Tatler Asia Singapore Unveils the Second Act of its Words Without Walls Project
When Noorlinah Mohamed first read the book Words Without Walls, the theatre artist and arts educator was very taken by the eight stories written by incarcerated women who had been separated from their children and families.
“Each of the stories tells a tale of love, hope and longing, and was filled with beautiful imagery. The first thing I thought of was that I would like to stage it as a multimedia experience with puppetry,” said Noorlinah.
This was just the project that the team at Tatler Asia (Singapore), which publishes Tatler Singapore, had been trying to get off the ground since publishing the children’s storybook in 2017 with non-profit organisation New Life Stories.
“We had great material, so we thought of all the ways we could convert these stories into another format or medium, from songs to animated videos. As it turned out, we found the talents who could translate them into a theatre production,” said former managing director Corinne Ng, who first mooted this project.
The Tatler team was introduced to Noorlinah by Charlotte Goh, the executive director of Playeum, a local charity which uses play and the arts to work with all children including those from marginalised backgrounds and with varying disabilities. Its mission is aligned with Tatler Asia (Singapore)’s commitment to promoting English literacy among children and youth, particularly those from marginalised communities.
A collaboration was forged for the next stage of the publisher’s Words Without Walls project, with Playeum as its beneficiary. However, the pandemic halted the launch of a theatre production in March last year, along with the planned shows for community children and their adults.
After much deliberation, the team decided to go ahead with a digital production of Words Without Walls: A Multimedia Experience, which was launched today via Zoom to a group of Tatler and Playeum friends who have supported the fundraising effort.
“The last year has been a challenging time for all of us. Tatler Singapore continues to champion the English Literacy cause this year with the launch of Words Without Walls: A Multimedia Experience, in support of Playeum. We hope that with the new format, the stories can reach even more children,” says Susana Tsui, president for Southeast Asia at Tatler Asia.
AN INVITATION TO PLAY
Through an open-ended artful play approach, Playeum seeks to give all children, aged one to 12, a voice and opportunities to develop 21st-century skills such as creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.
“Play is a way children navigate the world, and also to understand others better. It allows for creativity, brings about critical thinking and idea generation, and a perspective of possibilities rather than limitations. A playful attitude is a mindset,” says Goh.
The non-profit organisation ran a Children’s Centre for Creativity in Gillman Barracks, where it worked with artists to come up with open-ended installations, but it had to close the centre last year. It will continue to work with community partners, such as the South Central Community Family Service Centre, and other charitable organisations that work with children to run high-touch, deep-impact programmes that look into building creativity and critical thinking, as well as language, communication and social-emotional development in children from at-risk backgrounds.
“Playeum unleashes creative expression through open-ended facilitation and the arts; we scaffold play to expand upon the child’s ideas and creations and also build on their practice of critical thinking, problem-solving and other 21st-century skills” explains Goh.
Its Play-It-Forward fund also ensures children from marginalised backgrounds can come to the centre (before it closed) for free, while its artful play Giving Tuesdays programme extends the same opportunities to those with varying abilities. It has plans to run these programmes at two early intervention schools in Singapore this year. Playeum also works with educators in using play and the arts in their curriculum to enhance learning.
The literacy cause and Playeum’s mission resonate with Tatler friend Dana Cheong. “From my experience in raising two kids, who are now in their 20s, learning through play and the arts is the most effective way to capture a child’s attention and bring out his or her creativity. My daughter, Beatrice, who’s an educational psychologist agrees with me on this. As our very rigorous education system tends to overlook the importance of learning through play, Playeum compensates for this deficiency.”
The society fundraiser did not hesitate when the Tatler team invited her to be part of the project’s fundraising committee, along with Tatler friends Sybil Lau, Marilyn Lum, Fanty Soenardy and Serene Tan.
To date, the project has raised $230,000, which will be matched dollar-for-dollar through the National Arts Council’s Cultural Matching Fund and the Bicentennial Community Fund. Tatler friend Ginny Wiluan also donated the proceeds from a Young Presidents’ Organization dinner she organised to the project.
For producer Noorlinah and her creative team, adapting the storybook to screen has been an exercise in play as Words Without Walls: A Multimedia Experience is a multilayered digital production with storytellers, shadow puppets and animation, and more.
To date, 11 charities and social service organisations have signed up their children—about 4,000 and counting—to experience the digital production. Playeum hopes to reach as many more children as they can.
“Storytelling inspires the imagination; the digital-scape of this production allows for one’s imagination to take flight,” enthuses Goh.
We couldn’t agree more.