Singapore’s last traditional puppet stage maker?

3 08 2022

Puppet shows once made appearances around Taoist temples scattered all across Singapore. Like the Chinese street opera and the more modern getai performances, they were usually put up for the pleasure of visiting Taoist deities on their earthly sojourns, or for hungry ghosts who as belief would have it, roam the earth when the gates of the underworld are opened during the Chinese seventh month. Puppet shows also found great appeal with the common, especially amongst the young ones. These days however, the distractions of the modern world hold sway and the appeal of tradition seems to have waned. Just a handful of troupes still perform around today leaving supporting craftsmen such as Mr Leong Fong Wah, whose lifetime’s work has been in painting and putting together puppet stages, a dying breed.

A typical Chinese puppet stage is really an assembly of pieces of plywood on which colourful decorations and backdrops are painted on one side and reinforced on the other. All it takes is a few weeks to add the decorative work before a stage can be put together. This quick turnaround time, the lack of a customer base, and the fact that a stage can be used and reused for as long as ten years, does mean that there is little in terms work in the area for the business that Mr Leong runs, Leong Shin Wah Art Studio. Having been started in the 1940s by Mr Leong’s father, whose name the business is identified with, the workshop must have been involved in putting together a countless number of stages. With nothing in way of puppet show stage orders in sight beyond an order that Mr Leong is currently in the process of fulfilling, this last stage that he is building may be one of the last, if not the last, traditional puppet show stages being made not just at Mr Leong’s workshop, but also in Singapore.

A typical traditional puppet show stage set up:

A puppet stage set up at Telok Ayer Street.
The stage set up also hides puppeteers and musicians behind a backdrop and other decorated plywood panels.

Chinese Puppetry in Singapore:

A lifelong passion pulling strings (Henghwa string puppet troupe)

The last performance of the Sin Sai Poh Hong puppet troupe (Teochew Rod Puppet Troupe)


A delightful song and dance about Katong

22 02 2022

Betel Box Tours must be applauded for its most recent effort at bringing out the wonderful tales that are connect with the especially colourful district of Katong. Titled Katong Dreaming: A Musical Tour, the tour involves a walk of discovery through the district’s much storied streets with its stories told through verse, through song and through dance. Created by August Lum, Marc Nair, Mark Nicodemus Tan and Valerie Lim, and produced by Jamie Lee, two of the wonderfully talent team – Mark Tan, who takes on the role of guide, narrator and singer (he dances too) and independent movement artist Valerie Lim, expertly provide a highly entertaining and refreshing take on Katong’s streets, back lanes, personalities, cultural and religious sites. The tour is certainly well worth the two hours and the price of the ticket!

The musical tour runs until the end of March 2022 and tickets (and further information) may be obtained through:

Katong Dreaming: A Musical Tour — performed by Mark Tan and Valerie Lim.

About Katong Dreaming: A Musical Tour

Katong is always a delight to visit, with its colourful houses, sleepy streets and culinary treasures. But Katong also holds a rich history, steeped in Peranakan culture and traditions, brimming with surprising stories.

Katong Dreaming: A Musical Tour, is a performance art tour created by August Lum, Marc Nair, Mark Nicodemus Tan, and Valerie Lim. It is produced by Jamie Lee for Betel Box Tours, supported under the STB-NAC Performing Arts Tours Pilot Grant, an initiative by the Singapore Tourism Board and National Arts Council to encourage the development and test-bedding of innovative performing arts tours by tour operators.

This two-hour walking tour begins at the southern border of Katong at East Coast Road before winding through Ceylon Road, Joo Chiat Road, Koon Seng Road, and Tembeling Road. In three broad chapters, familiar experiences of food, faith and historical landmarks are woven together through cross-disciplinary art forms into a groundbreaking blend of musical theatre, site-specific performance and tour guiding.

Valerie Lim and Mark Tan

About the Artists:

Marc Nair is a poet who works at the intersection of art forms. His work revolves around the ironies of everyday life. He has published ten collections of poetry.

Valerie is an independent movement artist. The mysteries of the human body, multi-disciplinary and immersive works deeply thrill her. She believes life must be spent pursuing what makes us feel the most alive.

August is a musical storyteller, who has been making sounds for a variety of mediums, from stage to film to theme parks as well. Included in his wish-list is the desire to write music for a dramatic series, as well as background music for certain public spaces.

Mark is a musician, writer, performer, and tourist guide. All of the aforementioned stages allow him to talk about his loves for art, music, history, football, and cricket, to audiences who have no choice but to listen.

Photographs taken during the tour

Shadow Play

8 01 2021

Growing up at a time when, and in space where my cultural experiences had little to do with the state prescribed definition of my ethnicity, has given me a wonderful set of childhood memories. There was much that I took joy from in a household were the languages used and the food we enjoyed was anything but what one might have expected. Some of my fondest memories were of the interactions with my grandmother. Having come across from the Dutch East Indies before the war and being conversant only in Bahasa Indonesia, she had a penchant for watching reruns of P Ramlee movies on black and white television, doing her shopping at Kampong Jawa (Arab Street) and catching screenings of Kelantanese wayang kulit or shadow puppet performances that aired on Radio Television Malaysia 2 (RTM2 — or Channel 10 as its was then better known as).

Wayang kulit, which has its origins in pre-Islamic Java, is something I still enjoy watching, although what we see now of it in Malaysia and in Singapore seems quite different from the performances that I caught seated next to my grandmother all those years back. That would have been in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the ancient art form — used for generations as a vehicle for the handing down of oral traditions — was still expressed in a manner that was little changed, and featured characters and stories rooted in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. A rise in religious consciousness, particularly in Kelantan where the art form had a particularly large following where a ban was imposed in the wayang kulit performances in the 1990s, saw to a gradual changed to a more modern form that we tend to see today with non-religious and contemporary characters and stories being introduced.

While the tradition has been greatly modified here, it is still very much alive in its spiritual home in Central Java — assisted perhaps by its inscription as one of several forms of Indonesian wayang theatre on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List since 2008. It is not only possible to watch performances there, but also see how the puppets are made from water buffalo hide. The process of making a puppet from a piece of cured hide is a painstaking one and involves carefully cutting the hide to shape, hand-punching patterns and painting each character over a period of up to two months.

The following are some photographs taken at a workshop in Yogyakarta during a visit in 2013, a visit that included a bonus in the form of an impromptu performance put up by a dalang or master puppeteer:

West meets East, North meets South

18 07 2020

Great news!

Phaedra, a Greek tragedy, refreshingly reinterpreted through a combination of traiditional Chinese southern and northern performing art forms (Nanyin and Peking Opera) combined with modern dance, will being screened online by Lianhe Zaobao at 2 pm on Sunday 19 July 2020 (on their Facebook, Website and Youtube channels).

Photos taken during a rehearsal at the Stamford Arts Centre on 5 April 2019.

The performance is a collaboration between the locally based Nanyin troupe Siong Leng Musical Association, and Taiwan Guoguang Opera Company, made its Singapore debut during the reopening of Stamford Arts Centre in April 2019.

A synopsis is given on the Siong Leng Musical Association’s website:

For three hundred and sixty-five nights, the Queen wrestles with entangled emotions that are impossible to unravel. In her dreams, it is he who repeatedly shoves her to the ground. She can neither get up nor maintain her balance. Before she could take a good look at his face, or barely begin to fantasise about him “biting her lips”, her dreams would end abruptly.

The object of her desire is none other than the Prince, her cold and arrogant stepson.

Painfully aware of her status and responsibilities, she keeps her emotions in check. But when news broke that the King (her husband and his father) has died on the battlefield, she could no longer restrain herself. In his presence, she bares her soul and professes her love for him, only to have her neck slashed on top of being condemned a ‘shameless slut’ in return.

With her heart shattered and dignity crushed, the Queen has a final mission to fulfil. The King is alive after all ….


More photos from the 2019 rehearsal:


Wayang days

7 10 2015

Seeing a stage set up for a wayang, as street theatre has come to known in Singapore, is always a cause for celebration. Wayangs not only add much colour that is otherwise lacking on the street of the modern reinterpretation of Singapore, they also take me back to the happiest days of my childhood and ones spent in a Singapore that now seems a far away place.

Wayangs bring much colour to the now colourless streets.

Wayangs bring much colour to the now colourless streets.

The Chinese street opera, in its various genres would be the most common form of street threatre. Many of the troupes that started out as far back as in the mid 1800s would have had their origins in southern China. One pioneering troupe still around from those times is the Lao Sai Tao Yuan (老赛桃源), or Lau Sai Thor Guan in Teochew (Chaozhou), who arrived in the early 1850s. The troupe, which was already in existence some five decades prior to the move down the southern ocean, continued performing in Singapore during the occupation and would possibly be the oldest Chinese opera troupe still performing here in Singapore.

A Lao Sai Tao Yuan perfromer on stage.

A Lao Sai Tao Yuan perfromer on stage.

