Havoc Girls & Kamikaze Boys: An Interview with Brian Gothong Tan & Nabilah Said

With restrictions easing amidst this pandemic, Singapore is starting to see the gradual return of live performances — albeit with audience capacities still being capped. Centred around the theme of “Quiet Riot!”, the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival is back this January with their annual affair of celebrating live art created and presented by Singaporean and international artists. 


Directed by visual artist and filmmaker Brian Gothong Tan and written by playwright Nabilah Said, the production will also feature a diverse cast of students from the BA (Hons) Theatre Arts students from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA).


Havoc Girls & Kamikaze Boys serves to explore the plight of youths and children experiencing social and political traumatic upheavals. Inspired by real-life events such as the Hong Kong riots and Arab Spring, one can expect insights into the emotions, psychology and experiences of youths who were affected. 


Ahead of the show, I managed to have an interview with Nabilah and Brian over Zoom to find out more about the inspiration behind the piece as well as the experience behind putting the production together. 


Being aware of how they were collaborating with NAFA students, Nabilah and Brian opted to focus on the plights of youth and children specifically. Besides its practicality, there was a consensus that this could help them engage with the students and current happenings in the news. 


As for how they settled on the specific socio-political events for the production, Brian revealed how looking at the Hong Kong riots reminded him of the 1950s and 1960s where riots were an integral part of Singapore history. To him, the Thai cave rescue also acts as a metaphor for society, a display of whether youth were “complicit or resisting the system”. 


Other than actual riots being present in the selected events, Nabilah also highlighted how the audience members were another element that corresponded with the festival theme of “Quiet Riot!”. The way that they are incited to reflect and motivated to do something in reaction to the events also acts as a form of riot itself. 


Moreover, she also feels that young people today are “more alive and granted more power via social media” as compared to the past, leading them to be more active in using their voice than ever before.


Despite this being his first time working together with students, Brian described the whole experience to be “very enjoyable” and they surprised him with the amount of talent and the quality of research content they managed to provide. As some of the cast also hail from countries such as Indonesia and China, this also prompted some interesting conversations amongst the team about the piece. 


“I felt like I learned more from them than what they learned from me,” he remarks.


Given the current situation of a pandemic, there were initial fears over possibly having to conduct all meetings online via Zoom. However, when Phase 2 came about, it provided them with the perfect opportunity to meet and work with everyone face to face instead.


Nabilah also adapted by writing some scenes catered to the online Zoom interface, with the idea of the story not being solely restricted to the physical realm. Additionally, Brian’s experience in and sensitivity towards camera work had also been a huge asset for them given the current circumstances.


If there is one thing they hope that audience members can take away from the show, it would be for them to think more about and be aware of global affairs. As Brian puts it, we are living in a new age where social media takes precedence and with fake news being spread more rampantly than ever. Besides being cautious of this, it is also important to have empathy. 


Echoing his sentiments, Nabilah would also like for the production to remind audiences of how amazing young people are. She believes that this is especially important in current times where labels such as “Zoomers” are freely thrown about to categorise them, akin to an easy way of “writing off their power”. 


“Young people have a sense of idealism and hope, and they can change the way we live. I’m hoping we can learn from the spirit and optimism of young people and that the fire in them doesn’t die down,” she adds.

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