Time Out Singapore: Survive an Art Show with the Kids

5 Jun 2015: We get some tips from Rachel Ng, the lead curator of ‘Imaginarium’ about helping kids tackle the world of art

Artwork: Chiang Yu Xiang

Artwork: Chiang Yu Xiang

1) ‘Use simple and accessible terms to communicate the key ideas behind the work. Imaginarium uses slightly shorter accompanying text, but most of the time, exhibitions aren’t tailored specially for children. Profound concepts and difficult language might be used in the captions, which can be difficult for them to understand. Bear in mind that their attention spans are much shorter, too. Parents can distil the core idea and share that in their own words.’

2) ‘Ask the children questions about the work. Setting up this casual conversation between parent and child is really impactful because it compels the child to think about the work and form his or her own response to it. This process of articulation aids the thinking process about art and, in time, helps shape the child’s individual tastes and judgment.’

3) ‘Ultimately, there is no one right or wrong interpretation, and that’s the most important thing to remember when explaining an artwork. Art appreciation is highly individual and subjective – that’s the beauty of it. It encourages and makes room for a diversity of opinions and reactions. Parents should definitely share their own opinions about the work aside from the caption explanation, so that the child’s encounter with art becomes a more personalised experience.’

Time Out Singapore: Rachel Ng

1 Apr 2015: We find out how an upcoming exhibition, ‘Imaginarium’, introduces the weird and wonderful world of contemporary art to kids

Photo: Singapore Art Museum

Photo: Singapore Art Museum

Bringing children to a contemporary art exhibition may not, on paper, sound like the best idea from a parent’s point of view. What if they touch and break stuff? Or if they get bored and start howling for attention? Or, worse still, what if they mistake that funky sculpture for something edible and eat it?

Well, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) wants to put those fears to rest. It’s encouraging parents to start fostering in their kids a love for the arts by creating an exhibition specifically with little ones in mind. Back for its fifth edition, Imaginarium features new works that children can have fun exploring. Rachel Ng, the lead curator of the exhibition and assistant curator of SAM, tells us more.

How do you ensure that the works are accessible to kids?

The accompanying text is slightly shorter and in simple language so that it’s more digestible for children. But we have steered clear from simplifying the concept of the work. Each caption is prefaced by a ‘big question’ to prompt the children to examine the larger issues the work raises and their own feelings about it.
I feel that the best way to foster an interest in art is if you can communicate the underlying intent of the artist and the message of the artwork – what is it trying to express, why was it made, and how does it then relate to you and the world you live in?

Was there ever a concern that child-friendly art would be perceived as lower quality?

There is the tendency to equate accessibility with lesser conceptual depth, and hence ‘lower quality’. This is a very limiting point of view, because without consideration for accessibility, you risk alienating certain audience members.
I believe that art is for everyone, and this goes to the heart of what Imaginarium is about: to let everyone discover what art can be, and the joy of that encounter. [In Imaginarium], there is a mix of established and emerging artists from a wide range of practices: photography, drawing, installation, mixed media and even conceptual.

Why should kids be exposed to contemporary art?

It deals with the way we live, the issues affecting society and the world at large, and our place in the world. It is a richly textured medium through which serious issues and questions can be raised to children. This is important for building a well-informed future generation.

How were the artists chosen?

We wanted a diversity of ideas and aesthetics to create a tiered experience for visitors. For example, there is a mix of contemplative and interactive, immersive works. We also selected a few emerging artists, as Imaginarium is a great platform to expose the public to newer, exciting forms of art.

Bringing children to a contemporary art exhibition may not, on paper, sound like the best idea from a parent’s point of view. What if they touch and break stuff? Or if they get bored and start howling for attention? Or, worse still, what if they mistake that funky sculpture for something edible and eat it?

Well, SAM wants to put those fears to rest. It’s encouraging parents to start fostering in their kids a love for the arts by creating an exhibition specifically with little ones in mind. Back for its fifth edition, Imaginarium features new works that children can have fun exploring. Rachel Ng, the lead curator of the exhibition and assistant curator of SAM, tells us more.

How do you ensure that the works are accessible to kids?

The accompanying text is slightly shorter and in simple language so that it’s more digestible for children. But we have steered clear from simplifying the concept of the work. Each caption is prefaced by a ‘big question’ to prompt the children to examine the larger issues the work raises and their own feelings about it.

I feel that the best way to foster an interest in art is if you can communicate the underlying intent of the artist and the message of the artwork – what is it trying to express, why was it made, and how does it then relate to you and the world you live in?