Wayang days today, sans what used to be the usual accompaniment of the aroma of steaming groundnuts and cobs of corn and the food laden pushcarts that were as much a crowd puller as the entertainment the wayangs provided, see much less of a crowd. There is also much less of an atmosphere as compared to the days in which wayang days were occasions everyone seemed to look forward to. The embrace of the modern world, and perhaps the abandonment of the vernacular, has resulted in a decline in interest in it as a form of entertainment. No longer a fashionable choice in today’s less unassuming climate, the troupes left today such as the Lao Sai Tao Yuan, survive only out of the passion and the determination of their members to keep a tradition that we in Singapore no longer have a need for, alive.

The stage at Tiong Bahru during Lao Sai Tao Yuan's recent performance. Wayangs today attract much less of a crowd.

The stage at Tiong Bahru during Lao Sai Tao Yuan’s recent performance. Wayangs today attract much less of a crowd.

The Lao Sai Tao Yuan troupe, whose members are all quite friendly, performs quite regularly. Their performances and back stage preparations are a joy to observe. Their next performances will take place on at 12 noon and 7 pm on 9 and 10 October 2015 at the Toa Payoh Seu Teck Sean Tong (修德善堂) at Lorong 2 and on 11 and 12 October 2015 at the Paya Lebar Nine Emperor Gods temple (Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng or 葱茅园九皇宫) at Arumugam Road.

Backstage with the Lao Sai Tao Yuan



























The final act

29 09 2015

Except perhaps for the haze and the heavy downpour, the scene at the Chee Chung Temple at MacPherson Road last evening would have been one typical of any of the temple’s festival evenings with a stage erected to provide entertainment for the evening’s heavenly guest. It was however the last time the evening’s performers, the Sin Sai Poh Hong (新赛宝丰) puppet troupe, will be seen on stage. One of only two Teochew rod puppet troupes in Singapore, the Sin Sai Poh Hong has now gone into retirement having played out their final act at last evening’s birthday celebrations for the Monkey King (or Monkey God).

A final peep into the Sin Sai Poh Hong's art.

A final peep into the Sin Sai Poh Hong’s art.

A ritual at the temple related to the Monkey King.

A ritual at the temple related to the Monkey King.

Acts such as these put on by street opera and puppet troupes, while intended for the deities, served also to provide entertainment for the masses. They were a means by which cultural and social values were transmitted from one generation to the next in the days of low literacy levels and before television invaded our living rooms.

Last words ....

Last words ….

Sentiments expressed by a puppet?

Sentiments expressed by a puppet?

Teochew rod puppetry, which has very elaborately made puppets skillfully manipulated by iron rods, are a more recent introduction (early 20th century) to the street theatre scene in Singapore. The tradition is however thought to go back several centuries in southern China. Sadly, it along with other genres of street theatre once common in Singapore, seem now to have little place in a Singapore that wants to know little of its past and it may only be a matter of time, before the last curtain falls on a form of entertainment that once brought entire communities out onto the streets.






Behind the stage door

27 09 2015

The stage door or hu du men (虎度门) of a Chinese opera stage is what divides the real from the imaginary. It is the line across which the actor leaves his or her real self and becomes the stage character the audience sees. This was one of several interesting facts of what does go on behind the scenes on a Chinese opera, or wayang as we refer to it here in Singapore that I learnt on a back stage tour organised by the Esplanade that I attended last evening. The tour, which was hosted by media personality Nick Shen, is part of this year’s celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节), Moonfest, being held this weekend at the Esplanade.

What goes on behind the stage-door.

What goes on behind the stage-door.

The eleventh edition of the celebration at the Esplanade, sees the venue bringing back the street opera scene with a performances by a Hainanese, a Hokkien and a Teochew opera troupe on each of the three nights of Moonfest this weekend. Wayang in the various genres once commonly found in Singapore, would in the days before lives were complicated by modernity, attract the crowds. Often held to coincide with temple festivities, the wayangs would move from village to village and bring with them an entourage of food stalls with wayangs held either on stages erected for the period or on existing free standing stages. The stage in those days would not just be where the performances were held, but also would have been where life, for the actors and their families, would often be lived.

Nick Shen introducing the concept of the stage door or hu du men (虎度门).

Nick Shen introducing the concept of the stage door or hu du men (虎度门). Stepping beyond the stage door, the opera actor leaves his or her own personality behind becomes fully immersed in the character.

The troupe's deities are an essential part of wayang back stage area.

The troupe’s deities are an essential part of wayang back stage area.

The back stage area is abuzz with preparation activity before each performance.

The back stage area is abuzz with preparation activity before each performance.

The area back stage is always a fascinating place, not least because one is able to observe the lengthly preparations that take place before the actor is able to assume his or her role beyond the hu du men. Hearing about some of what goes on from Nick Shen, whose many talents include Chinese opera acting, made it all the more interesting. Besides introducing the concept of the hu du men and to stage superstitions such as that it was considered bad luck to kick one of the many chests (used to store make-up, props, etc. back stage,  Nick, also provided an insight into life back stage. This was just before last evening’s show by a one year old Hokkien opera troupe, Xiao Dong Tian (小洞天), so participants could also observe some of the preparations for the performance.

Backdrops are an important part of the Chinese opera stage.

Backdrops – an important part of the Chinese opera stage.


The backdrops are changed by drawing them in a similar way to curtains.

The backdrops are changed by drawing them in a similar way to curtains.

Interestingly, the troupe is a phoenix that has risen out of the ashes of an old phoenix, having been formed by some members of a century old troupe, the Sin Sai Hong (新赛凤), which was disbanded just last year (see: Last rites for the Singaporean soul) – the Hong (凤) refers to a phoenix and it is encouraging to know that the tradition is not completely being lost to the new world as well as that it there are perhaps a few from the younger generation interested in taking up the art.

The headdress for the character of a scholar.

The headdress for the character of a scholar.

Nick Shen doing a demonstration of an actor's beard is sometimes moved on stage.

Nick Shen doing a demonstration of an actor’s beard is sometimes moved on stage.

An female performer wearing a beard. While in the past only men could perform in an opera, there are more female performers these days and they would often be cast in male roles.

An female performer wearing a beard. While in the past only men could perform in an opera, there are more female performers these days and they would often be cast in male roles.

Performers now help each other with preparations. The blue make-up around the eyes is characteristic of Hokkien opera.

Performers now help each other with preparations. The blue make-up around the eyes is characteristic of Hokkien opera.





Traditional musical instruments.

Traditional musical instruments.

Tanjong Pagar after dark

27 08 2015

It has been a little more than four years since the lights went out on Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. Left to the ghosts that are said to haunt it, the former station sees the occasional return of the living, as it did on Tuesday evening, when I got to see it again after dark with its ghosts scared off by the lights, sounds and action of the first of a series of this year’s Singapore International Festival of Arts’ (SIFA) Dance Marathon nights being held at the station.




The evening, which had Japanese Ambassador Haruhisa Takeuchi hosting a small reception and introduce Archivist-Choreographer Mikuni Yaniahara as a Japan Cultural Envoy, saw two dance performances, starting with Yaniahara’s Real Reality at the main hall and followed by Yukio Suzuki’s Lay/ered on the tracks. The double-bill was the first of four dance evenings that are being held at the station. The three other evenings are on 28 August31 August and on 4 September.

The Ambassador of Japan, His Excellency Haruhisa Takeuchi.

The Ambassador of Japan, His Excellency Haruhisa Takeuchi.

Mikuni Yanaihara.

Mikuni Yanaihara.

The former station, intended as a grand terminal and a gateway to oceans, was built in 1932 and is thought to have been modelled after Helsinki’s Central Station. Gazetted as a National Monument in April 2011, it has been left empty since the Malayan Railway’s moved its southern terminal to Woodlands in July of the same year. The building, once the property of the Malaysian government through the Malayan Railway or Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) in more recent times, bears many reminders of the links Singapore had to Malaya throughout much of its history.



The future of the well-loved monument, at least for an interim twenty year period before the port nearby begins a journey to the west (port operations are being moved to Pasir Panjang and eventually to Tuas), is now on the drawing board. As one of two special interest areas, for which a concept design proposal is being sought under Stage 2A of a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Rail Corridor, the five teams shortlisted are required to suggest an interim re-purposing of the former station. The former station is seen as a gateway to the Rail Corridor, and it is a requirement of the RFP that any proposed reuse will allow the public to have “unfettered access so that they can appreciate the heritage of this building and its surroundings”.



Submissions for the stage should have already been made. We should have some inkling of what the teams have in mind with a public exhibition of shortlisted submissions scheduled for October this year. More information on this can be found at the Rail Corridor RFP information site.





The last puppet show

25 07 2015

The distractions of the modern world have seen us lose many of the traditions that once coloured the streets of Singapore. One that struggles to survive is Chinese puppet theatre in its various genres, kept alive only by the passion of those still involved with it.

Words that may no longer be sung.

Words that may no longer be spoken.

Controlling the Teochew Rod Puppet.

Controlling the Teochew Rod Puppet.

