Time Out Singapore: ‘Japan Theater’

Gwen Pew chats with respected actor Ebizo Ichikawa XI on kabuki and noh as the two Japanese theatrical forms come together for the first time on an international stage.

Japan Theater

12 Nov 2014: There’s no shortage of international works staged in Singapore, but this month sees the arrival of something special. Two of Japan’s most revered theatrical forms – kabuki and noh – will make their international debut right here, with the renowned kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa XI taking the lead role in the performance, simply titled Japan Theater.

Apart from its cultural significance, the show is especially noteworthy because of Ebizo himself. As the 11th generation of the Ichikawa family – whose lineage dates back to the 17th century – he got into the acting business at a young age. ‘When I was three, my dad [Danjuro Ichikawa XII] took me out for a walk in the park, during which he asked if I wanted to be a kabuki actor,’ he recalls. ‘I answered yes, so I guess it was my own decision to join the kabuki world.’

Ebizo made his stage debut at the age of six, and moved up the kabuki hierarchy to acquire the prestigious title of ‘Ebizo’ in 2004. Now 36, his good looks and marriage to popular actress and broadcaster Mao Kobayashi helped him consolidate a fan base and revive an interest in kabuki among the younger generation.

Audiences here can look forward to catching Shakkyo (Stone Bridge) and Renjishi (Lion Dance), the noh and kabuki segments, respectively. Both are set in Tang Dynasty China and tell the story of a spiritual place beside a stone bridge, where a monk has created a lion that dances among the flowers. A high level of skill is required for these intricate performances, and a cast of 50 other troupe members and musicians will join Ebizo.

‘The thing I love most about noh is the intense emotions that are expressed even when everything is static. For kabuki, it’s the way that the affection between parents and their children is expressed through the dynamic motions,’ Ebizo says. ‘One of the most beautiful techniques in the show is the dynamic hair-swinging – called keburi – that takes place at the end.’

The art of kabuki is usually handed down the family – each clan has its own distinctive style and methods – but there are ways in which outsiders can break into the scene. ‘You could attend a training school at the National Institute for two years, take the exam and get started with kabuki,’ Ebizo explains. ‘The other way is to start as a heiyago, a boy or young man taken on as an apprentice or child actor by a kabuki actor.’

But like any sort of acting, training is no easy task. ‘We practice every day, and even though there are usually two daily performances over 25 days when we stage a show, I still feel the need to practise each role over and over again,’ the kabuki doyen tells us. ‘I usually discover new things about the role when I do that. Additionally, I train with a personal trainer every day I’m not onstage to keep my core muscles and body in shape.’

Despite all the hard work, however, Ebizo wouldn’t change a thing. When asked what he would have done if he hadn’t gone into acting, he hesitates. ‘What would I do?’ he repeats. ‘That’s something I’ve never considered before.’

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Kabuki is a highly stylised type of dramatic theatre whose plots are usually based on historic events, tales of love and rivalry or other well-known stories. Its actors often don elaborate costumes and makeup, including white face foundation, to create kabuki’s signature look.

Much has changed since the early days, however. For example, only females would perform in the original productions, but they were later banned as many moonlighted as prostitutes. Now, men portray both male and female roles. And where kabuki performances used to last an entire day, they are now much shorter.

Noh is also played by an all-male cast, but it has much stronger music and dance elements. Its themes are often linked to dreams or the supernatural; performers hide their faces behind masks made from cypress, whose designs symbolise character archetypes.

Both kabuki and noh have their own dedicated theatres, which is why they’re rarely performed on the same stage. Yet they’ve both been deemed so valuable that UNESCO listed them as part of Japan’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. And now, you can watch them without even leaving our shores.

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Time Out Singapore: Sebastian Tan

He’s best known for being the Hokkien-spewing, show tune-singing, glitter-loving Broadway Beng, but Sebastian Tan will be stepping into bigger shoes this month: He’ll be making his Wild Rice directorial debut by helming the company’s annual pantomime. Written by Alfian Sa’at, Monkey Goes West is based on the legendary Chinese story of Journey to the West, and as expected from the theatre company, it’ll bear a local twist. Gwen Pew chats with Tan before the show opens.