Was there ever a concern that child-friendly art would be perceived as lower quality?

There is the tendency to equate accessibility with lesser conceptual depth, and hence ‘lower quality’. This is a very limiting point of view, because without consideration for accessibility, you risk alienating certain audience members.

I believe that art is for everyone, and this goes to the heart of what Imaginarium is about: to let everyone discover what art can be, and the joy of that encounter. [In Imaginarium], there is a mix of established and emerging artists from a wide range of practices: photography, drawing, installation, mixed media and even conceptual.

Why should kids be exposed to contemporary art?

It deals with the way we live, the issues affecting society and the world at large, and our place in the world. It is a richly textured medium through which serious issues and questions can be raised to children. This is important for building a well-informed future generation.

How were the artists chosen?

We wanted a diversity of ideas and aesthetics to create a tiered experience for visitors. For example, there is a mix of contemplative and interactive, immersive works. We also selected a few emerging artists, as Imaginarium is a great platform to expose the public to newer, exciting forms of art.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ Preview

I Theatre takes the Brothers Grimm’s legendary fairy tales back to basics – but also breathes new life into them, as Gwen Pew discovers.

The cast of Grimm's Fairy Tales. Image courtesy of I Theatre.

The cast of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Image courtesy of I Theatre.

25 Oct 2013: First published in 1812 under the title of Children’s and Household Tales (or Kinderund Hausmärchen in its native German), Grimms’ Fairy Tales has been the staple collection of bedtime stories for many generations. They’ve even served as the first dollop of inspiration for numerous film adaptations and animations – but the original tales, recorded by Jacob and Wilheim Grimm based on traditional folk stories that were passed down verbally, are decidedly grittier, more violent and gruesome than what Disney will have you believe. Local stage company I Theatre is keen to present a more authentic version.

Though the performance will remain child-friendly, ‘this is definitely not just a musical for children,’ says I Theatre’s artistic director and resident playwright Brian Seward. ‘Parents will identify with some characters, teens with others. There’s romance – but not too much! – violence, death – only the baddies die! – adventure, trickery, courage, stupidity, intelligence, comedy and cunning.’

The whole process started over half a year ago when Seward sat down with his creative team and read through all 201 stories in the Brothers Grimms’ canon. They then picked out their personal favourites and decided which of those would work best with the popular tales that they felt they had to include. ‘I started developing the stories into a coherent script – keeping the story elements and original storylines from the original tales, but dramatising the speech and streamlining [the plot],’ says Seward. ‘And occasionally, I’d carefully re-work some of the more gruesome elements to make them suitable for a family audience.’

Nine stories were selected in the end, including The Musicians of Bremen, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, The Valiant Little Tailor and Little Red Riding Hood. But, rather than merely enacting them in a straight play, I Theatre decided to take on an extra challenge and turn the show into what they say will be a ‘full-scale Broadway-standard musical’. The key element of that is, of course, the score, which comes courtesy of associate composer Bang Wenfu. ‘The music is amazing, and it is a very integral part of the production,’ says Seward. ‘You will find a wide range of musical styles to go with the different stories.’

But it’s not just the tunes that they got creative with – audiences will also get to experience an interesting variety of acting styles, including the use of custom-made animal masks. ‘Puppets appear in at least three stories, and we use different styles and types of puppet for each story – one story even takes the form of a mini-opera!’ explains Seward. ‘The performers are working very hard to keep up with the various contrasting styles, and they are learning a range of different skills in addition to the ones they already have. We also brought in a specialist from Paris, who taught the performers the finer points of mask performance.’

Aside from puppet skills, the cast – which includes Dwayne Lau, Elizabeth Loh, Daphne Ong, Darren Guo, Cassandra Spykerman, Juliana Ong, Jonathan Lum and Trevelyan Neo – will be putting their versatility to the test, each playing at least eight characters and going through more than 50 costume changes during the fast-paced 90-minute production.

If you think you’re too grown up for silly tales and only kids will like the show, think again. After all, as the book’s original title suggests, it was meant for both children and the general household. ‘Audiences will find some of the less well-known stories fascinating,’ promises Seward, continuing, ‘and they might be surprised at the way we present some of the favourites! We believe there is something for every member of the family here, whether they are four years old, 14 years old, 34 or even 104.’

Time Out Singapore: Legoland Malaysia Water Park (Feature)

Legoland Malaysia Water Park is officially opening its doors on 21 October. Featuring over 70 Lego models and 20 water-based rides – including the signature attractions Joker Soaker, Wave Pool and Build-A-Raft River – this is set to be the largest Legoland Water Park in the world. Gwen Pew goes and checks it out.