Sadly, we would soon see one of Singapore’s two Teochew rod puppet troupes, Sin Sai Poh Hong (新赛宝丰), exit the scene. Faced with dwindling interest, a lack of willing successors and the pressures of the modern world, the members of the troupes will play out their final act in the month after Singapore celebrates its half century embrace of modernity.

Fading with time ...

Fading with time …


A more recent addition to the street theatre scene – Teochew rod puppetry arrived Singapore in the early part of the 20th century, the form of puppetry does have a long tradition in the land of the Teochew community’s forefathers, serving as a vehicle for the transmission of values from one generation to the next.

Part of the preparations for the performance include getting the puppets ready.

Part of the preparations for the performance include getting the puppets ready.

Strange bedfellows.

Strange bedfellows.

At its height in Singapore, its performances would have attracted many off the streets, although intended primarily as entertainment to the deities. Troupes such as Sin Sai Poh Hong were kept busy through the year and would on the average, be engaged ten days in a month, providing sufficient income for the troupe to be run on a full-time basis. However, pressures of the modern world in which tradition is less valued coupled with the enforced shift away from the use of the vernacular,has seen interest fall in traditional puppetry.

Music accompanies the performance.

Music accompanies the performance.

The photographs accompanying this post, as well as the badly taken and edited video found at the end of this post, were of the troupe recent performance at the Chee Chung Temple at MacPherson Road. The temple, where the troupe regularly performs, was commemorating the birthday of its main deity, Huang Lao Xian Shi (黄老仙师). The next performance, the troupe’s last, will be held at the same venue on the evening of the 28 September 2015 (amended from previously reported date of 24 August 2015), the sixteenth day of the eight month of the Chinese lunar calendar (Birthday of the Monkey King). More information on this, and further updates, can be found at this Facebook post (please click).



The Chee Chung Temple.

The Chee Chung Temple.

Part of the festival rituals at the temple.

Part of the festival rituals at the temple.

Other forms of puppetry once commonly seen in Singapore:

Bold and Beautiful – let’s Harp on it

21 08 2014

Bold and Beautiful – in line with its theme for this year, the ever so magical Singapore Night Festival, is back! This year’s festival, on for two Fridays and Saturdays on 22 and 23 August and 29 and 30 August 2014 across the arts and cultural Bras Basah. Bugis Precinct, sees it being organised around five key zones, that will include for the first time, a Festival Village at Cathay Green – which will not be short of delectable offerings, entertainment and shopping opportunities. Two venues will also feature for the first time at the Night Festival, with the historic Armenian Church seeing two Night Lights installations and the National Design Centre (the former St. Anthony’s Convent), which will see a mini interactive exhibition with a ceiling of white illuminated helium filled balloons as well as two light installations.

The Singapore Night Festival is back - bolder and more beautiful.

The Singapore Night Festival is back – bolder and more beautiful – and sure to pull-in the crowds.

The highlight of this year's Singapore Night Festival has to be The Earth Harp at the National Museum's front lawn.

The highlight of this year’s Singapore Night Festival has to be The Earth Harp at the National Museum’s front lawn.

The highlight of the festival has to be the William Close performing on his Earth Harp at the National Museum’s front lawn – one of several spectacular performances being lined up for the Pretty Arty festival zone based at the museum. The Earth Harp Close creates for the Night Festival, sees the huge harp strung across to the National Museum’s façade – the use of architecture as part of his harp, is inspired by a quote “architecture is frozen music” from Frank Lloyd Wright. Close, who was a second runner-up in the seventh season of America’s Got Talent, will collaborate with several local and international  artists such as Singapore’s drum group ZingO and songstresses in the form of Sound of Sirens as well as the fire and lights of Austrian collective Phoenix over both festival weekends.

Willaim Close and his Earth Harp.

Willaim Close and his Earth Harp.

Close close-up.

Close close-up.

ZingO - a local drum group, who are collaborating with William Close.

ZingO – a local drum group, who are collaborating with William Close.

Pretty Arty also sees half human / half birds of Follies for É Birds by the Arts Fission Company in the former Fashion Gallery.

Pretty Arty also sees half human / half birds of Follies for É Birds by the Arts Fission Company in the former Fashion Gallery.

The festival sees the return of Singapore’s very own Starlight Alchemy, playing not so much with fire this time, but with light and acrobatics beside the Singapore Management University (SMU) School of Information Systems in a zone intended to reach out to Young Hearts around SMU Green. The acts will include AcroYogis – an acrobatic partner yoga presentation in which the audience can participate in, as well as Illuminated Playtime in which participants will be invited to play with LED lights.

AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.

AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.

Another look at AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.

Another look at AcroYogis by Starlight Alchemy.


Watch 10 local DJs spin together on Stage at the SMU Green in the Young Hearts Zone.

Watch 10 local DJs spin together on Stage at the SMU Green in the Young Hearts Zone.

The 10 DJs on stage.

The 10 DJs on stage.

Always a crowd-pleaser, Night Lights, will also return – this time doubling in scale – with installations spread across the festival’s zones. Night Lights never spares the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), a building I always enjoy seeing bathed in light – like outstretched arms its wings are always welcoming as it had been when I went to school there all those years ago. This year the façade of the SAM will be see a nature inspired multi-media presentation, Spirits of Nature, by WeComeInPeace from France.

Spirits of Nature by WeComeInPeace.

Spirits of Nature by WeComeInPeace.

The two Frenchmen coming in Peace.

The two Frenchmen coming in Peace.

One of the students behind Singapore University of Technology and Design's Night Lights installation at SMU, Stop and Smell the Flowers ...

One of the students behind Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Night Lights installation at SMU, Stop and Smell the Flowers …

... the installation requires one to pause - only by pausing to take a long exposure photograph, can the artwork be appreciated.

… the installation requires one to pause – only by pausing to take a long exposure photograph, can the artwork be appreciated.

Greenhouse Effect - another Night Lights installation by Maro Avrabou and Dimitiri Xenakis from France.

Greenhouse Effect – another Night Lights installation by Maro Avrabou and Dimitiri Xenakis from France.

Other eye-catching Night Lights installations I got to see a preview of include Cyanea, inspired by the Cyanea capillata – one of the largest jellyfish in the world, spread across Cathay Green. The installation, illuminated by a set of colour-changing lights, with smoke and sounds for effect, is being put up by Cumulus Collectif also from France.

Night Lights: Cyanea by Cumulus Collectif.

Night Lights: Cyanea by Cumulus Collectif.

Back to the SAM, where the Roundabout Midnight zone is based around, there are several installations to look out for. These include, The Cloud of Unknowing  by Ho Tzu Nyen in the Chapel on 29 and 30 August, 2014 – a cinematic exploration of the cloud as image, metaphor and carrier for divine illumination; a NOISE Weekend @ SAM on 22 and 23 August at 8Q Plaza, SAM at 8Q that will feature emerging bands and musicians from NOISE Singapore’s Music Programme; Darker Than Wax DJs at SAM on 29 August; and The Local People x SAM Night Market on 30 August, 2014 – where visitors can eat, listen and shop at the art market along Queen Street.

Cyanea from its inside.

Cyanea from its inside.

A view of the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church, through Cyanea.

A view of the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church, through Cyanea.

The last zone, Block Party @ Armenian Street, will see a wild and happening Armenian Street where parties to late will be taking place. The parties will include one that will see much excitement with a ring put up on the second weekend right in the middle of Armenian Street (which will be closed to traffic from 8 pm to 2 am on festival nights). The ring will see wrestling bouts that will pit stars of Singapore Pro Wrestling – another first at the Night Festival.

And Tango makes the Singapore Night Festival.

And Tango makes the Singapore Night Festival.

A performance that might be worth catching at Block Party is How Drama ‘s Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap, in Something Borrowed, Something New at The Substation Theatre, which will probably have you in stitches – not just because of the speed performance of 31 plays in an hour by the Singapore based improvisational performers, but also for their rather amusing take on current happenings. The performance, which will see the audience determine the sequence, has the audience laughing at the funny side of issues such as the much talked about Singapore Tourism Board’s “Honey, Look!” video advertisement as well as the National Library’s tango with the removal of children’s books from the shelves.

Honey, Look!

Honey, Look!

Admission to the Singapore Night Festival (including to the participating museums) is free. More information, including the festival guide, details of the performances, installations and also the artists, can be found at The festival’s happenings can also be followed on twitter at @BrasBasahBugis and on Facebook. There is also a festival guide available on instagram @SNFGUIDE. Hashtags for use during the festival are #SGNightFest and #SNFer.




Poor Thing: A typical day in the Singaporean social media space

26 02 2014

Yes, another typical day in Singapore and another incident on the roads that leads to a reaction that is overblown through photos and videos of it finding their way onto social media platforms … only this time, it isn’t for real, but staged – for the stage.


Poor Thing, a rather clever production by local theatre company The Necessary Stage that is inspired by what goes on on social media sites such as the rather infamous local so-called “Citizen Journalism” site STOMP  and popular platforms such Facebook and Youtube opens today at The Necessary Stage Black Box. The one-hour long production, written by Haresh Sharma and directed by Alvin Tan, may not be your typical theatre production in that the audience is free to move and even interact with what goes on on stage and through the social media by befriending one of the characters, but certainly examines the typical reaction of Singaporeans to such incidents when aired on social media.

