Is The Struggle Of “Adulting” Real? This Playwright Weighs In. People of Interest

From Stockholm’s productivity-boosting sunshine to advice for those nearing the big 3-O, playwright Lucas Ho shares his latest work, FRAGO.

Hands up if everyone around you seems to be getting married, having kids, and snagging promotions left, right and centre. Now hands up again if you’ve ever wondered, ‘What am I doing with my life??’.

Feeling triggered? No worries. After all, “adulting” is the buzzword of this millennial generation. It’s only apt we introduce FRAGO- Checkpoint Theatre’s latest play tackling these issues head-on. Directed by Huzir Sulaiman, the play features a group of 30-something year old men attending their National Service reservist as they come to terms with changes.

Sure, we may all be familiar with army life thanks to pop culture mainstays like Army Daze and the Ah Boys To Men movie franchise, but we don’t get to hear much about reservist life. Enter, FRAGO. And it’s not just a “guy’s play” either- dealing with change is a genderless experience anyone can relate to. Lucas shares more:

Photo courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre. Credit: Joel Lim @ Calibre Pictures.

How did you get your start as playwright?

I’d done some theatre in secondary school and junior college. Then in 2006, I took a playwriting class with Huzir Sulaiman while at NUS. After that class, I got more involved in different things in theatre like writing, acting and directing. When I joined Checkpoint Theatre in 2013 as an Associate Artist, I got the chance to keep making theatre, which I’m grateful for.

FRAGO is about the changing priorities among a group of reservist men in their 30s. Could you share more about this play?

FRAGO stands for “fragmentary order”. In the military, a modified order is issued in situations that arise when battle conditions change and existing mission orders are no longer relevant. That order is known as a FRAGO. So in a way, a reservist call-up is a sort of “fragmentary order” affecting the daily lives of men. That’s what FRAGO the play is about. I wanted to explore how army life impinges on civilian responsibilities, and vice-versa, even ten years after you ORD.

A lot has been written and said about the two years of full-time National Service. But the friendship you form with the men that you serve that time with is very unique. There’s very little written about that, which is why I wanted to write FRAGO. You see, the generally held belief is that boys enter the army and emerge as men, before going off into the real world. But when they get called back for reservist, they have to relive this experience all over again, in a compressed space and time.

Reservist can be very stressful, as it forces you to walk away from your life and family for a couple of weeks. But it’s also comforting and worth looking forward to because you get to spend it with the same group of men with whom you’ve shared very intense experiences with, a group you’ve seen change and grow over their 20s. So what exactly is the nature of that dynamic? What do these men talk about when they meet again? That experience isn’t quite explored in the Singapore canon. And FRAGO is my attempt at that.

Photo courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre. Credit: Joel Lim @ Calibre Pictures. PS, it took us a while to realise, but that’s Lucas on the poster!

What words of wisdom do you have for those approaching their 30s?

Turning 30 marks the period where many adult milestones converge – you’re married, you’ve bought a property, you’ve found some success in your career, you’re expecting a kid. Some of these milestones are imposed by society and family, some are imposed by yourself. If you want to be as happy as possible as you approach your thirties, the key is in knowing the difference.

We heard you were travelling as you wrote FRAGO. Tell us more!

We travelled to Stockholm in June for two weeks when my wife was six months pregnant. She just wanted to travel as far away from Singapore as we could – transatlantic flights would become less viable when our daughter arrived. We throughly enjoyed ourselves there! And then we travelled again a month after we had our daughter. That was when we took a three-day trip to Ubud.

But I had to write FRAGO while I was travelling simply because there were deadlines to meet! So I wasn’t getting away from Singapore for the sole purpose of writing.

How did you manage to complete a draft as you travelled? Was there a routine you followed?

There was no set routine – I was on holiday with my wife, and she would get upset if I was working too much! So I had to find little pockets of time to work, but I did most of the writing at the end of the day, when all the sightseeing and shopping had been done.

In Stockholm, after my wife had gone to bed, I would make a pot of coffee and work till 3am. It was summer there. The sun didn’t set till 10pm and rose again at 4am. The abundance of daylight coupled with jet lag actually boosted my productivity!

Photo courtesy of Leong Hui Ran.

More people seem to take a gap year or sabbatical to travel. What are your thoughts on this?

For most people, you have to be in a position of privilege in order to take these sabbaticals. And a sabbatical to travel shouldn’t be an excuse to put off life indefinitely. It’s a time to reflect; to pause and intentionally take stock of what you want to achieve in the years ahead. It’s about figuring out who you want to be accountable to for the next phase of your life. But I don’t believe that those self-assessments only occur when you travel.

Not everyone has the opportunity to even consider taking time off from their daily responsibilities to travel. In fact, in FRAGO, we see these men experiencing tiny epiphanies during the course of their reservist in-camp training, and they didn’t have to leave Singapore for that.

FRAGO runs from 13 – 23 July 2017 at the Drama Centre Black Box, Level 3 National Library building. Tickets, $45, available at Sistic.

Cover photo courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre. Credit: Arman Shah.

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