The Vault: Project Understudy

In this presentation, the creators and writers shared the experiences of developing a new play through writing collectively, and making documentation a key element in the process. Selected character monologues and scenes were read by the actors to give an insight into the outcomes of this first phase of writing development.
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Understudy reimagines the post-‘black-out-and-curtains’ world of Tan Tarn How’s Undercover with a special guest appearance by a character from The Lady of Soul and Her Ultimate ‘S’ Machine, and three newly created characters of the next generation.

In 1993, the career of high-flying civil servant Derek is cut short when he refuses to replace his report on the findings of the committee for the cultivation of soul with one rewritten by his ‘friend’ and immediate superior. His punishment – head the country’s only broadcasting corporation.

In 1994, rookie intelligence agent Jane successfully infiltrates a theatre-group-of-interest run by renegade artist Qiang (and falls for the bad boy in the process) while foiling her Deputy’s secret plan to oust the head of the intelligence agency. Jane is promoted and Qiang is “rehabilitated”.

In 2016, Jane, now the Minister of Cultural Affairs, wants to award artist-in-exile Qiang the prestigious Cultural Medallion. The disgraced Deputy, now the Director for the Institute of Public Consensus, wants to stop this travesty. In tow are their respective protégés, Albert, Sophie and Vikram. Together with Derek who has reinvented himself as a media mogul, this ‘magnificent seven’ chart a treacherous path towards art, politics and ceremonial jewellery.

Will Qiang accept the Cultural Medallion?

Conceived and edited by Dr Robin Loon, and organised by NUS Thespis, Project Understudy explores sequels, scruples & satire using a collective writing creation process. Inspired by the processes of devised theatre, seven writers were assigned one character respectively. Not only not only must they create and explore that character thoroughly, the writers also have to ensure their characters interact with one another through plotted scenarios and situations. Instead of taking matters to the floor, the writers took to the screen around a table and created draft 1 of Understudy.

Join the writers as they share with you their process of collaborative writing in Project Understudy and read you excerpts from draft 1 of Understudy.


Monday, 23 May 2016
8pm @ Centre 42 Black Box
Admission is free.

Help make Phase 2 of Project Understudy happen!

The writing team is committed to complete the play Understudy to a stageable read. Script development is expected to continue in Phase 2 from September 2016 to March 2017.

THEY NEED YOUR HELP – The goal is to raise enough funds to support the writing team as they work towards a second draft and a reading in March 2017. The Centre is helping to run this fund-raising effort on behalf of the team. All proceeds collected will go to the writing development process and artists.


NUS Thespis
Thespis is a non-profit arts interest group founded in 2008 by a group of National University of Singapore (NUS) Theatre Studies students. Thespis is a place for young artists to explore, and create theatre, by experimenting with different creative processes and methodologies. It is a platform especially for collaborative work (between students and alumni), with the interest to nurture and hone the craft of theatre-making among young aspiring artists. Their productions seek to interest and critically engage audiences by rethinking performance concepts.

Part 1: Introduction

The seven writers introduce their project to develop a sequel to Tan Tarn How’s play Undercover. Titled Understudy,the writers briefly share their strategies for writing the sequel collaboratively, which include, writing for only one character each, monologue-writing, taking turns to write lines for scenes, and collectively following one master narrative.

Part 2: The Monologues

Four of the seven writers read out the monologues they wrote for their characters in Understudy. These monologues were writing exercises for them to explore their characters and better understand their histories and motivations. Some parts of these monologues were even used in the first draft of Understudy.

Part 3: The Scenes

The seven writers read out four scenes they had worked on collectively over the past few months, voicing the characters they had picked to write for:

Minister for Cultural Affairs (MCA) Jane has caused controversy awarding the Cultural Medallion to ‘dissident artist’ Qiang. KK Chan, Director of Institute of Public Consensus (IPC) challenges her decision. We discover that the Director and the Minister have crossed swords before – as have their deputies, Vikram and Albert.

Derek flies Qiang back – they understand each other and reconnect. Jane enters the picture and issues from their past surface – they clash but begrudgingly agree to negotiate further.

In what is supposed to be a Cultural Medallion negotiation, the three representatives – Vikram, Albert, and Sophie – are sent to negotiate in proxy. Vikram and Albert clash and Sophie mitigates. They create a small zone of understanding – Albert senses Vikram’s fondness for Sophie.

KK confronts Jane with the blackmail only to be rebuffed. Qiang enters to fight off KK, leaving KK humiliated. Jane comes clean with Qiang and their secret is revealed.

Part 4: The Last Scene

“It will end with a monologue,” said Dr. Robin Loon, the Chief Editor of “Project Understudy”. Five of the writers were assigned to write monologues for their characters in the final scene of the play. In this final part, these writers read out the scenario briefs that they were each given to develop for the finale Scene 11.

Seven writers came together to write a play. Their collective creation titled “Understudy” reimagines the post-‘black-out-and-curtains’ world of Tan Tarn How’s “Undercover” with a special guest appearance by a character from “The Lady of Soul and Her Ultimate ‘S’ Machine”, and three newly created characters. For one evening only, on 23 May 2016,  the writers shared their process of collaborative writing and performed excerpts from draft 1 of “Understudy”.

Source: Centre 42 Facebook 

The presented script was put through the Boiler Room incubation process comprising phases for construction and writing for further development. Following the incubation process which began on 17 March 2017, the first draft submitted was reviewed by a director with a cast of actors while working through the Test Read, slated for 11 July 2017. Read more about it here.

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The Vault: Project Understudy revisits Tan Tarn How’s Undercover and reimagines its sequel set in 2016 through a collaborative writing creation process. Conceived and edited by Dr Robin Loon and organised by NUS Thespis.