The production, for which a script was only developed after a first series of rehearsals, does also see the actors exercising some degree of improvisation as they go along – making it all a rather interesting experience not just for the audience but also for those on stage. Poor Thing, which sees Siti Khalijah Zainal, Sharda Harrison, Dwayne Lau and Joshua Lim deliver rather intense performances on stage, runs from 26 February to 2 March and from 5 March to 9 March and limited tickets are still available at

Ten years on the Fringe

4 10 2013

The M1 Singapore Fringe Festival celebrates its tenth birthday when it is held from 8 to 19 January next year (2014). Next year’s Fringe, the theme of which is Art & the People, will see the fifteen works of artists representing six countries which will include performances, video screenings and visual art installations and interestingly performances which will see some level of interaction with the audiences.

Artistic Directors of the festival, Alvin Tan and Haresh Sharma together with Festival Manager, Melissa Lim.

Artistic Directors of the festival, Alvin Tan and Haresh Sharma together with Festival Manager, Melissa Lim.

The festival’s highlights are an adaptation by Nine Years Theatre (九年剧场) in Mandarin of Henrik Ibsen’s iconic play An Enemy of the People (人民公敌), a festival commission; Portuguese company Mundo Perfeito’s Three Fingers below the Knee, which addresses what company sees as the shared heritage of censorship through the use of censored parts of plays written during four decades years of dictatorship; Hiroshi Sunairi’s Majulah Singapura – Tree Project, which revolves around the growing of Hibaku trees that survived the atomic bombings in Hiroshima.

Mundo Perfeito.

Mundo Perfeito.

Hiroshi Sunairi.

Hiroshi Sunairi.

An excerpt of Enemy of the People.

An excerpt of Enemy of the People.

The festival sees seven commissioned works from Singapore which besides the Enemy of the People, also includes The Mountain by The Art of Strangers; Joget, Abang, Joget (Dance, Darling, Dance) by ponggurl which is helmed by Noor Effendy Ibrahim; Take Me or Leave Me, by The Necessary Stage’s Theatre for Seniors; Alecia Neo’s Unseen; Ong Kian Peng’s The Face Daily – a daily newspaper with “news” grabbed from Facebook feeds;  and Tan Wei Keong’s Foundin.

Noor Effendy Ibrahim (L).

Noor Effendy Ibrahim (L).

The Mountain which is presented by a new performance collective, is based on a story by Amitav Ghosh – which is a reflection of the relationship between art, people and global warming. Interestingly, the this will involve the fifteen members of the audience which each of the three performances is limited to who will together with fifteen performers who through storytelling and role-playing, provide an immersive and intimate experience.

An excerpt of The Mountain which will see performers involving the audience.

An excerpt of The Mountain which will see performers involving the audience.

Also to look out for is perhaps the Theatre for Seniors’ two afternoons of free forum theatre performances in Take Me or Leave Me, which takes a look at real life situations faced by seniors – divorce in old age and the abandonment of the elderly. The Theatre for Senoirs’ programme was started by The Necessary Stage in April 2008 and involves senior citizens trained by professional theatre practitioners in theatre making skills – the two performances are devised by the members of the Theatre for Seniors and will also involved interaction with the audience. 

Thomas of The Necessary Stage's Theatre for Seniors.

Thomas Lim of The Necessary Stage’s Theatre for Seniors.

The festival will see tickets (for ticketed performances) priced at $19 (excluding SISTIC fee) with a 20% discount for M1 customers and involves four venues – The Namtional Museum of Singapore, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, ION Art, ION Orchard, and The Substation. More information can be found on the festival’s website Tickets can be purchased through SISTIC.

A magical final weekend at the Singapore Night Festival

30 08 2013

To look out for on this, the second weekend of this year’s edition of the Singapore Night Festival, has to be two death-defying mega stunts that will be attempted by “the sexiest woman in magic” – Singapore magician, Magic Babe Ning. The stunts which will take place in front of the National Museum of Singapore will see Ning attempt two Houdini-like escapes – one submerged in water and the second, one that involves escaping from a strait-jacket whilst suspended in mid-air by a burning rope together with the other half of a pairing The Straits Times had referred to as “Asia’s most famous illusionists” J C Sum.

In the spotlight during the second weekend will be "the sexiest woman in magic" Magic Babe Ning, seen here contemplating her acts at the National Museum of Singapore.

In the spotlight during the second weekend will be “the sexiest woman in magic” Magic Babe Ning, seen here contemplating her acts at the National Museum of Singapore.

The first stunt The Water Vault, which will take place on Friday (today), 30 August 2013, at 10 pm in front of the National Museum of Singapore. For this, shackled at the neck, wrists and wasit, Ning will be submerged in a locked and chained steel vault which will be filled to the brim with water – and all she has is two minutes with which she can hold her breath, to escape from all that!

J C Sum and Magic Babe Ning with the locked and chained steel vault filled with water which she will attempted to escape from whilst shackled at the neck, wrists and waist.

J C Sum and Magic Babe Ning with the locked and chained steel vault filled with water which she will attempted to escape from whilst shackled at the neck, wrists and waist.

The second stunt, is definitely one that is going to be a lot more spectacular – and visible! Also taking place in front of the National Museum of Singapore, this time at 10 pm on Saturday 31 August 2013, the stunt, Ultimate Inversion, will be a huge first and one for the record books – if successful, it will the first time a tandem upside down strait jacket escape will be done! The stunt will see both, trying to escape from regulation strait-jackets, suspended by ankle boots from a bar attached to a single burning rope over the museum’s dome … a stunt which does carry huge risks – there are many factors which can impede the escape – including the hot and humid conditions which does make the strait-jacket stick to skins a lot more! Plus, there will not be any safety nets! The stunt will also be witnessed by the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Singapore Book of Records. Speaking to Magic Babe Ning  last evening – I realised that how risky the manoeuvre would be – seeing that the only preparations the pair were able to do is to practice escaping from a strait-jacket upside down!

5 Streams.

5 Streams.

Besides the magic of the two stunts – there were two other magical installations that I got a sneak peek of last evening. One is 5 Streams – which will see three different dance sequences by Ibrahim Quraishi of BamBam Projects – all to a haunting and as the festival guide describes, hypnotic mix of video streaming, live percussion and base guitars.

The people behind 5 Streams.

The people behind 5 Streams.

The other installation I did get to see is what should be a delightful animated projection onto the façade of the National Museum of Singapore by local company OICsingapore – accompanied by original music. The projection, MoonGrazing is described as a surrealistic abstract animation that playfully explores the moon and its stories through the eyes of the illustrators from OICsingapore.

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The Water Vault (Magic Babe Ning)

Friday 30 Aug 2013

10 pm

National Museum of Singapore façade

Asia’s female Houdini and “the sexiest woman in magic” (Magicseen Magazine), ‘Magic Babe’ Ning will attempt a spectacular underwater escape from The Water Vault. Shackled with chains and locks around her wrists, waist and neck, Ning will be completely submerged in a steel vault filled to the brim with water that is, in turn, locked and chained tightly on the outside. Ning will have less than two minutes to free herself from The Water Vault before she runs out of breath.

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Ultimate Inversion (J C Sum and Magic Babe Ning)

Saturday 31 Aug 2013

10 pm

National Museum of Singapore façade

Witness history being made as “Asia’s most famous illusionists” (The Straits Times), J C Sum & ‘Magic Babe’ Ning, attempt the world’s first ever tandem upside down strait jacket escape! They will both be strapped up in two regulation strait jackets each and suspended upside down by their ankles, one person below the other, high up in the air from a single burning rope. If the rope burns through or if they make one small mistake, they will plummet to the ground 50ft below.

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5 Streams (Ibrahim Quraishi / BamBam Projects)

Friday 30 and Saturday 31 Aug 2013

8.45 pm, 9.45 pm & 10.45pm

MAIN Ground

Explosive sounds, vocals, intense dance sequences, video streaming, live percussion and base guitars are combined to create a hypnotic performance where dancers appear as installation: space transforms into living architectural symbols, video projection immersed in nature and the abstraction of geometry. Sound trembles through the body before it’s heard and the audience is invited to wander and meditate in an interactive installation of a synthetic forest with each its own interactive sonic mix: this cross media performance / installation includes an extraordinary international team of artists (Ibrahim Quraishi, Norsq, Marc Perroud aka Tzed, Gabriel Smeets, Katrin Blantar, Walid Breidi, Jule Flierl, Martin B. Hansen, Olivier Hüe, Nicolas Lelièvre, Ligia Manuela Lewis, Naseem Abbas Malik, Ewan A.S and Aziz Bekkaoui. Nico Van Der Vegte and Kieu Voung)

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Moongrazing (OICSingapore)

Friday 30 Aug 2013 and Saturday 31 Aug 2013

7 pm to 2 am (OIC live music & drawing: 7.30 pm, 8 pm, 11 pm & 11.30 pm)

National Museum of Singapore façade

Set to an original piece of music- MoonGrazing is a surrealistic abstract animation that playfully explores the moon and its stories through the eyes of the illustrators from OICsingapore. Throughout the two nights, the façade of the National Museum of Singapore will be transformed into a canvas for local artists to showcase their playful creativity. To add to the spontaneity of the moment, for twice each night, illustrators and indie musicians will jam together live. Each performance is unique as lines of music and drawing meet and improvisations happen on the most random note.

