some dying, some still living. A certain mall full of stores dealing in technology is referenced, plus a prata place in Siglap that has been the cause of some debate between my director Stanley and I regarding how good the prata there actually is.
I would also say that having an understanding of how computer parts work may or may not help with understanding what is going on and how the characters interact.
Does writing plays for an intended audience change the way you write?
I don’t think that you can ever write a play that is not for an intended audience. While there is a difference between writing a play meant to be watched by 10 year olds versus writing for adults, plays probably never reach its fruition until it gets on stage.
As a playwright, then, I would say that the consideration for action goes way beyond being words on a page. There are some lines that look great, but may not actually sound great, and it is our job to make sure they do. It’s not that the process changes, but that writing a play will always have its considerations.
As a young playwright entering a scene with so many before you, do you face the pressure of saying something original or unique?
There’s always a pressure to do something new. Admittedly, while watching plays (or even films), it’s easy to point out what you’ve seen in other shows or other stories before, whether they are design concepts or writing tropes. However, I feel that young writers shouldn’t be pressured to write something ‘new’, but something ‘truthful’. We can’t run away from being influenced by our world, and originality is, in a way, nigh impossible when we constantly consume and experience things that could and will inspire us.
The only way around it is to make sure you believe in what you are writing as truth.
Did you start writing knowing that you wanted to write plays or have you dabbled in other forms such as prose or poetry writing? What do you feel are the differences?
When I was very very young I dabbled a bit in prose, and even made a few stick figure comics of my friends as a skate gang. None of us skated, I just liked the idea of it and as a 10 year old boy, it seemed like the coolest thing in the world.
Growing up, I did dabble a little bit in poetry, though the economy and precision of words to that extent wasn’t something I was always comfortable with. Trying my hand at prose, I started to realise that I enjoyed writing sections of dialogue more than anything else.
I had also written scripts for a non-fiction edutainment kids show (look up a show called Make Me A Super), which was understandably, a lot less focused on narrative, and more focused on delivering the right information at the right time. The show revolved around a pair of ‘doctors’ who were conducting science experiments on how to become superheroes, and I had to weave in real research and doable science experiments for kids to do at home.
Eventually I fell into writing plays, or at least things that are meant to be performed. I was a theatre practitioner first, before I began devoting more time into writing, and playwriting was a natural fit.
In closing, what can we hope to see from you in the future?
I hope to continue writing and developing this side of my craft. I still do some theatre-making from designing sets and soundscapes to producing works as an arts manager. I am currently working as part of the secretariat in the Singapore Drama Educators Association where my work advocates for the value and practice of drama and theatre.
Artistically, I have an interest in exploring the journey from being religious, to dropping out of religion, and the reasons behind that. It may end up as a play, as a photography exhibition, that I am not sure, but I know it’s something I want to explore.
Whatever I end up doing, whether it’s theatre, photography, arts management, one thing I know is that I want to be in the arts and I want to make the arts happen.
Random Access Memory runs from 24 – 26 October 2019 at NAFA Studio Theatre. Tickets available here.