Sebastian Tan (Monkey Goes West)

5 Nov 2014:

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While it’s not Tan’s first time directing – he has previously directed shows as part of Singapore Management University’s Arts Festival and assistant directed with Singapore Repertory Theatre’s The Little Company – he still gets a rush of emotions ahead of rehearsals: ‘I’m feeling nervous, excited, powerful, happy, anxious, fabulous – the whole works. I’m like a pregnant lady now, ready to give birth come 21 November. Now, push! Breathe! Push some more!’

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It was Tan who suggested staging a play based on Journey to the West: ‘When Ivan Heng [Wild Rice’s artistic director] first approached me about directing a musical,I wanted to bring something different to the usual Wild Rice panto table. I chose something that speaks to me, but is also an epic story that’s popular in both the East and the West.’

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The story is one that he’s loved since he was a child: The endless adventures part of the monk, Tripitaka (who is Singaporean in this adaptation), and his disciples Monkey, Sandy and Piggy evoked so much of my imagination even to this day. I love it for its richness in terms of story, themes, colours, costumes, sets, lights… everything!’

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He sees the transition from actor to director as a natural one: ‘As an actor, I’m like a kid, playing and exploring. As a director, I’m like the kid growing up to be an adult – I draw from the many experiences I had as a kid and apply them to what I do. I have a lot more responsibilities and a wider, broader vision, and I believe it will make me grow even more artistically.’

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He’s focussed on Monkey Goes West, but he’s already booked up until 2016: ‘I’ve started to work on some projects, like my concert with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra next year, and the Broadway Beng movie is out in 2016, so watch out!’

Time Out Singapore: ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

14 Oct 2014: Three drag queens walk into a bar on their way from Sydney to Alice Springs in Australia, and despite getting a dance party started in there, they came out to find that the locals have sprayed hateful words onto their lavender-coloured van (nicknamed Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). That’s not funny, of course, but it’s a scene from a musical that promises to be an entertaining and colourful singalong journey to acceptance.

Based on Stephan Elliott’s 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the story centres on drag queen Anthony ‘Tick’ Belrose as he and two friends hit the road to a night club in the resort town to perform a show as a favour to his ex-wife. What his mates don’t know is that he has an ulterior motive: He will finally get to meet his eight-year-old son after the show.

Priscilla will be making its debut in Singapore this month, and its largely Filipino cast will be joined by local actor/director/playwright Jonathan Lim ofChestnuts fame. Lim will star as one of the drag queen performers, Miss Understanding. The performance deals with some fabulously grownup themes – yes, that does include homosexuality – but director Jaime del Mundo is convinced that it’s a show that everyone can enjoy. ‘I love its joy, its buoyancy and its celebration of individuality,’ he says.

‘I love the fact that though the musical teems with high spirits, it does not sugar-coat the realities of prejudice and the challenges that life choices sometimes force one to face. But most of all, I love the fact that it is a show about family for families!’

Time Out Singapore: ‘Mandala’

Mandala

7 Oct 2014: It was truly third time lucky for Jacklyn Kuah: ‘I auditioned for In Source Theatre the first time in the 2000s, and didn’t get the part. I auditioned again later and still didn’t get in, for one reason or another. For my third audition, they were looking for someone to help them with a research documentary called Defining Spiritual Theatre. We met at The Substation and once we all got there they took us to Fort Canning and told us to run. I thought there’s no way I’d get it – I was so unprepared,’ she recalls with a laugh. But she did get it. That was 2005 and now, nine years later, she has taken over as the company’s artistic director.

As Singapore’s only physical theatre group, In Source was founded in 2003 by Beverly Yuen as an associate artistic group of The Substation, and places emphasis not only on acting, but also body movements in the form of dance and martial arts. While it enjoyed great success and brought many of its productions overseas to places as diverse as Hawaii and Poland, the full-time members decided to go on a sabbatical after performing at a festival in Korea in 2009 to pursue their own studies.

