Faith Ng returns to playwriting for the first time since her last piece play, A Good Death, in 2018. Photo Credit: Checkpoint Theatre

Local playwright Faith Ng, 35, has been trying to come to terms with being a mother for the last four years. 

“There were a lot of physical changes that I kind of knew, but it’s one of those things that you can’t really understand until you’ve gone through it yourself,” she told The UrbanWire.

She recalled the many times she threw up and fell ill during her pregnancy. Anything could trigger her mood swings. 

“[But] if I thought pregnancy was hard, motherhood was ten times harder,” she quipped. “The people around me started asking about my child. Everything suddenly became about my child.”

The Young Artist Award winner is best known for her 2015 play, Normal, which portrays the struggles of two Normal (Academic) students in an all-girls school. This play was inspired by her own journey as a Normal stream student

Now, she has turned her own experiences of motherhood into a new play, The Fourth Trimester, which talks about the struggles during the initial transition into parenthood and how to overcome them.

“[The play is] a message to parents out there and tells them that you’re not the only one who went through all these things, you’re not alone,” she said. “This is also a heads-up to all the new parents. This is what’s really going to happen.”

“Overwhelming” Writing Process

When Ms Ng first started working on the play two years ago, she didn’t know where to start.

“There were so many things I wanted to cover, so many questions I had to ask,” she said. “It got really overwhelming. Even before I started, I already imploded.”

Eventually, she realised that she had to pace herself, so she just started writing to “see where it goes”.

Ms Ng also had to do some research to flesh out the characters in the play properly.

“I talked to parents who just gave birth, parents who were on their third or fourth child, parents who were trying and just not having much success,” she said.

She also reached out to friends who were sharing similar struggles with trying to understand the “social norms of what it means to become an adult” to incorporate the theme of adulting into the play.

“You have to graduate, do a degree, find the one, settle down and get married, get a house, have children,” Ms Ng explained. This was the “straight line” she started to question as she wasn’t happy forcing herself on it.

But after hearing all the stories from her friends, she knew she couldn’t use any of their stories in her writing. “I made it clear that I wanted to be respectful,” she said. “But as I was listening and thought that it would make a good scene or character, I knew I wanted to always have that integrity as a person to say that your life is more important than a story.”

Instead, Ms Ng took those emotions of “desperation, state of confusion or loss” from her interviews into the writing. 

“[Even then] it was always difficult asking myself if I wrote this line because I’ve stolen it from somebody else or because I want to look smart or because I’m really writing it because I’m being true to that moment in time, the character, the emotional core of the story,” she explained.

Pandemic Problems

Halfway through writing The Fourth Trimester, Ms Ng was worried that she would never see her play staged physically. The COVID-19 pandemic had reached its height in Singapore at the time, bringing about a lot of restrictions in theatre to keep performers safe. 

“One of them was that you can’t have more than two actors on stage, and when they eased up a little bit, it was not more than five actors on stage,” she explained.

She wanted to write this play for seven actors.

Ms Ng decided to consult Huzir Sulaiman and Claire Wong, the co-founders and Artistic Directors of Checkpoint Theatre.

The director of The Fourth Trimester, Ms Claire Wong (left), has been working closely with Ms Faith Ng (right) since the script development phase. Photo Credit: Checkpoint Theatre

“I said, ‘Hey, do you think I’m writing too many characters? Because if I am, the play might never see the light of day and I’d be wasting everybody’s time,’” she said. “They said, ‘That’s true, but we’ll just see how it goes. You write the play that you want to write, that you want to see on stage, and we take it from there.’”

Ms Ng also thanked Ms Wong for giving her honest feedback during the script development process. “She would tell me if I’m not filling up the space or not feeling up the emotional resonance that a large space for 600 people [like the Drama Centre Theatre] can take,” she said.

By the time Ms Ng finished writing the play, COVID-19 restrictions in Singapore had eased. However, her worries are not gone yet as the pandemic still looms in the background. “If anything happens to any of the seven actors, the show can’t go on,” she said. “So every day I’m waking up and praying they are in good health so that we can continue.”

“Scary” Return To The Theatre?

As opening night approaches, Ms Ng is feeling a mixed bag of emotions. “[It’s] scary, nerve-wracking, but also exciting,” she said.

“I tend to write very intimate moments,” she continues. “When they are not done very well, it can be seen as very small, [so] I always have this fear in the back of my head that I will not be able to fill up a large auditorium.”

Ms Ng and the rest of the team are gearing up for a play filled with both light-hearted and emotionally-charged moments for the audience. Photo Credit: Checkpoint Theatre

She hopes the audience is ready to come back to the theatre and looks forward to hearing from them about her show.

“They talk to me about what a line made them think about or how a character was somebody they can relate to and give them a lot of healing,” she explained. 

“These are the moments I really hope for and cherish when I’m making theatre.”

The Fourth Trimester opens on 4 Aug to 14 Aug this year at the Drama Centre Theatre at the Singapore National Library.

Proofread By: Shannon Gan and Effa Serena