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The Singapore Night Festival final weekend is on 30 and 31 August 2013. More information can be obtained at the following links:

Highlights of the Singapore Night Festival

23 08 2013

To be held over two weekends, the Singapore Night Festival opens this evening with what promises to be some wonderful acts to literally illuminate the evening in the Bras Basah precinct – some of which I did get to have a sneak peek of. More on the festival and on one act which will certainly be a hit, Redux by Starlight Alchemy, can be found on my previous post on this years festival, Playing with Fire. Some of the other highlights for the first weekend which we did also get to see follow (descriptions provided by the festival guide):

Fly me from the moon

(Oomoonbeings by Singapierrot)

Friday 23 and Saturday 24 Aug 2013

7.30pm, 8.45 pm & 10pm

Armenian Street

Two ethereal jesters descend from a crescent moon and explore the land.  Dressed in plastics, these contemporary incarnations of Pierrot play in a series of teasing vignettes combining movement and installation. With a whimsical oldtime mood, this little reverie features gypsy-swing jazz duo So Ma Fan as live accompaniment.







Shadow Play

(Vertical Extraction by Compagnie Retouramont)

Friday 23 and Saturday 24 Aug 2013

8.15 pm, 9.30 pm & 10.45 pm

Façade of the National Museum of Singapore

Dancers embark on a vertical journey up the façade of the National Museum and break into a rhythmic dance on bungee cords in this site-specific performance that explores the museum’s architecture and surrounding space. Light projections which amplify the dancers’ bodies, and a special video by acclaimed local artist and filmmaker Victric Thng, complement Vertical Extraction to offer new perspectives on movement and our environment.




In Suspension

(Pyramid of Void by Compagnie Retouramont)

Friday 23 and Saturday 24 Aug 2013

8.30 pm, 9.45 pm & 11 pm

Façade of the National Museum of Singapore

In this aerial dance performance, a pyramid structure made of ropes is suspended in mid-air, outlining the contours of a void, an abstract space invisible to the eye. With the ropes as their only form of support, dancers demonstrate their acrobatic creativity and agility as they negotiate the minimalist set. Their movements form a dialogue with the pyramid, breathing life into the structure and giving shape to the spaces in-between.






Playing with Water

(Water Light Graffiti by Antonin Fourneau)

Friday 23, Saturday 24, Friday 30, Saturday 31 Aug 2013

7.30 pm to 2 am

Outside Raffles City

Based on an idea as simple as illumination, Water Light Graffiti enables one to draw or write ephemeral messages which appear as light against the wall of LEDs. To use water, which has no shape and no colour, to draw light, is a magical experience for all. By mixing a natural element and technology, Water Light Graffiti’s users can even play with the weather or the evaporation speed for example. Water Light Graffiti also has a surprising role during rainy days and turn them into fireworks of damp LEDs.



Music Made in  Singapore


Friday 23 and Saturday 24 Aug 2013

7.30 pm to 12 am

Singapore Management University (SMU) Green

HOMEMADE 2013 is a celebration of originality, collaboration and Singapore-made music. This year, the music festival is presented over 2 weekends, 23 & 24 Aug and the intimate HOMEMADE 2013 (UNPLUGGED) sessions on 30 & 31 Aug. Some of the acts to look forward to are Pleasantry, The Obedient Wives Club, Inch Chua and The Bushmen. An exciting feature of the music festival has always been the never-before-seen (or heard) presentations and also, collaborations between musicians and genres. In the true spirit of bigger, better and louder, Homemade 2013 will debut a 20-piece band – The Electric Symphony Project.


Caught in a Net

(Everlast by Sookoon Ang)

Friday 23, Saturday 24, Friday 30, Saturday 31 Aug 2013

7 pm to 2 am

National Museum of Singapore (Rotunda)

EVERLAST is an installation created with foil balloons. The work is a visual poem which the arrangement of text and the selected material for the visualization are important in conveying the intended effect of the work. The work takes poetry beyond the printed and causing it to manifest in both metaphysically as well as physically, blurring the distinction between art and text. This poem addresses life & death, light & lightness. It speaks about the exhilarating energy and dynamics of between 2 persons.


Bottled Beauties

(Absolut Canvas)

Friday 23, Saturday 24, Friday 30, Saturday 31 Aug 2013

7 pm to 2 am

Sunday 25 to Monday 2 Sep 2013

10 am to 6 pm

National Museum of Singapore (Stamford Gallery)

With its iconic silhouette and its collaborations with some of the most recognisable artists and designers, ABSOLUT has cemented itself as the perfect canvas for creative ideas to flourish. ABSOLUT CANVAS showcases the ways in which artists and designers have used the ABSOLUT bottle as a channel for their creativity. The exhibition features beautifully designed bottles as well as an interactive area where visitors will get to unleash their own creativity. It also includes a pop-up bar serving ABSOLUT cocktails
that have been created specially for ABSOLUT CANVAS.







And the best part about Absolut Canvas is that throughout the four nights of the festival, there would be a pop-up bar just outside the Stamford Gallery. The bar will serve Absolut Vodka and Absolut Elyx – with three different cocktails also served which were created specially for Absolut Canvas all of which is absolutely fabulous!


The Singapore Night Festival runs on 23 and 24 August 2013 and on 30 and 31 August 2013. More information can be obtained at the following links:

Playing with fire

22 08 2013

Photographs taken at last evening’s media preview of the Singapore Night Festival of a performance, Redux, by Starlight Alchemy – one of the highlights of the annual festival which be held over two weekends in the Bras Basah precinct this year which will see a nocturnal extravaganza of performances over four days.

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Describing themselves as “a constellation of international artists orbiting around Singapore that manipulate light, fire and skill toys to bring a sense of wonder to the performing arts” it was indeed with much wonder that a sneak peek of their performance – set against the façade of the National Museum, Redux, was greeted last evening.  Their performances will take place during the first weekend on 23 and 24 August 2013 at 8.45 pm, 10 pm and 11.15 pm. The last performance of each night will allow some interactivity with a free jam-and-play session at the end during which visitors will get to play with LED manipulation tools the group will use in their performances along with fire.

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Interactivity will be a feature of this year’s edition of the festival – the Night Lights segment of it will see several projections which will permit interaction.  The festival also promises to be bigger and better with the participation of an increased number of stakeholders and partners from the area – more than twice that of 2012. It will also see the addition of several more venues stretching from Plaza Singapura to Raffles City. New venues this year include the two malls mentioned, as well CHIJMES, 222 Queen Street and Sculpture Square. This year will also see lots of food on offer with Hawker Food Alley set up at the alleyway between The Substation and Armenian Street and So Sedap at the SMRT Walkway along Stamford Road.

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Re-branded from “Night Festival” to the “Singapore Night Festival” to reflect it being a platform to highlight and showcase local talents, this year’s festival runs over two weekends on the evenings of 23 and 24 August 2013 and 30 and 31 August 2013. There is also late night free admission to the participating museums to look out for during the festival. These museums are the National Museum of Singapore, the Peranakan Museum, and the Singapore Art Museum and will be on the festival nights from 7 pm to 2 am.  Do stay tuned for more festival highlights see at the preview for the first weekend. More information on the Singapore Night Festival can be obtained from the festival’s website.

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Information on Singapore Night Festival

Three bears turning back the clock

13 08 2013

EVERYTHING BUT THE BRAIN on a Sunday Afternoon …

[A pair of tickets up for grabs – click here for details]

Sitting still watching a play isn’t something I can usually do for long, especially when it does involve trying to understand scientific theories. It was however just what I did do on a Sunday afternoon at the DBS Arts Centre, where I did sit completely still for the entire length of a performance of Jean Tay’s award-winning EVERYTHING BUT THE BRAIN, presented by Sight Lines Productions.

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EVERYTHING BUT THE BRAIN, in its third run here having been staged to sold-out audiences in 2005 and in 2007, is a play which revolves around the life of Elaine Lim (played by Koh Wan Ching), who finds herself taking a year off to care for her stroke-afflicted father (played by veteran actor Gerald Chew in a reprise to his role in the original staging for which he picked up Straits Times Life! Theatre Award for Best Actor).

The story is one which, despite its title, has everything to do with the brain. The main characters are ones whose love for Physics binds them together as much as the love between father and daughter does. Elaine is a Physics teacher and Father, a retired Professor of Physics who’s main work was in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity – his attempt to explain the theory to a six-year old Elaine on a train ride to Malacca in which a chorus of three bears through the persuasion of Elaine are introduced, forms the basis for the Elaine’s attempt to slow time down to save her father from deterioration.