The group did several smaller projects during this break, including a performance at The Substation called Leaping Fish in the City last year, but this month it’s back for sure and determined to stay.

‘We’re still looking for a venue to call our permanent home, but while there are many physical theatre practitioners in Singapore, there’s no other company here that focusses on that, so I think it’s really important we bring it back,’ says Kuah.

And she didn’t have to think too hard to know that she will mark the company’s return – as well as her reign as the new artistic director – with Mandala. The piece, which involves a performer drawing a three-metre wide version of the intricate spiritual symbol across the stage throughout the show with rice to represent the cycle of human life, was initially staged in 2003. Different versions of it were performed in subsequent years, and Kuah says that she has a personal attachment to it, partly because it has elements that can resonate with everyone.

‘I don’t expect people to watch the show and understand everything about it, but that’s okay. It’s a piece that you can take away and reflect on afterwards,’ she says. ‘Plus, it’s aesthetically very beautiful – and it’s enjoyable!’

And we can’t wait to see what Kuah has in store for us theatre fiends.

Time Out Singapore: Dean Lundquist

This month will see Asylum Theatre make its debut with a series of eight short plays written by its artistic director, Dean Lundquist. Gwen Pew gets him to tell us more.

Dean Lundquist

19 Sep 2014: Dean Lundquist is no stranger to the theatre world: he holds two Masters degrees in playwriting and directing, he’s a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, and his plays have, in his own words, ‘been performed all over the English speaking world’. Since moving to Singapore in 2004, the California native has also received several awards at the Singapore Short+Sweet Festival, including Best Director and Best Playwright, and taught at NAFA and Lasalle. Now, he’s established a non-profit company, Asylum Theatre, to produce works that he hopes to bring to our stages. Its inaugural performance this month, entitled Holiday in my Head, comprises eight short plays that were written by Lundquist, such as the award-winning I Can Tell Your Handbag is Fake, about three women all holding the same handbag on a train, andFinger Food, featuring an optimistic fork and a pessimistic spoon having a discussion about their future when a restaurant’s customers only order finger food. Many of the works have already been performed in Singapore or abroad previously, but this is the first time they will all be presented in one show – with two new pieces set to make their debut here – and we’ve been promised a stellar cast, too, including Seong Hui Xuan, Chio Su-Ping and Andrew Mowatt. We catch up with Lundquist to find out more.

Firstly, why did you name the company Asylum Theatre?
Like many theatre artists, I am a bit of a nut, so I created Asylum Theatre as an asylum that is both a place where they keep all the crazy people and a safe haven. I thought it would be a safe haven for theatre nuts.

What sets Asylum apart from all the other theatre troupes in Singapore already?
We want to do a mix of new theatre, reimagined classics and socially relevant contemporary plays. Of course, we also want to do work that is fun! I grew up going to the theatre with my family, so we want to do work that you can watch with your kids – but not necessarily children’s theatre.

It’s pretty ambitious of you to be staging eight short plays in your first production – which also all happen to be your own – is there a common theme within them?
I have had a lot of experience with the short play format as a writer, director, actor and festival organiser. In doing eight of them, hopefully there will be something for everyone. In this production, we have six actors and all of them play at least three different characters, so it’s a good workout for me as a director and a challenge for the actors as well.

When I started to put the show together, the plays I picked were just some of my most popular plays. However, as I looked at them again, I found that many had something to do with Christmas or at least mentioned the holiday. What has been incredibly fun is finding or creating little threads that tie some of the plays together. While most of them were written at various times over the past six years, we have found or made fun little running jokes that connect some of them and will no doubt delight an audience. Some of the plays refer to things that happen in earlier plays or a character is alluded to in another play. Also, if you look closely, you might find that some of the characters pop up in more than one play!

You’ve set a goal to raise $3,500 through crowdfunding to get the play together – how is it going?
That’s only part of our budget! Theatre is really expensive to produce in Singapore. This is my first time using a crowdfunding platform. I hope it works out. We’ve still got a ways to go. It is primarily to get us started, but we have also received help from W!ld Rice, The Substation, Lee Foundation and hopefully the National Arts Council. It’s going to be close, but I reckon if we can get 1,200 to 1,400 people to see the show, then it will all work out in the end.