Legoland Malaysia's water park is definitely kid-friendly - but there's plenty to do for the big kids too. Photo courtesy of Legoland Malaysia.

Legoland Malaysia’s water park is definitely kid-friendly – but there’s plenty to do for the big kids too. Photo courtesy of Legoland Malaysia.

21 Oct 2013: Legoland Malaysia Water Park is officially opening its doors on 21 October. Featuring over 70 Lego models and 20 water-based rides – including the signature attractions Joker Soaker, Wave Pool and Build-A-Raft River – this is set to be the largest Legoland Water Park in the world. Most of the slides and pools are suitable for kids as young as two, but older kids and adults will also have fun at the more thrilling ones such as the Tidal Tube, which you shoot down in almost total darkness and reach breathtaking speeds before emerging from the other side, 240-feet down. Alternatively, the LEGO Slide Racers is also designed for daredevils, as six people race down different tubes at the same time on a mat, head first.

The only things to note are that firstly, grounds are extremely slippery so do be careful, and secondly, because Malaysia is predominantly a Muslim country, most people there are dressed in long-sleeved shirts and trousers; feel free to wear a swimsuit but there weren’t a lot of people in bikinis when we went for a media preview, so ladies, be prepared to stand out a little if you choose to show more flesh.

Overall, though, the Water Park makes for a fun day out for all the family – so get ready, set, soak!

Legoland Malaysia 7 Jln Legoland, Bandar Medini, Nusajaya, Johor, Malaysia (+60 7 597 8888, www.legoland.com.my). Sun-Tue & Thu-Fri 10am-6pm; Sat 10am-8pm. Water Park: MYR85-MYR105++ ($30-$40++); Legoland & Water Park: MYR 140-MYR175++ ($54-$67++).

Time Out Singapore: ‘The Bubble Legendary Show’ Preview

Bubbles are a source of happiness for many of us, but Fan Yang – holder of 18 Guinness World Records – took it one step further and developed his hobby into a full-time career. Gwen Pew speaks to the legendary bubble artist and his son, Deni Yang, who has followed his father’s footsteps in the same trade.

18-time Guinness World Record holder Fan Yang and a giant bubble.

18-time Guinness World Record holder Fan Yang and a giant bubble.

17 May 2013:

How did you become a bubble artist?
Fan Yang: At the age of six, I was captivated by tiny bubbles floating on the surface of the river, which were created by a small waterfall. I Imagined how beautiful it would be if I could create a big bubble and go inside. When I was 18, I started to experiment with various liquid solutions to find the perfect mixture to create big bubbles. Slowly, with time, passion and dedication, I was able to blend a good mixture and create a large bubble. Further improving the mixture allowed me to create various elements. This is how bubble art first came to be… but I never thought that I will bring bubble art to stages around the world.

At what point did your hobby become a full-time profession?
FY: It became a full-time profession in 1991. That’s the same year I first attempted to make it into the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest spherical soap bubble. [He successfully created a record a year later, for the largest spherical soap bubble.]

Was it a conscious decision for you to follow in your father’s footsteps?
Deni Yang: It was a conscious decision for me to do bubble art as I hope to inspire other youngsters with it the same way my father’s passion inspired me. Now that I’m 23, I have no regrets in continuing my bubble mania. It never gets old and there will always be new tricks or innovative elements to add fantasy and magic to the show.

What are some of the tools that you use for bubble-making?
DY: All our tools – such as wands and tubes – are custom-made to adapt to the bubble elements that we plan to create.

Which type of bubble is the most difficult to make?
DY: The Diamond Bubble is very difficult to make as we have to create an arrangement of 12 bubbles to be able to form the diamond-shaped one in the middle.

How is the Bubble Legendary Show structured?
DY: The show is made with love and passion to inspire the next generation. It has a storyline and is a combination of bubble artistry, special effects, spectacular lighting multimedia and the ultimate laser technology, which incorporates the world’s first silver, gold and 3D lasers. These create astonishing visual effects all around the stage and audience area. It’s an interactive show for audiences of all ages. Our show aims to guide everyone into a marvellous world of bubbles that represents past, present and future.