Main Leads Edward Choy, Gerald Chew and Koh Wan Ching.

Main Leads Edward Choy, Gerald Chew and Koh Wan Ching.

The chorus of three bears (played by Faizal Abdullah, Amanda Tee and Cassandra Spykerman), is present throughout the play, aiding not with narration but also with injecting much to laugh at into the hour and a half long play. Completing the list of characters is the Doctor (played by Edward Choy), with whom Elaine finds an uncannily a connection with each time he makes an appearance.

The three bears played by (from bottom) Faizal Abdullah, Amanda Tee, and Cassandra Spykerman.

The three bears played by (from bottom) Faizal Abdullah, Amanda Tee, and Cassandra Spykerman.

The mix of fairy tale characters in the three bears, a love-struck doctor and a much talked about Physics theory is a touch of genius which does help the audience in confronting a subject matter that is very real in our lives which nobody really likes to think about, mixing humour with plenty of poignancy. It is in this that we see the pain, emotional anguish, and the struggle that a child faces with an unplanned and unexpected situation which in which the roles of a parent and child are reversed.

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The restaging of the play is one in which sees Sight Lines Productions holding in partnership with the Singapore National Stroke Association (SNSA) and the Health Promotion Board with an aim to raise the level of awareness of the fight against stroke. It hopes to also spread the message of  the necessity and critical importance of timely intervention in the event of a stroke. A performance held on Sunday evening was dedicated to a Charity Gala Night to raise funds in aid of the SNSA.

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While I do find myself saying strange things sometimes, saying that I would spend another one and a half hours with three bears in an attempt trying to understand the two Physics educators use of them in explaining a scientific theory isn’t quite as strange as it does sound. With the play running until 21 August 2013, there certainly is the opportunity for me to do that!

A pair of tickets to EVERYTHING BUT THE BRAIN up for grabs!

Do drop me an email with the subject “Everything but the Brain” by noon on Thursday 15 August 2013 with your name and email address. The winner of the pair of tickets will be informed by email. Tickets will be for the 8 pm performance on Sunday 18 August 2013.


EVERYTHING BUT THE BRAIN tells the story of Elaine, a Physics teacher who hatches a plan to turn back time and save her stroke-afflicted father from further deterioration. Along the way, she is egged on by a chorus of three bears, occasionally distracted by a dashing young surgeon and haunted by a particularly memorable train ride to Malacca…

Don’t miss this award-winning, comic play, which premiered in 2005 to critical acclaim. After two sold-out runs, it went on to win two awards at the 2006 Life! Theatre Awards including “Best Original Script” and “Best Actor” (Gerald Chew).

“The adroit handling of themes, from the origins of genius to gene heritage and the tyranny of time make Everything but the Brain one of the best things seen on stage here in a while.”


About Sight Lines Productions

Established in 2011 by Derrick Chew and Engie Ho, Sight Lines Productions is an entertainment company that produces theatre, films and events. We believe in delivering entertainment that not only excites and entertains but inspires and challenges perspectives. We view ourselves as the next generation of theatre makers and are committed to nurturing young artistes and theatre practitioners, providing the stage and platform for them to produce quality work. We aim to become a national recognized brand name, focusing on the creation of new, exciting local work as well as the re-imagination and reinterpretation of existing modern texts.

Show Details

Written by: Jean Tay

Directed by: Derrick Chew

Cast: Amanda Tee, Cassandra Spykerman, Edward Choy, Faizal Abdullah, Gerald Chew, Koh Wan Ching

Show Dates & Timings: 10 – 11 August 2013; 16 – 21 August 2013; No show on Mon, Tues – Fri 8pm; Sat & Sun 3pm & 8pm

Venue: DBS Arts Centre, Home of SRT

Ticket Prices: $35 – $55 (Prices exclude $3 SISTIC handling fee)

Ticketing Details: SISTIC  / / Hotline: (65) 6348 555

Edging in with a song cycle

12 04 2013

A lighthearted and surprisingly entertaining production which is currently playing at the Drama Centre in Singapore is EDGES the Musical. Produced by Sight Lines Productions and directed by Derrick Chew, the musical takes a look at four characters – young adults at the crossroads between adolescence and adulthood. Their experiences, their hopes and dreams and their emotions are expressed through what is a fairly new concept in their use in musicals seen in Singapore (and to me), a song cycle.

Edges features a cast of four young locally based performers in a small scale but highly entertaining musical.

Edges features a cast of four young locally based performers in a small scale but highly entertaining musical.

Written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (who are the youngest winners of the Jonathan Larson Award), and with performances seen in North America, Asia, Australia, Europe and Africa, Edges features “Be My Friend” in its song cycle, more popularly known perhaps as the “Facebook Song” which went viral on the internet. In it is a locally based cast, three of whom are from LASALLE College of the Arts Musical Theatre Programme, Mina Kaye, Linden Furnell, and Kristy Griffin. The fourth member of the extremely talented cast is Benjamin Kheng, a member of  local indie band, The Sam Willows, who has been named as one of ST Life’s face to watch in 2013.

Benjamin Kheng who has been named as one of ST Life's face to watch in 2013.

Benjamin Kheng who has been named as one of ST Life’s face to watch in 2013.

While the production does examine contemporary issues faced by the young adults of today, told through catchy tunes and lyrics which offer a witty look at situations the characters face, most of us (myself, having left that phase in life far behind, included) can quite easily relate to the characters’ experiences. Combined with what must be said is a masterful performance provided by the young cast, the musical was great fun, thoroughly enjoyable and well worth very bit of the one-and-a-half hours of time spent watching the characters deal with the emotional roller coaster associated with the coming of age.

Mina Kaye a graduate of LASALLE's Musical Theatre who made her professional stage debut at the Esplanade Theatre in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

Mina Kaye a graduate of LASALLE’s Musical Theatre who made her professional stage debut at the
Esplanade Theatre in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

EDGES the Musical runs from 3 to 19 April 2013 at the Drama Centre Blackbox (National Library Building Level 5). Showtimes are on Mondays to Fridays at 8 pm and on Saturdays at 5 pm and 8 pm. Tickets are avilable at S$38/- with discounts available for Arts Platinum & FRANK Cards (15%), and all other OCBC Cards as well as PAssion Card (10%) at TicketMash.

Linden Furnell and Kristy Griffin.

Linden Furnell and Kristy Griffin are also graduates of LASALLE.

I have two pairs of tickets, courtesy of Sight Lines Productionss, for the show on Monday 15 April 2013 to give away. If you are interested, do drop me an email by Saturday 13 April 2013 with your name, email address, and why you would like to catch the show. Winners will be notified by email the following day.

Production photographs courtesy of Sight Lines Productions

A dancer, an iron bed, and a war heroine

9 10 2012

And what has a dancer, an iron bed and a war heroine have to do with each other? Come Friday 12 October 2012, the dancer, award-winning dance choreographer, Tammy L Wong will give a ten minute self-choreographed performance which is an interpretation of a war heroine’s personal struggle and faith as she faced repeated acts of torture at the hands of the occupiers of Singapore during the Second World War. The piece features in a collaboration between five local dance choreographers who have had an impact on Singapore’s contemporary dance scene entitled SideBySide.

A look of anguish on an iron bed … Tammy L Wong shares a very moving personal with a bed borrowed from SJI International in a 10 minute piece for the Esplanade’s 10th Anniversary programme.

SideBySide is part of a weekend programme that is being lined-up for the anniversary weekend of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay which celebrates its tenth anniversary on 12 October 2012. The anniversary programme, part of a year-long celebration, Dedicated to You, is one that is dedicated to the arts and to Singapore artists, featuring performances specially commissioned for the occasion with invited local artists sharing their personal journeys. Also featuring Joavien Ng, Ming Poon and Scarlet Yu who will perform a piece together, and also Daniel K, SideBySide will see a presentation of short dance pieces, each, a tribute to a personal inspiration.

Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay celebrates its tenth anniversary this weekend.

Thanks to the Esplanade, I was able to catch a rehearsal of the piece that Tammy L Wong’s will present, entitled Andante, a ten minute long piece that will take the audience into the darkness that accompanied war heroine Mrs Elizabeth Choy’s internment by the Japanese during the Second World War.

Andante is Tammy L Wong’s interpretation of a first-hand account of Elizabeth Choy’s darkest moments during 200 days of torture when she was interned by the Japanese during World War II.

The imagery provided by the iron bed is a powerful one that transports the audience into the late Mrs Choy’s tortured soul, tortured not just by the repeated acts of savagery that she was inflicted with, by also by time that in the circumstances, would have seemed to pass all so slowly, as is suggested by the title of her piece.

The iron bed is one that immediately transports the audience into the torturous solitude that Elizabeth Choy found herself in.

No attention to detail had been spared, even for the short piece. The bed is one that took some finding – with Tammy having to borrow the right one from SJI International for the performance. The music that accompanies includes a hymn which does not only represent Mrs Choy’s deep Christian faith which she drew on to find the strength and courage to survive where many others would not have. Her moves on and off the bed, speak also of anguish and of solitude and of a body broken by torture.