I think crowdfunding is great. I have helped other artists fund their projects and it really gives me a great feeling. I guess it’s kind of a good karma thing. It makes me feel like I have a little bit more of a stake in someone’s project if I send them a few dollars to help get it off the ground.

What else can we expect from you and Asylum Theatre after this?
For a number of years I have wanted to direct Ruthless! the musical. I am hoping it will be our next project. It’s one of the funniest things I have ever seen on the stage. It’s about a talented young girl who wants the lead in the school play so bad that she is willing to kill for it. Did I mention it’s a dark comedy? As well as some great musical numbers, I think there is something about it that Singaporean audiences will surely identify with.

There are other projects I would like to take on as well – some contemporary works that I think are socially relevant and incredibly entertaining. Perhaps ifHoliday in my Head is a success, we may do another evening of short plays in the future as well. Whatever happens, we will keep on making top-notch, quality theatre that you’ll want to see and tell your friends about.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Flying Bach’ Preview

Gwen Pew chats with the choreographer and founder of The Flying Steps, Vartan Bassil.

Members of The Flying Steps posing at Maxwell ahead of their performance here.

Members of The Flying Steps posing at Maxwell ahead of their performance here.

17 Jan 2014: Following their sold-out tour around Europe in 2011, Germany’s breakdancing crew The Flying Steps will be in Singapore this month for their debut performance here. Rather than showing off their fancy footwork to hip-hop beats, however, the group has decided to set their choreography to something decidedly more traditional: classical music. Specifically, it’s JS Bach’s collection of solo piano pieces, ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’. But it’s not simply a dance showcase either – there is also a storyline, which centres on the fights and successes of a group of six b-boy dancers and their teacher, who are later joined by a mysterious woman who sparks off the show’s spectacular dance battle climax.

1 Bassil founded The Flying Steps 20 years ago: ‘I am a B-Boy and as I started with breakdance it was usual to have a crew to go to the battles. So my friends and I formed a crew. Over the years the crew changed a little bit and we grew bigger. In 2007 we opened our Flying Steps Academy, a place where people who like to dance can take classes.’

2 JS Bach’s ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’ was selected as the backing track because of its precise, contrapuntal rhythm: ‘With the sharp breakdance moves you have the ability to visualise the music. It matches [the dance style] better than modern dance or ballet – breakdance and Bach actually interpret time, visually and musically, in a pretty similar way.’

3 The idea of The Flying Bach had been in the works for a while: ‘For a long time, I had entertained the idea of dancing to classical music. I had all these pictures in my head and I knew it would work, because what a ballerina can do with her feet, a pirouette for example, we can do on our heads.’

4 The most difficult aspect of the show is the choreography: ‘Breakdance mainly consists of four steps that fit to a certain rhythm, but the classical rhythm follows a different logic, so we had to change our step pattern.’

5 They believe that their fearless attitude is what sets them apart from other dance groups: ‘We are different because we are not scared of any challenges. As our motto goes, “everything is possible!”’

Time Out Singapore: ‘The Mountain’ Preview

Locally-based theatre collective The Art of Strangers debuts this month with an intimate play that requires audience members to climb over a mountain. Gwen Pew talks to co-founder Felipe Cervera to find out more.

A scene from The Art of Strangers's debut performance, 'The Mountain'. Image courtesy of Syahirah A. Karim.

A scene from The Art of Strangers’s debut performance, ‘The Mountain’. Image courtesy of Syahirah A. Karim.

13 Jan 2013: Rather than allow their audience to simply sit back, relax and enjoy the show, newly-established theatre collective The Art of Strangers has a different idea in mind for their official debut at this year’s M1 Fringe Festival. The Mountain, a 45-minute piece based on a short story called The Mystic Mountain by Indian author Amitav Ghosh, is set in a village surrounded by a mountain that locals have never climbed because of ancient superstitious reasons, until a bunch of foreigners – the audience – arrive and embark on the trek.