Tell us more about the ‘Silver, Gold and 3D cosmic lasers’…
DY: The silver laser beam is made through a combination of colour diodes and wave lengths to enhance ordinary white laser beam into silver. The same principle is used for the gold laser. The 3D laser is a breakthrough in laser science technology, it allows the audience to see laser beams in the air bending in different shapes. The 3D laser device was created with the most advanced German technology and it took us five years to make it work. It’s the one and only device existing in the world today.

Do you have a favourite part in the show?
DY: There are many parts of the show that I truly enjoy to perform, creating very complex bubble tricks, such as Diamond Shape bubble, requires me to make with my father as it is very complicated. I also love having audience members on stage, as every show is different and everyone experiences bubbles in different way, I never know what their final reaction will be. It’s always a great pleasure to see how people enjoy playing with bubbles, no matter what their age. My favourite segment is the Twilight Saga where we incorporate fantastic soundtracks made by the famous Hollywood Company Audiomachine. We combine lighting, video projection, special effects and manipulation of laser light with our bare hands to create incredible visual effects. This segment is performed inside a giant Crystal Dome.

How often do you practice the craft?

DY: I perform six to eight shows every week so I don’t practice old bubble tricks as they have become routine. However, I do constantly spend time experimenting with new bubble elements five to six times a week for few hours, until I can perform them perfectly.

What are the most important attributes that one needs in order to become a bubble artist?
DY: Love and passion. You have to love what you are doing and being patient is key as things don’t always come out the way we want; these attributes will make the best bubble artist.

Time Out Singapore: Jeff Achtem

Think an old spoon or a pair of dysfunctional scissors is useless? Award-winning Canadian puppeteer Jeff Achtem proves otherwise, says Gwen Pew.

Jeff Achtem and one of his creations.

Jeff Achtem and one of his creations.

14 May 2013: Jeff Achtem – often known by his silent stage persona Mr Bunk – has been a seasoned street performer since 1999, delighting audiences young and old around the world with his unique style of puppetry. While his techniques are influenced by traditional European street clowning and improvisation, the idea of creating a shadow puppet show from scrap materials came to him many years ago. ‘I grew up in a family where I was always taking appliances apart in my dad’s workshop to find out how they worked – I would spend hours trying to make my own weird contraptions out of scraps of wood and old machines,’ the Montreal-born puppet master recalls. ‘It was very playful, and got me interested in how things work and move together to achieve a task. Puppetry is a natural extension of that curiosity, since there is so much to play with in the creation of the characters, and then a lot of study in the mechanics of how they move.’

Achtem came up with Sticks, Stones, Broken Bones a few years ago when he challenged himself to create a show from nothing, although the task turned out to be simpler than he had imagined. ‘Really, it was no more complicated than working long hours for five months on end in a dark room with strange toys, with the goal of tying them all together into a show,’ he says. ‘The show has changed a lot in the five years since I stepped out of that dark room. It’s fun to see how the characters come out and meet new audiences in new countries.’

He first presented the show at Edinburgh Fringe in 2010, and has since won numerous awards for it – including Edinburgh Spotlight Best Newcomer 2010 and Best Puppet Show at Adelaide Fringe 2011. He is staging it in Singapore as part of the Esplanade’s Flipside Festival 2013. Centred on the idea of play, it consists of a series of short stories, featuring a range of colourful characters including ninjas, flying chickens and brain surgeons – all of whom are created from household items like spoons, old teddy bears and bath toys, as well as bits of rubber, wood and metal.

‘[The puppets] are designed to give the audience a slice of life in a character that doesn’t exist and doesn’t have much to say – they’re fun for that reason,’ Achtem continues. ‘Somehow we connect with them, despite the fact that they are not alive. Puppetry is a magic trick, filled with emotion. My favourite puppets are the ones that fill you with immediate joy in the instance when you realise how the silhouette is creating a character.’

Unlike most other shadow puppet shows, however, the audience will be able to gain a behind-the-scenes perspective and witness how the puppets are created in SSBB. Another unique thing about it is that it’s a performance without words, and therefore requires the audience to really fire up their imagination. ‘Kids see some things, and the adults understand others,’ he says. ‘[There will be] lots of music and great sound effects. A good image on a screen must have a good soundtrack!’ But as for exactly what viewers should expect from the show, Achtem is hesitant about giving too much away. ‘The less you know the better – just come and play!’ he says with a smile, but adds secretively, ‘look out for the horse race though – it’s an audience favourite.’

Time Out Singapore: ‘KidsFest 2013’ Preview

As KidsFest returns to Singapore for its second edition, Gwen Pew sums up the five shows that will be hitting the stage this year.

