Time Out Singapore: ‘Theatre Memories’

31 Mar 2015: The two ladies behind the Theatre Memories project tell Gwen Pew why now’s a good time to start documenting the shows on our stages

Actress Karen Tan getting her portrait taken.

Actress Karen Tan getting her portrait taken.

Singapore’s theatre scene is celebrating the nation’s golden jubilee in a big way, and many companies are putting on plays or adopting themes that have a particularly strong local flavour. In April alone, many of our most respected theatre practitioners are celebrated in Esplanade’s The Studios: fifty series. But what about the people who make the magic happen?

Well, they’re the reason that two UK-based Singaporeans are putting together a project called Theatre Memories, which applauds the hard work that people in the performing arts community have been putting in to light up our stages month after month. ‘I came up with the idea as I felt a personal urge to pay tribute to the people who have shaped the theatre scene here in such a short period of time,’ says Jennifer Lim, an actress and filmmaker.

At the heart of their project is a series of video interviews that the team conducted with 50 key players in the field, from big-name directors and actors to the best hair stylists and costume designers. Fifty, as the pair admits, is an arbitrary number, but it’s as good a start as any when they’re faced with such an enormous task. ‘It’s not an exhaustive list, but a representation of the industry right now,’ Lim is quick to point out. They started the project by coming up with a huge list of names, and then talked to other industry professionals to whittle it down to a more manageable number.

‘The performing arts are so transient and ephemeral, and things get lost so easily, so we’re hoping to keep their legacy alive through the memories of these 50 practitioners,’ explains Annie Jael Kwan, a producer and curator who’s collaborating with Lim on the project. By asking them a set of specific questions like what their first experience of theatre was, how they think the scene has changed since they first started off, and more light-hearted ones like how they would explain the Singapore stage to a Martian, Kwan and Lim ended up with hours of footage that not only present an overview of the theatre landscape, but some very personal stories, too.

What struck Lim most about the scene’s evolution is its gradual professionalization and the diversity of the types of local productions.

And Kwan strongly agrees, adding that ‘diversity’ can also be interpreted as cultural. ‘We interviewed T Nakulan, the managing director of the Ravindran Drama Group, and he told us about how Andy Pang directed their production of Pazhi. The show is in Tamil, and Pang doesn’t speak a word of it,’ she recalls. ‘But he just used a translated copy of the script and went with it. The funny thing is that he apparently started picking up some Tamil along the way!’

Theatre Memories is presented to the public through two main avenues: the edited footage is stored at the National Archives and accessible to anyone, but if you’re the more hands-on type, then head on over to their eponymous exhibition at The Arts House this month. Visitors will be taken on a journey through five sections of the building, including the box office and the Play Den, and, through props, given a sneak peek of life behind the bright lights of the stage.

Acknowledging that it can at times be difficult to pique people’s interest in the performing arts, Lim and Kwan are nonetheless confident that if they make the space intriguing, people will come. They’re convinced that the project is an important homage to where Singapore theatre now stands. ‘I hope that through Theatre Memories, we can throw off the shackles, stop thinking that we need to “catch up” to what the West is doing, and see that our works are just as good,’ adds Lim.

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Time Out Singapore: ‘i Light Marina Bay 2014’ Guide

The i Light festival is back again to invade Marina Bay with a host of environmentally-friendly art and activities. Gwen Pew rounds up the best events this year.

iLight Marina Bay

21 Feb 2014: This month, the waterfront of Marina Bay will again be transformed into a beautiful landscape of lights as the bi-annual i Light festival returns for three weeks. Organised by the Urban Redevelopment Authorities, the festival urges companies in the area to switch off unnecessary lights and turn up their air-conditioning temperatures to promote environmental sustainability. Several artists have also been invited to create energy efficient light art. This year, they’re back not only with plenty of Instagram-worthy installations, but a range of other activities to keep the whole family entertained as well. Here’s what you should keep your eye – and camera – out for.

Art

Works by more than 25 artists, hailing from both our own sunny shores and overseas, will be dotted around Marina Bay. Memorable highlights from the last edition include the Merlion sculpture’s colourful new look, created by Portuguese collective OCUBO, and local artist Ryf Zaini’s sprawling installation, ‘5QU1D’ (pictured above). This time, we can expect more stunning and quirky pieces, such as Greek artists Maro Avrabou and Dimitri Xenakis’ ‘The Guardian Angels’, which comprises a series of “watering-lanterns” (flower pots that are colourfully lit from the inside), and ‘The Beat’ – glowing, pulsing light globes made by Cherry Wang from local design firm Arup.

