Interview with Shai — About Tampines, Home, and Beyond

8 Sep 2023
Interview by Max
Photos by Mark Benedict Cheong

Shaifulbahri Mohamad (Shai) is my good friend in the arts scene. He has encouraged and inspired me a lot in my work — providing me with ideas and connecting me with good people who have supplied me with resources to create. I was an annoying member in the audience of a show he produced and directed, but we quickly became friends after exchanging opinions about interactive elements in the show and theatrical experiences in general.

Shai is always on the move. We often talked about meeting over teh, but only managed to make it happen once or twice. Every time we met, he would share about the one million projects he's working on, including one that focuses on Tampines, the place where he grew up. Now that he's back in Singapore again to stage this important work about his own story, I must seize this opportunity to ask him some questions before he flies to another corner of the world after the show concludes.

interview tampines boy 02

1. Tampines Boy is an evolution of Last of Their Generation, staged six years ago at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Back then, did you foresee you would continue developing the work to its current form? What are the things that you did not finish saying or doing in Last and are completing now in Tampines?

The goal was to always bring Last of Their Generation back to Singapore. It's just taken us six years to get here. Naturally, it wasn't as straightforward to just transplant the work but the opportunity also presented itself for the work to evolve with distance and time. Where I am right now and where I was then... things have changed... so I suppose it isn't necessarily about not finishing saying anything but rather, how both what I want to say and how else we can present a work evolved over time.

Post-Edinburgh, we only started exploring the Singapore version in 2018 and this led to proposing an expanded proscenium work. We also always knew we were going to call it Tampines Boy. We were going to present it in Our Tampines Hub in 2020 but the pandemic halted this and we only revisited the staging again last year and by then, we had decided that it would work as a theatrical walking experience. Rather than getting people to imagine some of the places and spaces in the story, might as well bring people to the actual locations. 

2. Each show of this ‘theatrical walking experience’ runs for 2.5 hours over a 5-kilometre distance. Could you share with us the challenges of producing a work with such a scale? (How many times of 5-kilometre distance did the team walk throughout the process?!)

We're happy to share that we've shaved off the distance by a little bit so it's around 4.5 kilometres now. It's still a fair amount of walking though. Haha! The team has clocked a lot of steps for the project that's for sure. One of the biggest challenges we've faced these last few months are changes that have taken place in the estate. We had written a scene at a Mama Shop that had been closed for the longest time. Suddenly, one day in June, we discovered something else had taken its place. It then happened to another one just down the road too when we changed the script. And then, after we had taken a break for a few weeks, another shop in the estate closed down out of nowhere. So this meant that we had to adapt scenes accordingly, which sometimes affected our route. Other challenges include the sudden construction of places or the installation of things, or just people occupying certain places where scenes take place that we can't control, etc. We're in production week as I write this we're still having to adapt bits like a funeral wake just appeared at a void deck...

interview tampines boy 01

3. With reference to The Scotsman's review on Last of Their Generation, “… he seems to love both places and can’t choose one over the other” — 
in your life as a creative producer and artist, you seem to have many choices for where to live and work. Did you face difficulties making such choices? How did you make the decision to ‘stay’ in Singapore?

It has been a busy season of being on the road especially from when the world opened up again. Ahh, this is indeed a question that I grapple with a bit in Tampines Boy as well. Having lived abroad before, I've always said that I won't rule out moving once again and it could be somewhere else other than the UK, especially because since then, there have been many developments and opportunities and I can see potential pathways opening up. So, there's always this pull that makes me wonder if what I want to explore and do lie beyond our shores and sometimes there's a feeling that I could be more appreciated elsewhere. 

That said, as I grapple with these feelings, I find myself increasingly feeling that it's very possible to be "international" while being based in Singapore. Sometimes, it feels like we need to be based overseas, to feel that we are more plugged into a more international space but there are many people who are from one place but make/produce work in different places too. A part of me wants to challenge that notion and to challenge myself to be one of those, that I'm a Singaporean artist/producer who makes and presents work in Singapore and in other cities at the same time. 

4. As you conclude this project on 17 September, will the exploration on the topics — ‘home’, ‘space’, ‘memory’ — be completed? How does the experience of working on this project affect or inspire your future works?

I think it's made me think about them even more to be honest. Creating Tampines Boy has really pushed me to consider returning to making once again and my works will dive into some of the themes you've mentioned. I've also been contemplating themes of impermanence, liminality and transience, all of which are explored in Tampines Boy too. I think deep down these are some of the issues that are close to my heart, whether from an artistic or producing practice. We just premiered Mutiara, an Australia-Singapore dance collaboration in Broome, Australia where I was a co-producer, just a week before Tampines Boy. It looked into the relationship of the Malay diaspora between Singapore and Broome that has existed for over 150 years but has remained largely undiscussed. Next up, I'll be an Artist-Facilitator on a project as part of the Singapore Writers Festival, which I can't mention yet as it's not been announced yet. Besides these, there are other ideas in various stages of discussion and development and I'll update in 2024!

interview tampines boy 03


Tampines Boy by Bahri & Co is presented by Our Tampines Hub (OTH) as part of the OTH’s Arts and Culture Nodes programme under National Arts Council (NAC). The National Arts Council‘s islandwide network of arts and culture nodes is developed for people to come together to participate in, enjoy and experience the value of arts in their neighbourhoods. Our Tampines Hub is part of the Arts and Culture Nodes Network.


Tampines Boy

by Bahri & Co
Date: 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17 Sep 2023
Venue: Our Tampines Hub
More about the show →

  • Tampines Boy

    Theatre 8 - 17 Sep 2023 Shai and his family have lived in their Tampines Central home for the last 35 years. With ageing parents, marriage...
    Our Tampines HubOur Tampines Hub