23 August 2013 was a day to remember for the history books.

The Purple Alliance, in collaboration with Avant Theatre and in conjunction with the annual IndigNation pride season, brought back Akka after 22 years to two packed audiences. Tickets were free and were available via Eventbrite, and the staged readings were held at Artistry, a queer-friendly cafe. The event had an MDA rating of R18 (Transgender theme).

Akka is a groundbreaking, controversial short play in Tamil (with English surtitles) about the life of a transgender woman. It gained critical acclaim when it was performed more than two decades ago. After getting approached by Singapore Literature Prize winner and IndigNation committee member Ng Yi-Sheng, Akka’s original director and playwright, G. Selvanathan, enthuasistically agreed to bring it back to life, with a transwoman playing the lead role this time (previously, Selva played the role himself).

In a nutshell, Akka tells the story of a transgender sex worker (Kamini) who ends up telling her life story to a journalist (the journalist had not informed her that the reason he sought her out was so that he could learn more about her life, which angered Kamini since she had just wanted to keep it transactional).  Kamini and the journalist were played by Sonia and Suresh respectively, while live music support was provided by Madhavan.

Tickets for the first show sold out half a day later, and a second show was scheduled due to overwhelming demand. Standing room tickets for both shows were released to cope with the demand, and those were snapped up as well.

Staged reading in session

Staged reading in session

 

After each show, there was a panel discussion on the state of transgender individuals in Singapore. The first panel comprised Dr. Ward William Keeler (Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the National University of Singapore), Sonia (the actress), Selva, and trans* activist Tricia Leong, while the second was made up of Sandhya, Sonia, Selva and Vanessa Ho (from trans* sex worker advocacy group, Project X). Both panels were moderated by Singapore Literature Prize winner Yi-Sheng.

First panel (L to R): Tricia Leong, Sonia, Selva, Dr. Ward William Keeler (University of Texas & NUS) and Ng Yi-Sheng

First panel (L to R): Tricia Leong, Sonia, Selva, Dr. Keeler (University of Texas & NUS) and Yi-Sheng

 

Second panel (from L to R): Sandhya, Sonia (actress), Selva (director), Vanessa (Project X) and Ng Yi-Sheng (IndigNation)

Second panel (from L to R): Sandhya, Sonia (actress), Selva (director), Vanessa (Project X) and Yi-Sheng

 

Akka’s success far surpassed expectations, with the audience sharing their life experiences and engaging the panelists. It was also one of the rare occasions where trans* individuals were included and actively present, which is something The Purple Alliance is committed to achieving.

For a review by Poached Magazine, click here.