Public Garden Flea Market, The Beasties by Kinetic Theatre Company, An Umbrella for 2, Songbird, They Only Come Out At Night: Pandemic at the Singapore Arts Festival 2012
Much of fun of the Singapore Arts Festival 2012 lay in the casual interactivity and natural augmented reality (somewhat) in many of events/activities.
At the Public Garden Flea Market at the Singapore Arts Festival 2012, under the Esplanade Bridge, it was good to see that this wasn’t just another pasar malam (same same but different); aside from cute stalls, on one weekend, a barber and an enterprising ice-cream uncle co-existed happily in the available free space. A good initiative to encourage and leverage on pre-existing interest groups (like Public Garden, Urban Sketchers) rather than attempting to implement similar ideas specifically for this event.
On the second evening, a little way down from Esplanade Bridge, a sizeable crowd had gathered around a young man seeking empathy from the audience for parental objection to his aspirations, probably one of the events at the Esplanade‘s Flipside 2012 (in conjunction with the Singapore Arts Festival, thanks no doubt to Esplanade Theatres On The Bay sharing CEO Benson Puah with the National Arts Council).
And still further on, there were excited children chasing after what was, on closer inspection, a giant moving turd.
Quirky animal-like creations penned up in a petting zoo of sorts, the Beasties were endlessly fascinating in their eccentricities. “I love this,” I said to a zookeeper in a red jumpsuit,”just good fun and the Beasties don’t try to push you a message.” “Ah,” said the zookeep from Kinetic Theatre Company sagely,”the Beasties will try to tell you things, and you shouldn’t believe them of course. But the giant turd there? He is old and he is wise…”
Later we saw this lady walking around with a bridal veil and a sash that said “The Future Mrs W___”. With all the quirkiness going around, no one batted an eyelid, though perhaps we should have congratulated her.
An Umbrella For 2 by Espaces Sonores was a soundwalk through the Raffles City/Marina Square area, with your senses augmented by contextual music and running commentary by several people speaking through headphones jacked into an mp3 player under a shared brolly. (This proved to be a security concern as we walked through the Citylink Mall. The guards told us to lower the big black umbrella (listening chamber), or else…) Aside from the obvious excitement of the adventure of following signposts, not knowing where they were taking you, it was lovely to get fresh perspectives on the usual landmarks and public space, condensed chatter coming from blind people pointing out the deficiencies of the tactiles in the MRT station, others discussing the loss of kampongs in Singapore quite reasonably etc. Much fun, not too marred by the narrative on “qi” in a way that seemed more of an imposition of Western idea of what the exotic oriental Singaporeans would think about things.
Songbird, described as Singapore’s first interactive iPhone play, was conceptualised by Tara Tan under creative collective Studio Now & Then, with app development by Tinker Tanker – a technology and education firm, . The fun wasn’t in the storyline (I can’t even remember the resolution to the mysterious disappearance of a budding songwriter, Songbird), but in scanning QR codes embedded with videos, “SMSes”, instructions, and seeing your own movement on a map. It wasn’t interactive in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure way either – that would take quite a bit of work!, but we enjoyed the complimentary ice-cream from an itinerant ice-cream cart, a visit to a limousine, and the set up of the “press conference” at the Arts House (complete with press pass).
This was of great interest to me since i’m planning something similar for the wide game for an upcoming youth camp. The experience at camp isn’t meant to be as autonomous as this though.
Having had to don headphones for 3 events at this year’s Singapore Arts Festival, I wonder what theatre will look like in a few years – will it be a trend that the experience be directed at the individual rather than the collective audience? Or is this all about the novelty of it? It is at least obvious that this reflects the way society interacts (or not) in the present. One wonders how pedagogical approaches to communicating the Truth would have to evolve in the next decade.
(Perhaps the reason why They Only Come Out At Night: Pandemic didn’t quite impress locals was that Slung Low Theatre Company failed to consider the modern Asian mindset – the typical Singaporean is fairly tech-savvy and has his mobile surgically attached, so the sight of headphones raised expectations: while in line to enter Chester Rickwood‘s commune/hideout at Old School on Mount Emily, complete strangers were discussing whether the 100 of us would be given different instructions and be forced to separate once in the building. Sadly, the headphones merely sorted out the logistics of delivering the sound without having to set up speakers all around the venue. Also, having been weaned on all sorts of horror movies and ghost stories and Haw Par Villa, the typical Singaporean has a high threshold for fear but at the same time relishes the thought of being frightened half to death. After the first 20 minutes of being sweatily herded from one room to another like tour of a haunted house at a funfair, and another 20 minutes of characters bickering in the humidity and heat, repetitive use of silhouettes of pointy fingers that people didn’t think fictional vampires usually had, everyone was feeling quite let-down and not in the mood to run to the safehouse auditorium. Plus we were possibly too distracted by disappointment to have gotten the purported message of the theatrical experience about the foreigners in our midst.)