Food

Should you get hungry from wandering around the art, there are three places you can go to grab a bite. If you’re after something a bit more casual, check out the two food trucks, Kerbside Gourmet and The Travelling C.O.W. – the former is a charity initiative that promises to donate one dish to needy families for every dish bought, while the latter boasts the title of being Singapore’s first mobile food truck. For something more upscale, PasarBella will be leaving their Grandstand home and setting up a station offering a range of fresh produce.

Performances

From fire dancing (9, 15 & 29 Mar) to renditions of popular English and Mandarin hits sung by the Hark Performing Team (8 & 22 Mar), there are plenty of live acts to catch this year. The Singapore Sky Dancers will be also putting on a light show of synchronised kite flying at Go Fly Kite (15, 16, 29 & 30 Mar), or you can even try your hand at playing with illuminated props – such as hoops and staffs – with the performers of the Illuminated Street Shows (16 & 28 Mar). Keep a look out for the roving Neon Stilt Walkers (7, 8, 22 & 23 Mar), too!

Shopping

Local flea market group, For Flea Sake, will be setting up a Goodnight Market to sell everything from paintings to pastries, while the people behind the weekly Sentosa Broadwalk Bazaars, TGIF Bazaars, will be organising thei Light Marina Bay Waterfront Bazaar, whose range of products include lighted gadgets, collectible items and environmentally-friendly goods.

Sports

If you’re looking to get fit from more than just walking, there are a number of ways to exercise while enjoying the festival. We’re especially taken with the idea of Glo Yoga (22 & 23 Mar), where instructors from Spice Yoga will take you through a series of stretches against the skyline. Otherwise, instead of just admiring the skills of professional skaters at the Singapore Rollersports Federation’s Skate Competition & Demonstration (15 & 16 Mar), learn to do it yourself from the experts at the Fun Skate Clinics (10-28 Mar); if you already know how to, then join in their Fun Skate & Walk (15 Mar) from the Float to Gardens by the Bay. Fathers and sons (yes, this one is only for the dudes in the family) can also bond at the Adventure with Dad camp (22 & 23 Mar).

Walks and Trails

There will be free guided tours around the area available during weekend evenings, where volunteers will take visitors around to see various art pieces. There are two routes to choose from – just register at least one day before on their website. For those wanting to get a more unique perspective of the installations and skyline, book a 30-minute boat tour with the Singapore River Explorers. Meanwhile, corporate teams who might have a few thousand bucks to spare can take on the SCS Marina Bay Challenge (8 Mar; it costs $5,000/ team of six, but all proceeds go to the Student Care Services charity) to complete a series of tasks at various checkpoints – the winning team will get to bring home a trophy!

Time Out Singapore: Cultural Medallion Winners 2013

Established in 1979 by former Singapore President Ong Teng Cheong (then Minister for Culture), the Cultural Medallion is given to the country’s most prominent artists in the fields of dance, theatre, literature, music, photography, art and film. Gwen Pew talks to this year’s three recipients, who received their awards at the end of last month, to find out about their career highlights and what’s next for them.

Cultural Medallion Ivan Heng, the artistic director of local theatre company Wild Rice. Image courtesy of the National Arts Council.

Cultural Medallion Ivan Heng, the artistic director of local theatre company Wild Rice. Image courtesy of the National Arts Council.

23 Oct 2013:

Ivan Heng

Born in 1963, Heng graduated with a law degree from the National University of Singapore but soon decided that his true calling in life was theatre. He went on to build up an impressive resume working with everyone from local theatre pioneer Kuo Pao Kun to the Hong Kong Tang’s Opera Troupe, and flirting with ballet and Shakespeare in between it all. The awards poured in, and the actor-director founded W!ld Rice in 2000, which is now one of the largest theatre companies in Singapore.

Career highlight: ‘[When I was] creative director of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games. When the cauldron burst into flames at the Opening Ceremony, it was a dream come true. It put Singapore on the world map.’

Looking ahead: ‘In the immediate future, I will be directing a new production of Jack & the Bean-Sprout, our holiday blockbuster musical for all the family. We’re also in the process of lining up a season celebrating 2015 and we are also planning to restart our Young and W!LD division to nurture aspiring theatre professionals.’

Tsung Yeh

As the music director of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, conductor laureate of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta and music director of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra, Yeh is the first person to be leading a major Chinese and Western symphony orchestra simultaneously. Born in Shanghai in 1950, he joined the SCO in 2002 and has since taken the company from strength to strength with his innovative vision, with numerous performances every month.

Career highlight: ‘It was my honour to be appointed the music director for Singapore’s National Day Parade 2007. There were many firsts in this event which was truly a memorable moment for myself and for the nation. It was Singapore’s first NDP at the Marina Bay floating platform, the first to feature a combined orchestra of our nation’s national orchestras (the SCO and SSO), have a conductor as music director and feature local classical vocalists.’

Looking ahead: ‘Three directions for SCO – to soar to new heights (go international), to drive forward (be innovative in our programmes) and depth (to engage and serve the community).’