The dance moves and music are ones that tells of the pain and suffering as well of Mrs Choy’s deep faith.

On the evidence of what I was able to see during the rehearsal, the piece would certainly be a very moving account of Mrs Choy’s struggles condensed into ten minutes. It is however Tammy’s account of her personal encounters with Mrs Choy that had to be the most stirring part of the session which included an opportunity to speak to Tammy.

Besides the insights Tammy shared about the piece, Tammy also spoke of her encounters with Mrs Choy herself, all of which started with a letter that Tammy had sent to her driven by a desire to seek the strength that Mrs Choy had demonstrated.

Tammy also spoke of that first encounter connected the two of them, and of how Mrs Choy had without hesitation, taken out photographs taken of her in the nude, when she had posed as a model for sculptor Dora Gordine.

Tammy at the end of the rehearsal.

What is remarkable to hear of is the matter-of-fact manner with which Mrs Choy related what must certainly have carried a lot of pain. That she did feel it, was however evident – the sessions often went on into the evening when Tammy would often find herself listening to Mrs Choy in the dark. Mrs Choy, had, as a result of the numerous occasions during which she was tortured with electrical shocks, developed a fear of anything electrical, including turning on the lights.

Sharing a lighter moment.

The poignant account is one that certainly puts the piece into context and one that will be the subject of Tammy’s second book which will be published next year. It would certainly be interesting to see it on the day of the performance – alongside with the other pieces, each with an equally interesting story. The hour-long SideBySide will play at the Esplanade Theatre Studio at 8pm on Friday. More information can be found at the Esplanade’s page on the SideBySide.

About SideBySide:

By Daniel K, Joavien Ng, Ming Poon, Scarlet Yu and Tammy L Wong

Date: 12 Oct 2012, Fri, 8pm
Venue: Esplanade Theatre Studio

SideBySide presents five established and independent dance choreographers who have made an impact on Singapore’s contemporary dance scene. The evening features new short works, with each piece created as a tribute to a personal artistic inspiration.

In a celebration of real and imaginary champions, Tammy L Wong creates a moving tribute to Singaporean war heroine Elizabeth Choy in Andante, while Joavien Ng ventures to make her very own superhero, in a salute to caped crusaders and the hero in all of us, in My Superhero.

For the first time, Ming Poon and Scarlet Yu perform together in a duet about the serendipity of encounters in The infinitesimal distance between two bodies, while Daniel creates a solo for arts practitioner Low Kee Hong who becomes his own cheerleader in The Cheerleader.

(1hr with short breaks)


All Secondary Schools, Junior Colleges, Centralised Institutes and ITEs may use the Tote Board Arts Grant to subsidise up to 50% of the ticket price.

The Russians have landed

4 10 2012

It is always nice to discover a rare gem. One that I had the great pleasure of finding just last week is certainly a rarity – a group of dedicated musicians who produce strains that would seem more at home in the jazz clubs of New York City, than in Russia where they ply their trade in. Here for a one evening only performance at the School of the Arts (SOTA) concert hall, ‘Jazz Encounters of the Russian Kind’, the group included the esteemed Yakov Okun on piano, Sergey Golovnya on sax, bassist Makar Novikov, Alexander Mashin on drums and with Anna Buturlina on vocals.

Jazz Encounters of the Russian Kind.

Yakov Okun being introduced – although classically trained, his father boasts of a father which was a renowned jazz pianist from the Soviet-era.

It is indeed rare to find jazz musicians in Russia, I discover from a brief chat with Yakov Okun at the end of the concert that there are only a handful of jazz practitioners in the country. Although trained in classical music, Yakov Okun can boast of a pedigree in Russian jazz – his jazz pianist father Mikhail can perhaps be seen as a pioneer in the Soviet-era Russian jazz scene. The spirit of the early Russian jazz scene during a time when the only way to learn to play jazz required trying to replicate what was heard over American radio broadcasts, does live on in Yakov and the new generation of jazz musicians represented by the talented group that he brought along on what was a first excursion to Asia. Among the group, the highly talented Alexander Mashin does perhaps embody the spirit of the Soviet-era musicians, having learned much of the amazing skills he demonstrates on drums in his late teens all on his own.

Alexander Mashin who is a member of the MosGorTrio an extremely talented self-taught drummer.

Makar Novikov on bass and Sergey Golovnya playing the saxophone.

Attending a jazz concert is always a foot-tapping encounter for me, and it was no different through the thoroughly enjoyable concert, which I am sure the thin audience it attracted must have also done. The 75 minute concert started with a repertoire of Soviet-era pieces which Okun, Novikov and Mashin – the original members of the MosGorTrio, combined to good effect with Golovnya who gave a masterly performance on saxophone. The second part of the concert brought Anna Buturlina to the stage during which she lent her delightfully smooth voice to familiar American jazz favourites.

Anna Buturlina a leading Russian jazz vocalist lent her voice to the second part of the concert.

This first fleeting encounter with Russian jazz was one that certainly deserved a much bigger audience than it attracted. It does however promise more. The two men who brought the group in, Mr Michael Tay, Executive Director of the Russia-Singapore Business Forum and Singapore’s former ambassador to Russia; and Mr Evgeny Tugolukov, Managing Director of RusSing Holdings, have a shared passion for jazz. It is also their hope that this can serve as a platform to develop Singapore’s jazz scene. With the increased visibility for a genre of music that is hard to tire of that the efforts would certainly bring, it can perhaps also be that platform that will help the two fulfill a vision of seeing a regional jazz festival take root in Singapore.

Another of Anna Buturlina and Makar Novikov.

Wet in the City of Dreams

26 09 2012

My recent four day sojourn in Macau was one that provided me with a deeper appreciation of the very compact territory, and what it has to offer the visitor, which certainly is a lot more than I had imagined. I was fascinated by every bit of the territory that I got to experience, a territory which is a world not just where east and west have blended well together, but also where the new world and the old seem have found an equilibrium. Among the different experiences that I did have over the four days, one certainly stands out from an entertainment perspective. It is also one which perhaps showcases how east and west, as well as old and new, have managed to come together to provide not only a harmonious outcome – but one that will surely mesmerise. It was one that I must say captured my imagination, and one found not on the absorbing streets, but off them in the new world in which dreams must surely made in – the very aptly named City of Dreams.

What surely must be a dream in the City of Dreams.

The House of Dancing Water blends influences from East and West with 80 performers representing some 25 countries.

It is at the City of Dreams, Melco Crown Entertainment’s integrated entertainment resort on the Cotai Strip, that one of the most stunning theatre productions I have been fortunate to witness, takes to the stage. The production is Franco Dragone’s The House of Dancing Water, which goes beyond the description of the word ‘stunning’ and possible synonyms in a sentence. In fact, the production provides audiences with an experience which words can not sufficiently describe. That it plays to packed houses show after show since it made its debut two years ago on 16 September 2010, with some 1.5 million having watched the show during the period, is testament to how well it has been received and continues to be received.

Shanghai born ballerina Faye Leung takes on the leading role of the Princess.

The show has played to packed audiences since it opened in September 2010. More than 1.5 million have watched the spectacular show since then.

The House of Dancing Water is a production that is certainly like no other that I have watched. It combines on a water stage, 270 degrees around which the audience is seated, an explosion of dance, theatre, music, swimming, diving and acrobatics, part of which goes into some very daring stunts that go beyond simple circus acts. That, together with the stunningly dramatic visual effects that is provided by projections, movement, elaborate costumes, lighting and props, as well as some 239 water fountains (some of which go as high up as 18 metres), makes it a show that has to be not just watched but also to marvel at, even with a storyline which can be said to be rather clichéd. The storyline is intended to take the audience on a roller-coaster ride of human emotions, culminating in the triumph of good over evil. It is perhaps the manner in which that storyline is delivered that renders it secondary.

239 fountains are used to propel jets of water as high up as 18 metres in the air (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Dance and water combine to provide a dramatic effect.

The storyline revolves around the well told story of the triumph of good over evil. One of the ‘evil’ characters takes the form of the Dark Queen, played by Ana Arroyo.

Very elaborate costumes are used – up to 400 in total. Some like the ones seen here weight up to 2 kilogrammes.

The performance combines dance, theatre, music, swimming, diving and acrobatics with effects provided by water, movement, lighting and and daring stunts that go beyond simple circus acts.

East and West meet on water.

The efforts of the performers in going through their routines on stage is certainly one that is challenging both technically as well as being physically demanding, and that alone justified the generous applause that they received at the end of the show. The roles require the artists, 80 in total from 25 different countries, not just to be dancers, but also swimmers, divers, acrobats and stuntmen in constant motion. The stunts that are performed are spectacular and certainly not without peril, and has some fly through the air, seemingly with the greatest of ease, which the loudest ‘oohs and aahs’ from the audience seemed to be reserved for. One scene has performers launched into somersaults from swings, while another performers hurtle through the air Evel Knievel style on motorcycles (motorcycle which we were to learn that are changed every six months) 15 metres above stage. All of this does make for an extremely dynamic show, one that left me breathless in my seat trying to keep up with all that was happening on stage.

