Unlocking Lessons with ART:DIS and Gateway Arts: SmartyPants and the Swordfish

Published on 20 March 2024
By Team Catch

Cheers drown out the thud and swish of a basketball bouncing off the backboard into a basketball hoop. The joyful players are not basketballers though, but actors rehearsing the opening scene of ART:DIS (Arts & Disability Singapore) and Gateway Arts’ latest production, SmartyPants and the Swordfish. Heads up Catch Members! The ball is in your court: Enjoy 15% off your tickets by simply booking your tickets through Catch.

The children’s play, written by award-winning playwright Jean Tay, follows a group of students exploring the legend of Redhill for a school project. The legend tells of how Nadim, a village boy, saved his kampung from swordfish attacks, only to be murdered by the village sultan and his evil advisers. Starting out in their school’s basketball court, the group ends up being transported back in time to experience the Redhill story firsthand. 

Running from 20 to 24 March at Gateway Theatre’s Black Box, this year’s edition of SmartyPants and the Swordfish will feature one key difference from its first run in 2019: puppets. Instead of employing actors for all the roles, the production team decided to draw on differently-abled artists from ART:DIS’s Puppetry Art programme to bring some of the play’s characters to life. Mainstream actors will play the other characters and complement the puppeteers by voicing the puppets.

Collage of SmartyPants and the Swordfish directors Tan Beng Tian, Samantha Scott-Blackhall, and Angela Tan (from left to right) Watch as directors Tan Beng Tian, Samantha Scott-Blackhall, and Angela Tan (from left to right) bring their vision to life with SmartyPants and the Swordfish.

“We thought that it would be interesting to restage the play with the inclusion of disabled cast members, for them to manoeuvre the puppets and meaningfully include them on stage through non-verbal storytelling,” said Angela Tan, Executive Director at ART:DIS.  


Samantha Scott-Blackhall, one of the play’s two directors and Artistic Director at Gateway Arts, added: “The idea of bringing the puppeteers into the show was exciting because it could lend another visual effect.”


Puppeteers controlling the movements of the Sultan character

Witness first hand how actors and puppeteers work together to manoeuvre a large King puppet.

Crucial characters like the sultan and swordfish will be controlled by these puppeteers, who have worked extensively with the show’s other director Tan Beng Tian. She is also the chairman of Singapore’s oldest contemporary puppetry theatre company, The Finger Players.

The dedication of these artists with disabilities has particularly impressed Scott-Blackhall. “They work so hard and even know the actors’ lines,” she said. Sometimes, they chip in with the lines when the actors forget!”

The show’s inclusivity extends to the audience too—creative captioning and audio description will be available during the performance, and speech-to-text-interpretation during the post-show dialogue for differently-abled audience members.  

The closing scene of the play where all students, including Nadim, stand united.

Embark on Nadim's journey alongside fellow students and witness their powerful unity in the end!

Beyond telling a story, SmartyPants and the Swordfish also aims to teach lessons about bullying by exploring the dynamics of power—and its potential abuse—through the treatment of Nadim, who is, in a sense, “bullied” by the sultan and his advisers.  


Cast members will engage the audience in a post-show dialogue about various scenes from the play. “We hope the play opens up opportunities for the children to talk to their parents and friends if they ever face bullying,” said Scott-Blackhall. “We also hope to encourage more empathy among the audience and within the cast.”

Tan added, “through SmartyPants and the Swordfish, we hope to continually challenge and expand the definition of inclusivity in all aspects of artistic production, and create a more inclusive future of the arts in Singapore.”

Treat your family to a spellbinding time with SmartyPants and the Swordfish, running from 20 to 24 March at Gateway Theatre’s Black Box. Tickets are priced from $18. 

All images are credited to ART:DIS (Arts & Disability Singapore) and Gateway Arts. 

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