By Laura Schwartz
In the few months between pitching this article and writing it, the world pulled a rather sudden and unexpected transformation. The COVID-19 crisis has been a difficult challenge for theater and film in particular. Now that we have entered Phase 2 of the end to the ‘circuit breaker’, theaters and cinemas are able to welcome their audiences back, but I expect it will be months, if not years until people feel comfortable crushing into a packed performance space again.
However, as with many industries, the arts have adapted and evolved, finding new ways to bring heartfelt productions to their fans through a greatly expanded presence online. This trend will doubtless continue, at least in part, thanks to the unexpected opportunities for connection and content it has provided both the performers and the audience.
Whether you’ve released yourself into the wild or remain sheltered at home, here are some ideas for how to bask in Singapore’s performing arts and local film.
For the cream of local theatrical productions, I can’t recommend WILD RICE, Pangdemonium or the Singapore Repertory Theatre enough. All three companies have a fantastic repertoire and have been streaming live readings, panel discussions and even full performances on their Facebook pages and YouTube channels. Not only do they bring local voices and talent to the stage, they also present unique takes on international and classic productions. For example, WILD RICE’s all-male version on The Importance of Being Ernest was an absolute blast. It was the last show I was able to see on stage before the ‘circuit breaker’ was implemented and I’m so glad I caught it twice.
Those looking to try their hand at acting have plenty of resources to fill their evenings and weekends at home. LASALLE College of the Arts has created online workshops called Short Courses. The Improv Company’s beginner sessions have been transplanted to Zoom. Haque Centre of Acting & Creativity has also been offering online workshops with a focus on method acting. And for children, Centre Stage School of the Arts has rolled out over 40 hours of online material plus live lessons on dance, musical theater and dramatic acting.
The COVID-19 crisis will undoubtedly leave its mark on every sector as the world shifts – not back to normal – but towards a new normal. We’ve all learned that the amount of what we can accomplish at home is more than imagined, and we won’t be unlearning that when the pandemic ends. Nevertheless, the magic of a live performance is something that can’t be brought home. Dance and theater are invariably weaker when viewed through a screen, particularly in comparison to the millions of movies, television shows and games designed specifically for the screen. There is something ephemeral, precious and deeply human about being able to witness performers and artists create narrative and beauty in front of your eyes. Hopefully, after being denied the pleasure of live performance for so long, you will be eager to experience it again as the occasion returns.
In spite of the hiatus on production, film is arguably the artform that will weather this crisis the easiest. While many miss the experience of being wowed in the dark by a giant screen and surround sound, movies themselves are accessible through myriad online platforms. But don’t limit yourself to the latest titles on Netflix and Amazon Prime. This internment could be a chance to broaden your tastes and delve into more niche cinema.
Though you may have only heard of Crazy Rich Asians, Singapore has a long history of not just consuming movies but creating them. These locally produced films can give you a more intimate view of the city and its people than you might have access to on the streets. Ilo Ilo (2013) was the first Singaporean feature film to win an award at the Cannes Film Festival and remains the most critically acclaimed. Apprentice (2016) also garnered praise at Cannes and blew me away with its nuanced visual storytelling. Screenings of To Singapore, with Love (2013), which focuses on political exiles, are banned here but you can still find and view this thought-provoking documentary online. If you’re looking for more lighthearted local films, check out Just Follow Law (2006), 881 (2007) and the enormously popular Ah Boys to Men (2012).
Any cinephile in Singapore will tell you that The Projector is the cornerstone of the indie cinema scene here, featuring everything from blockbusters, to niche local flicks, to Japanese film noir, to silent French animation, to bawdy cult films that demand audience participation. Over the course of the ‘circuit breaker’ they kept their mission alive by offering Video-on-Demand rentals of their most anticipated features and hosting virtual quiz nights on Zoom. The Projector is at the top of the list of places I’m keen to return to, now that the ‘circuit breaker’ period has ended. Looking forward, the Singapore Film Festival, the heart of the local independent film scene, is set to return at the end of November this year for its 31st run.
An excellent resource for anyone looking to keep up with the local arts scene should check out artsrepublic.sg for the latest happenings. It goes without saying that many homegrown art spaces and production companies have been struggling in the pandemic-imposed isolation. If you can, please consider donating or buying tickets in advance.