'Horrible Histories: Ruthless Romans' in KidsFest 2013. Photo courtesy of ABA Productions.
‘Horrible Histories: Ruthless Romans’ in KidsFest 2013. Photo courtesy of ABA Productions.

10 Dec 2012: Little ones are in for a treat this at KidsFest. Hosted by Hong Kong-based international theatre company ABA Productions, the festival – which takes place in both Singapore and Hong Kong each year – is created specifically for children and their parents to enjoy. All the plays at KidsFest are imported directly from the UK, and they are either still showing at the West End or have been performed there at some point in the past.

‘Every show is handpicked by me and my team,’ says Matthew Gregory, executive producer of ABA. ‘We travel to London or places like the Edinburgh Fringe [Festival] to see them. Sometimes we send parents or teachers to check them out, and sometimes I’ll bring my two kids with me – one of them is three and the other’s five – who are really helpful as I can gauge how good a show is judging by their reaction!’

Featuring a mixture of shows – ranging from award-winning productions to smaller, lesser-known shows – KidsFest is aimed at children from the ages of three to about 15, and Gregory hopes that it will encourage the younger generation to improve their English in a fun and engaging way, as well as experience live theatre.

‘I know a lot of other companies like to localise plays when they take it to other countries, but we don’t do that; we keep them exactly the same as the UK productions,’ he says. ‘All the costumes and props are brought over, except the sets which are re-created in a place to the north of Hong Kong – it’s the same place where the sets for Jackie Chan’s movies are made, actually – because it’s more cost-effective, but they still look exactly like the sets in the UK, so the audience here will get the same experience.’

Here’s a round down of what’s on offer this year.

The Gruffalo

16-27 Feb

Based on Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s eponymous book – which has been hailed by UK newspaper Observer as ‘a modern classic’ – the acclaimed West End production of The Gruffalo has been touring the UK for eight years to date. If you didn’t catch it at the last KidsFest!, here are a few more chances to watch this adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s award-winning story about a mouse who makes up a monster to scare others – and meets it himself!

Mr Benn

22-27 Jan
Adapted from the original book and TV series of the same name, which first came out in England back in the 1970s, the character of Mr Benn will traditionally have a different adventure in each book/episode as he dons a different outfit in a magical fancy dress shop, then transforms into that particular character. This stage production, which has only been around for a year and a half, features only two of his adventures – one as a cook and one as a driver – but also includes a medley at the end that follows him to various faraway lands, where he takes on the roles of a knight, a wizard, a spaceman and more. The stories of Mr Benn are about the power of imagination, with the moral being that you can become anything you want to be if you put your mind to it.

Room on the Broom

30 Jan-10 Feb
Narrated by some happy campers, the tale of a friendly witch whose broomstick breaks when she picks up too many animals – including a dog, a frog and a bird, as well as the witch’s own cat – after they help her find her lost hat, wand and bow, is originally written by the same power duo that created The Gruffalo. Featuring a Welsh dragon, a snazzy broom that lights up and a repertoire of catchy tunes, there is a lot going on in this show both visually and plot-wise, which means that older siblings will enjoy it too. The animals, who are manipulated by skilled puppeteers, will be greeting everyone in the auditorium before the show starts – so don’t be shy and be sure to go say hello!

Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain

31 Jan-9 Feb
Ever wondered what would happen if a Viking moves in next door to you, or what the infamous King Henry VIII might have been like in person? This show will answer all the questions you may have had about the long – and sometimes not so glorious – history of Great Britain, condensing the country’s 2000-plus-year history into funny, easily-digestible but still factually accurate chunks. Accompanied by an original score (we’ve heard that there’s a bit with Guy Fawkes, the man behind the infamous Gunpowder Plot in the 1660s, who has a particularly entertaining number), there are also plenty of opportunities for everyone to participate. Don’t worry if that’s not your thing – the producers promised that it won’t involve embarrassing anyone on stage.

Horrible Histories: Ruthless Romans

3-10 Feb
Get a crash course in Roman history and find out what life was like for people living in the notorious empire in this production, where two actors take on a whole range of characters from Spartacus to Emperors and cover topics as varied as slavery and school life way back when. As it only covers 300 years’ worth of history – compared with the two millennia of Barmy Britain – this production is able to cover more ground and get into the intricate details; your kids will be sure to pick up a whole bunch of nasty facts to show off to their friends afterwards. This one’s guaranteed to be a popular draw – in addition to receiving a five-star review from the BBC, Ruthless Romans has also been adapted into a video game – so book early.