The performers go through technically challenging and physically demanding routines. Many stunts are also performed at height.

One of the scenes has performers hurtling through the air, launched by giant swings.

Another highlight is a scene which see motorcycle jumps Evel Knievel style.

The motorcycles go as high up as 15 metres in the air.

Special motorcycles are used which are replaced every six months.

Having been completely enthralled by what I witnessed on stage, there was a treat that awaited the group of bloggers I was in – a tour backstage scheduled for the morning after we watched the show. It was through the backstage tour from which I received a much better appreciation of what does go behind the scenes to make the show what it is. The production must be one that has to be appreciated not just for what we see on stage, but also in what does go on behind the scenes. The coordination effort alone is a monumental one that involves not just the 80 performers, but also another 160 crew members from 35 different nationalities working behind the scenes. That everything does seem to go according to clockwork show after show must surely be a marvellous achievement.

The male leading role of the Stranger is played by Jesko von den Steinen.

The grace of Faye Leung as the Princess.

The clown in the show – Lago the Dark Queen’s Fenelon Minister.

The performer who plays Wabo the Wiseman is also a contortionist.

An expression of joy at the moment that love triumphs over hate.

The theatre as seen during the ‘backstage’ tour (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

At the centre of the purpose-built theatre is the huge pool. The pool, which contains some 3.7 million gallons or 17 million litres of very clean water (we were told it is kept a lot cleaner than any other commercial pools), or that contained by more than 5 Olympic sized swimming pools, serves as the stage. In the pool 11 hydraulically operated ten-ton elevators are moved up a metre and down 7 metres, allowing it to be converted from an aquatic stage to a dry one – a perforated non-slip metal floor allows water to rapidly be drained away. Some 36 scuba divers are deployed to assist with underwater work with 20 providing support (and assistance to the performers) during the show, including during a seemingly perilous scene where a cage containing one of the main characters, The Princess, is lowered into the pool. In this case, divers assist no only to open the cage to help the performer out, but are also on standby with a spare breathing apparatus should anything untoward happen.

Looking into the depths of the 3.7 million gallon pool – which has a depth of some 8 metres – some 36 scuba divers work in the depths with up to 20 deployed to provide support during the show (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The entry and exit point for divers and performers below the seating – different colour lighting is used to identify each quadrant to allow cast and crew to know where they are (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The red quadrant (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Divers provide assistance to performers in circumstances such as this where a performer is lowered into the depths inside a cage.

The stage as seen ‘backstage’ (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The flooring of the stage at the top of hydraulic elevators is perforated to allow water to drain quickly (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

From the depths of the pool, we were taken to the heights above the stage, first to the fourth level, some 17 metres above. It is from a 360 degree catwalk at this level that the scenery props and the artists are lowered from and raised to, an effort that requires the use of the 40 rigging winches found on the catwalk. Just looking down from the catwalk to the pool level is enough to give the same effect that standing on the glass floor at the top of Macau Tower gave, and that was only level four … there was still level 8 to go up to, but not before a look at the dressing rooms. In the dressing rooms we could have a closer look at some of the 400 costumes that are used including one that weighs 2 kilogrammes. It is no wonder that the artists have such well toned bodies! An amazing fact we learned was that over 15,000 pieces of Swarovski crystals are used in the costumes! We also had an appreciation of the effort made in the selection of textiles for the costumes – neoprene is used to keep its shape and withstand the effects of the water.

A view of the stage, pool and seating from the catwalk 17 metres up (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

A scene during which the cage is hoisted up to the catwalk level – a retractable platform allows performers to get in and out of such props safely.

The cage being raised.

A close examination of a mask in the dressing room.

The view from level 8 provides an appreciation of the scale of the 2000 seat theatre and the efforts that have gone into setting up the USD 250 million production. The purpose-built theatre was designed by the Pei Partnership in collaboration with Franco Dragone’s team. At level 8, 40 metres above the stage, we see the world that the performer sees descending and more … a foldable platform below us – some 24.5 metres above the stage can be seen. That is where another highlight of the show – a high dive that takes place close to the end of it, is made from. It certainly does take nerves of steel to take a dive from that high! Level 8 is also where the bungee cords are suspended from and stored under lock and key – safety certainly is paramount in production where much can possibly go wrong.

The view from 40 metres above the stage from level 8 (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

One interesting fact that was shared on the elevator ride down to the last stop, the Control Booth, was that the elevators were equipped with mirrors and did not have cameras in them as they served as changing rooms for the artists as they moved from one routine to the next. The Control Booth is certainly an amazing place, and it is through the mess of the computers which control just about everything mechanical, the cables that run to them and the numerous monitors, and the technicians and crew, that the stage director, a lady we were told, sees that everything is as well executed and coordinated as can be. The director who is often required to make on the spot decisions and has the authority to call a performance off if need to has to remain in her seat throughout the length of entire 85 minute performance during which it is impossible even to have a comfort break.

Inside the Control Booth.

The view through the window of the huge Control Booth where operations are coordinated (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The view that the director sees.

One of the observations I did make during the backstage tour was that was picked up by the omy reporter, Rui Long (see Exclusive: To the backstage of a breathtaking water-based show! was that there were so many things that could have gone wrong during the performance which made me appreciate how well-coordinated and executed everything was. I also noted the physically demands that each performance placed on the artists and was surprised to learn that the roles are each played by a single performer for every one of the shows (under most circumstances). The show does usually play 5 days a week and twice a day on most days (the performers do get a two week break every two months), which makes the effort of the performance and the performers a truly remarkable one in a remarkable show that when in Macau, should not be missed! More information on the show can be found at the show’s website.

The show requires its cast members to be multi-disciplined.

The opportunity to watch the amazing show and also go on the backstage tour was made possible by the City of Dreams for which I am eternally grateful, as I am to the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) for the sponsorship of the trip which included the 3 night stay at the Grand Lapa Macau, and to Tiger Airways for the sponsorship of flights, an on-board meal and check-in baggage allowances.

About The House of Dancing Water:

A dramatic scene from the show (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

‘The House of Dancing Water’, the centerpiece of City of Dreams envisioned by Mr. Lawrence Ho, Co-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Melco Crown Entertainment Limited, is a production by Franco Dragone Entertainment Group at City of Dreams, personally created and directed by Mr. Franco Dragone. This over HKD 2 billion (over USD250 million) breathtaking water-based show which draws creative inspiration from Chinese culture particularly on the ‘seven emotions’ principle derived from the classical Confucian beliefs, is destined to be the most extravagant live production ever seen in Asia.

Mr. Franco Dragone toured China exploring the country’s cultural and artistic history as inspiration for The House of Dancing Water, the world’s largest water show, and was drawn to China’s deep story-telling heritage within its art and particularly the ‘seven emotions’ principle derived from the classical Confucian beliefs before deciding on an epic spectacular love story that transcends time and space.

The show, set at City of Dreams’ awe-inspiring ‘Dancing Water Theater’, begins in the coast of Coloane, a Fisherman travelling with his boat enjoys his journey. Suddenly, a mysterious energy from the water creates a terrible whirlpool, grabs the fisherman and pulls him to a place and a time of legends…He cannot realize what is happening at this very moment within a lengthy time. He observes, lost and intrigued… when a storm brings a survivor from a shipwreck, a Stranger to this magical kingdom. The young brave Stranger encounters and falls in love with a beautiful Princess who was thrown into a cage by her evil stepmother, the Dark Queen. Without hesitating, the Fisherman decides to help the Stranger to fight against to the Dark Queen and rescue the Princess. With his help, the Stranger & the Princess defeat the Dark Queen and the Fisherman obtains an unexpected reward.

‘The House of Dancing Water’ will take audiences on an awe-inspiring journey through the heights and depths of human emotions from the abyss of Sadness and Anger, to the heights of Desire and the summit of Joy, between the cliffs of Fear to a glorious resolution where Love triumphs over Hate and its sinister forces.

This spectacular water-based show takes physical performance to its ultimate limits through combat, wit, creativity, incredible expertise and agility. Experience a magical journey, that transcends even time, as Mr. Franco Dragone transports us on a theatrical masterpiece of incredible artistry, outstanding physical performance and special effects in the most spectacular show that Asia has ever seen.

Another scene from the show.

Links to getting wet:

Getting there:

Macau Government Tourist Office
Tiger Airways


The House of Dancing Water
City of Dreams

Interpreting Dreams:

The Cast
About Franco Dragone
About Franco Dragone Entertainment
About City of Dreams

Note: this is a repost of my post on the My Macau Experience 2012 site which sees 10 bloggers share experiences of their visit to Macau. Readers will get a chance to vote for their favourite My Macau Experience 2012 blogger and stand a chance to win $1000 worth of Macau travel vouchers. Voting starts on 28 September 2012 and details can be found at the My Macau Experience 2012 Voting page.