Mohamed Latiff Mohamed

A prolific writer who often centres his works on the struggles faced by the Malay community after Singapore gained its independence, Mohamed, 63, has produced a number of influential poems, short stories and novels. He is a three-time winner of the Singapore Literature Prize and some of his most notable works include Confrontation and Ziarah Cinta.

Career highlight: ‘One that I remember vividly is the World Congress of Poets that I attended in Seoul, South Korea in 2002. The people there greeted us with great warmth and respect. They would crowd around and follow us while we visited the city. Such was the reception that it seemed to me that the people of Korea gave great honour to people whom we call “poets”.’

Looking ahead: ‘To be able to translate all my works into English to be read worldwide.’

Time Out Singapore: ‘Lit Up Singapore 2013’ Preview

One of the hippest events on the indie literary arts calendar is back. Gwen Pew speaks to Marc Nair, local spoken word poet and one of the main guys driving the whole event.

A performance from Lit Up Festival. Image courtesy of Word Forward.

A performance from Lit Up Festival. Image courtesy of Word Forward.

19 Jun 2013: 

How did Lit Up begin?
Lit Up was started in 2009 by Word Forward. Chris Mooney-Singh and Savinder Kaur, the directors, envisioned an emerging writers and performers festival. This was the form of Lit Up from 2009 to 2010. Starting in 2011 and carrying on to 2013, Lit Up began to take on a more multi-disciplinary form, and incorporated visual art into its line-up. The focus also shifted from overseas artists to local artists, as we began to see the need for a platform to support and provide opportunities to young and capable artists.

What will be different about Lit Up this year?
This year, Lit Up pushes the envelope of collaboration in both the visual and performing arts. This year’s Visual Arts program includes a cross-disciplinary segment, Tête-à-tête. It brings together three pairs of artists who primarily work in different mediums. This dialogue – between poet and painter, photographer and sound artist, graphic designer and installation artist – will be presented at the exhibition. For the performing arts, we have Echo, a multi-disciplinary devised performance incorporating poetry, music and movement as well as a regional collaboration for one of the key performances, ‘She Walks Like A Free Country.’ This spoken word show brings together seven female poets from Singapore and Malaysia.

Tell us more about the theme of ‘Progression’ – why was it chosen and how will it be portrayed?
I chose ‘Progression’ as the theme for Lit Up 2013 because it felt like a word that was timely in the context of Singapore’s push to raise its population to 6.9m by 2030 as well as the slew of fractures, whether socially or infrastructurally, that has risen of late. Economic progression seems viable but is not without its fault lines. So I was interested to see how ‘Progression’ is applied in art, and how artists would interpret both positive and subverted notions of ‘Progression’ in Lit Up.

How do you decide the line-up and events of the festival?
A majority of the performances and visual artists were approached for this year’s festival. We felt that a curated approach is still necessary as we don’t have the resources to put out an open call. We also had some artists approach us to request to be featured in Lit Up. We accepted based on the quality of their work and relevance to the theme for this year. Most if not all of the invited artists are creating work specially for the festival, and we are very excited to present such a huge body of work.

How is the festival structured?
The festival operates holistically across a number of spaces. The majority of the performances are at Aliwal Arts Centre, although we do have talks and video installations at Orita Sinclair School of Design. Visitors to Lit Up will be able to attend back-to-back performances as well as take the time to walk through the visual arts gallery, featuring 13 installations.

Are there any highlights at the festival that should not be missed?
Everything at Lit Up is important! But it really depends on your taste. If you want interactive activities, workshops take place on both Saturday and Sunday mornings. We also have a great line-up of bands playing on Sunday evening as part of The Sarong Party, the closing event for Lit Up 2013. Our headline acts are Mosaic, a play by Joel Tan, and She Walks Like A Free Country. However, there are numerous smaller plays and performances that you should check out as well.

Focussing on the spoken word scene in Singapore – has it changed a lot over the past few years?
The spoken word scene has burgeoned over the past few years. For many years, there was only Poetry Slam to hold up the flag of spoken word, together with the occasional performance by visiting poets. But in the last couple of years, a number of both curated and open-mic events have sprung up, like Destination Ink, Singapore Arts Salon and Speak, and all these help to encourage and grow the scene by providing more avenues for writers to share their work.

Do you think Lit Up has contributed to that change?
Lit Up has always had the word at the core of its existence. Whether written or performed, we aim to centre every performance and exhibition around this ethos. Many of the artists involved in running and performing in various open-mic events are also part of Lit Up, and we hope to give them greater exposure and opportunites to further their craft. Additionally, the National Poetry Slam, which has been held annually at Lit Up, is also a key event that in many ways reflects the continued emphasis on the power of the spoken word.