‘Yes, the audience will need to move around,’ grins Mexico-born Felipe Cervera, 29, who co-founded The Art of Strangers with his Singaporean- Malay wife Fezhah Maznan, 28, and will be directing and acting in the production. ‘But at the same time, we have to make sure that they don’t feel ridiculed or embarrassed. That’s why we’ve been having trial runs – to get feedback and see how we can improve the experience.’

To keep the experience as intimate as possible, only 15 people can attend each performance – matching the number of cast members. ‘The most memorable theatre experience I’ve ever had was at an overnight performance in the UK called Hotel Medea [by Anglo-Brazilian collective Zecora Ura], where the audience members suddenly became part of the show’, says Cervera, explaining his love of intimate, interactive theatre. ‘One minute I was getting my palm read by a gypsy character, and the next an army invaded and I was like, “Oh sh*t, I’m in the story!”’ he recalls with a laugh.

Both Cervera and Maznan have had plenty of experience in the field of intimate theatre. Prior to their relocation to Singapore two years ago – he came to take up a PhD in Theatre Studies at NUS, while she returned to take up a job as a lecturer at Republic Polytechnic – The Art of Strangers used to be called Nuestro Living Room, and the couple ran the project quite literally in the living room of their apartment in Mexico. ‘We had a huge flat back then. Huge! We set up a theatre space there and we would fit around 25 to 30 people and just put on a show,’ Cervera reminisces. ‘We’d have free flow drinks. It’s all good fun.’ Though they no longer have the luxury of such a large space since moving to Singapore, they are determined to re-establish a similar set-up here.

Thematically, The Mountain touches on several big issues, but inevitably, the juxtaposing idea of locals and foreigners forms a large part of it. ‘We started working on the script a year ago, which was [before the release of the population] White Paper, but the tension was already there,’ says Cervera. ‘But it’s definitely not a purely political play – it’s larger than politics. It’s about blurring the lines between fiction and reality, and it’s also about climate change and how we engage with nature.’

As a foreigner himself, Cervera’s own views play into the script (‘Locals aren’t always right,’ he says), but he’s determined ‘not to preach’. ‘I am a theatre-maker, and my aim is to entertain. I just want each audience member to leave with an experience, having been touched, or moved, or inspired. The play has no props, set or costumes; it’s just 15 people meeting 15 people to tell a story,’ he emphasises. ‘Theatre is my way of thinking out loud. It’s how I deal with my anxieties and the world.’

In gauging the interest for something a bit different from traditional theatre performances, Cervera says, ‘I think we underestimate Singapore. I was at a media event for the M1 Fringe Festival, and at one point in the showcase, everyone was asked to sing. I thought no one would do it, but they just went for it!’

Indeed, the response they’ve gotten since announcing the show has been tremendous: tickets for their initial performances were sold out within 24 hours, and the extra two shows they decided to add on were likewise snapped up shortly afterwards. ‘It’s the first time in my 15-year career that I’ve sold out before opening,’ Cereva says happily. ‘I’m now in the position where I can just focus on putting out a really good play.’

For those who didn’t manage to score tickets to see the show this time around, worry not – Cereva reassures us that this will not be the last we see of either the show or the collective. So far, he has expressed hopes of taking The Mountain on tour in 2014 – as well as directing two monologues, though he is reluctant to say too much about those in the time being – so keep your eager eyes peeled!

Time Out Singapore: ‘The Nutcracker’ Review

The Singapore Dance Theatre has brought the iconic Christmas performance back to the main stage. In the hopes of finding herself in the production’s wintery spell Gwen Pew lands in a hit-and-miss affair.

A scene from Act II of 'The Nutcracker'. Image courtesy of Singapore Dance Theatre.

A scene from Act II of ‘The Nutcracker’. Image courtesy of Singapore Dance Theatre.

