The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Speaking with the Director of Programming for the grand-scale arts and culture centre Esplanade, the symbol of Singapore's
“Festivals” are organized in three categories; 1) Culture Festivals showcasing the cultures of Singapore’s major ethnic groups, such as Huayi Chinese Festival of Arts, Kalaa Utsavam Indian Festival of Arts and Pesta Raya Malay Festival of Arts, 2) Community Festivals targeting a certain group of audiences such as children, elderly people and families. This category includes OctoBURST! celebrating the children’s day and Date With Friends targeting elderly citizens, and 3) Genre Festivals which focus on a particular genre, such as Mosaic Music Festival of jazz and world music, BayBeats alternative music festival and da:ns Festival which showcases wide variety of dance from traditional to contemporary.
“Series” contains the ones which features international artists, such as Classics of classical music and Pedals & Pipes of organ music, and the ones which aim to develop local artists, such as the Theatre Studio Season of experimental theatre and Chinese Chamber Music.

Free/Access Programs are held at various places in Esplanade, and the Concourse area and Outdoor Theatre facing the waterfront are the main venues. The performances at these two venues are presented serially and are named At The Concourse and On The Waterfront respectively. In addition to them, some series targeting particular audiences are also organized such as Coffee Morning & Afternoon Tea.

There were 489 events organized by the outside parties in Fiscal 2005/6 and brought the income of $5.95 million to Esplanade. Musicals contributed to a large proportion. The line-ups of 2005 include a Broadway musical, Sound of Music and some local productions. In other genres, there were large-scaled productions of opera, dance and music. Nine performances of Singapore Arts Festival were also staged at Esplanade.
Let me ask about the programs of each category, which you pointed out. Can you talk about the programming of the regular events, which fall into the first category, i.e. “Festival” and the second, “Series?” (*3) What are the things you keep in mind when preparing the program?
All of our festivals have several parts and all fit together. For our main programs, of course, we need the finest quality productions. Whatever the genre of the festival, we always look for the best productions available, either internationally or locally. However, at the same time, we have to consider the people who usually don’t come to the theatre. People tend to think that arts are for educated or sophisticated people. However, what we are advocating here is the idea of “arts for everyone.” It does not matter who you are. We have free programs mainly targeted at these people. We seek a lot of community involvement during the festivals. Another way we do this is to work with community members on projects that can be a part of our festival. Thus far, these have taken the shape of visual arts projects tied into a festival theme which are then displayed at the centre. From here, community members start to feel a sense of affiliation with the centre, when they feel a stronger association with it. Another important component is the educational aspect, which consists of workshops and exchange programs so that visiting groups and artists have a chance to interact with local artists and audiences. All of these elements are combined within each festival.
The timing of the festivals is also important. For example, Huayi- Chinese Festival of Arts coincides with Chinese Lunar New Year. So, people come to celebrate the heritage – not just the tradition, but also the future. That’s why we have various productions – from traditional performances to contemporary works – in the festival. For example, last year’s Huayi festival had a contemporary dance performance by Taiwan’s Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, a multi-media production on the theme of traditional Chinese Opera by Zuni Icosahedron from Hong Kong, our own Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble’s contemporary theatre piece and traditional-oriented puppet theatre of the Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company from Taiwan for children.
Another reason that we present such a wide range of programs is to illustrate that the arts are NOT only for a small group of people. We want to break down the distinction between the “high” arts and “popular” arts. For us, the “arts” means just “arts for everybody.”

In addition to these festivals, you have independent productions, which can be categorized as “Free/Access Programs” all through the year. (*4) What are the points you emphasize in programming them?
I think there are two parts to the objectives in our programming in this category. One is building an audience that enjoys arts regularly, and the other is nurturing artists – helping our newer artists and developing their ability.
Let us talk about the development of the audience first. What we consider most important is to make sure that Esplanade is accessible to everybody. There are people who cannot afford tickets – we hope to provide chances for these people to enjoy the arts, too. Therefore, we make sure that every Friday to Sunday we have free performances at the outdoor theatre. From Monday to Thursday you can enjoy free performances at our concourse. Everyday of the week you can come with your family and enjoy performances without spending money. This happens throughout the year. But, perhaps these outdoor performances are not enough. That’s why we have free concerts at our 1600-seat Concert Hall once a month on Sunday afternoons. We also have lunchtime concerts at the Concert Hall. And going beyond that, we are providing different kinds of performances for different objectives. Coffee Morning & Afternoon Tea is a series of concerts targeting mainly senior citizens. These are people who have a tendency to stay inside their house, all alone all day long. The concerts held in the morning and the afternoon on Mondays have become a good opportunity for them to go out and meet people, make friends and sing songs of the 1950s and 60s.
For the development of artists, we have a program called Late Night @ Esplanade, which takes place at the end of the month and is a programme that helps young artists present ticketed performances at Esplanade. This series also aims to nurture the younger audience. The performances by younger artists at the Concourse area are another example of how we give local artists more chances to perform at Esplanade. We have around 1,200 free performances a year and most of them are by local artists. There are also display spaces for visual arts along the underground passage linking us to the subway. These spaces are meant for the usage of young contemporary Singaporean visual artists. We are trying to boost the overall abilities and capabilities of Singaporean artists and arts companies.

How about the programs organized by outside parties, which fall into the fourth category? (*5) For example, The Phantom of the Opera had a 2-month run early this year. How do you find the possibilities of these large productions?
As an arts centre, we realised that it is not useful for us to try to program everything. Of course, it is true that we need to do certain kinds of things by ourselves to establish our position and make sure that our vision is realised.
But at the same time, there are productions that are very big, and very commercial in nature. What we do in such cases is to let external presenters who wish to present these shows rent our venues. I have a feeling that such possibilities are becoming bigger as the reputation of Esplanade has become established.
Apart from these , we have recognized that there are a number of up and coming arts presenters in Singapore. To develop a healthy arts industry in Singapore, I believe it is very important to let different parties present different kinds of things. Some present very commercial shows. But as long as the show is of good quality and is organised well, we can consider it something that meets our objective of an “arts centre for everybody.”
We sometimes collaborate with these outside presenters and help them to develop themselves. For example, for the “M1 Singapore Fringe Festival” we worked with a local theater company named The Necessary Stage in collaboration to present the festival. So, we are helping to develop the industry by helping these other parties. And, by working with them, we can add different perspectives in our programming, too.
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