I joined the board of the SRT because I loved Singapore theatre and believed in the life-affirming power of performance art. My role as Chair coincided with the start of the pandemic, when theatre as we all knew it — across the world and in Singapore — was altered forever. Across the world, theatre companies and creatives and casts are grappling with the same question: what should the post-pandemic future of theatre look like?
The challenge for the SRT remains: an aspiration to be recognised as Singapore’s national theatre both at home and abroad. We talk about this a lot at board meetings: how can we build a regional and global brand, attracting audiences beyond our shores who would fly to Singapore to catch one of our shows, or join us remotely from their living rooms across Asia and the world?
[Pre-pandemic, we tried to live out our global dreams by bringing the best international talents to Singapore to work with the best talents here: touring our work overseas, sending the Golden Child from Singapore to Broadway in 1998, and The Three Little Pigs in Mandarin to the West End in 2015, and collaborating internationally, with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sam Mendes’s The Bridge Project, and many others. On the heels of our 2018 co-presentation of National Theatre’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, we were getting ready to roll out their acclaimed War Horse when the pandemic decimated our season, as it decimated seasons across the world.]
How do we continue to survive and thrive in the post-pandemic world, and look towards our wider goals? First and foremost, we’ve focused on creating and producing challenging and engaging work. Our priority is our people and casts and creatives in Singapore, as well as our local audiences. During the lock-down, we produced nine online shows via our Coronalogues series, developed our first online drama camp in Mandarin as well as 188 online tutorials, webinars, workshops, and classes, and generated work for over 100 of our colleagues in the freelance community.
The life-changing magic of the performing arts is in its in-person delivery. As theatres in Singapore now cautiously open their doors to greater numbers of the public again, we and our peers have been challenging each other to stage innovative, engaging in-person work, including the exciting line-up at this May’s SIFA, with Gaurav, Ivan and Adrian reprising their ménage a trois in The Commission, our collaboration with Wild Rice and Pangdemonium (the live shows are sold out, but limited remote seats are still available!).
Apart from our focus on our post-pandemic season, we’re looking at three key strategies for the future: (i) digital transformation, (ii) a focus on growing new audiences, particularly in arts education and accessibility, and (iii) sustainability.
These are of course interconnected. The influx of online theatre offerings during lockdown has reached audiences who had, up to that point, never before watched, or been able to access, a live theatre performance. The challenge is how to make the leap from just delivering the product onscreen to translating that real, palpable sense of interactive-ness, and intimacy, and improvisation, that you get from the live experience onto an online platform — and doing it via longer-term revenue and sponsorship models that can be sustained for the future.
Will having a great product that’s engaging and accessible to a wider Singapore audience and beyond help us achieve our transformation and sustainability goals, as well as take the Singapore brand global? It’s a journey of exploration and innovation, and that’s where the art of theatre performs at its best.
This article was written by the Chair of SRT’s Board of Directors, Joy Tan.