6 Dec 2013: There are few better ways to welcome the festive month of December than going to see The Nutcracker. Composed by the great Tchaikovsky and first performed in 1892, the ballet has become a Christmas staple in many dance companies across the world. Rather than setting it in Germany, however, Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) has decided to reprise their 2011 production and bring the story to pre-WWI Shanghai. The plot remains largely unchanged though, and follows little Clara (Tania Angelina) through a dream-like journey, where she meets a colourful bunch of characters in the Land of Sweets under a spell cast by her godfather, Drosselmeyer (SDT’s ballet master, Mohamed Noor Sarman).

Overall, the production is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. Some scenes and sequences are no doubt fantastic: the Chinese segment of the ‘Divertissement’ segment, featuring Iori Araya and Xu Lei Ting as Chinese Flowers, is interestingly interpreted and complete with a ribbon dance, and we are impressed by Rosa Park’s flawless performance of the famous ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’. But one does get a sense, especially during big group numbers, that some of the ensemble members are not fully bringing out the emotions or splendour of their roles as much as they should. As a result, the dancing comes across as being somewhat mechanical in certain parts – which is a shame, as the choreography itself is beautifully crafted.

The set, designed by Aaron Yap, looks great in the first scene, which shows a busy street along the Bund, and the snowy finale of the first act is stunning – but it falters at the Land of Sweets. While the simple backdrop resembles the illustrations from a children’s book, it is too bare to depict the supposedly lavish magical kingdom. The upside, however, is that the eye-catching, intricate costumes, also created by Yap, are allowed to shine through.

But the aspect we found most confusing is exactly who the Nutcracker is, and why the show is named after him at all. In most productions, he comes to life under the spell of Drosselmeyer and takes Clara around, but in this production he barely seems to feature at all. There isn’t any indication that the Nutcracker is there – the character’s name is not even mentioned in the programme’s cast list – and the role of handsome tour guide is, instead, taken by Drosselmeyer himself. At the same time, however, there is no earlier sign that Drosselmeyer has any magical abilities, as there is a separate Magician (Jeremy Tan) at the dinner party in Act I.

In all, SDT’s production is by no means a flawless one, but it must be said that despite its shortcomings, it’s still an enjoyable year-end show to bring the family. It’s just that we know what the 25-year-old company is capable of (their Sleeping Beauty last year was phenomenal) and can’t help but wish that they could take The Nutcracker to the same soaring heights too.

Time Out Singapore: Alan Bates

Born in the UK, comedian-hypnotist Alan Bates has been in the business for more than 20 years. He first became interested in the art when he watched a hypnotist do a show on board a cruise ship he was working on in the Caribbean back in the 1980s, and was instantly spellbound. As he returns to Singapore following his sold-out show here in 2009, he tells Gwen Pew a little bit more about what audiences should expect from his show.

Are you ready to trust your mind with this man? Image courtesy of The Comedy Store Singapore.

Are you ready to trust your mind with this man? Image courtesy of The Comedy Store Singapore.

25 Oct 2013: ‘Most people can be hypnotised, but you cannot be hypnotised against your will. The textbook says that under hypnosis you cannot get a person to do anything against their moral values – that’s why I look for people without any values [laughs]. Only joking!

‘We take volunteers from the audience, and they have a great experience. The people who make great hypnotic stars on stage are people with disciplined minds, as this is when the colourful side of their character shines through. However, it’s always healthy to have sceptics in the audience, and by the end of the show their minds are usually totally changed after witnessing regular people doing mind-blowing show routines and out-of-the-box behaviour.

‘The content of the show is decent and respectable, but cheeky with a lot of surprises. [Convincing an audience member that they’ve won] the lottery is always a classic. It’s also fun to have two people on stage – one believes he is from the planet Mars and only speaks in the Martian language (or the way he thinks they speak) and the other is a Martian language expert from Earth who translates for me. It’s guaranteed to have the audience rolling over with laughter.

‘One of my personal favourites is the football sketch. I transform a Manchester United fan into a Liverpool fan and each time he hears a certain piece of music he kisses everybody in the audience on the heads like the players do on the field when they score a goal. When the music stops, they stop and wonder what on Earth they are doing. Then the music starts and off they go again!’

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.