Sunday, July 27, 2008

Interview by Front

Interview by Front

17 November 2007

- Are Singapore musicals a 'copy' of Broadway/West End musicals?

Yes, there is a very strong Broadway/West End influence in Singapore musicals in English. Most of our musicals are fashioned after the Western model.

- Singapore musicals are still in their infancy. Do you agree?

Musicals in the West have been evolving over the course of 100 years, whereas Singapore's first musicals were staged in 1988, only 19 years ago. We have on average had about 2 or 3 original musicals publicly performed in these 19 years. This is in contrast to the 40 or more musicals produced annually in Broadway and West End, of which in good years, some 10-20 are newly written musicals.

- What is lacking and what are the strengths of Singapore musicals?

Because of the relative poverty of musicals staged by local theatre companies, it has not been possible to sustain a thriving musical theatre industry. There are too few opportunities for writers and composers to have their works staged. This results in directors not getting the opportunity to direct, performers getting the opportunity to perform, and technical crew getting the opportunity to develop their expertise. Furthermore, this affects the quality of musicals because we do not have a strong base of outstanding directors and performers. When the public watches a Singapore musical, they are often disappointed, and they may not return to watch another made-in-Singapore musical. Hence the audience base for local musicals is very small.

On the other hand, we do have our own Singapore stories to tell. We are situated in SouthEast Asia and we are influenced by many Asian musical and theatre styles. Hence out potential for creating a genuine Singapore musical style is not only possible, but given time, is very likely.

- Why do kids seem to love musicals, and how can we foster and turn them into a loyal audience base?

Musical theatre is telling a story through a combination of acting, singing, and dancing. It is a very entertaining art form, and with the aid of music, can be very powerful emotionally. Provided we produce quality musicals that can speak and touch our audiences, we will find a very large and loyal audience. Families love musicals, and children are often enthralled by the experience. It is good to start young, and introduce musicals into schools.

- Why aren't we developing our own brand of musicals?

Producing musicals is relatively expensive compared to straight plays and concerts. We do not have sufficient support from either government or private companies giving financial support to musical theatre on a long-term basis. Writers and composers have little opportunities to see their works staged, and therefore they will eventually stop writing. Without a flurry of new works, we go not have the opportunity to evolve our own brand of musicals.

We are strongly influenced by Western musicals, and the big megamusicals like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables have made their mark in Singapore. Audiences like to watch these large scale spectacular musicals, and they in turn influence the style of musicals written.

- What does it take to make our own world-class musicals?

We need to tell our own unique Singapore stories in a way that engages our audience. To be world-class the quality of the musicals must be of the highest level, with world-class performers and staging. This requires courage, and a leap of faith, not only to write ground-breakingly original musicals but also to give them the best possible staging.

- What elements would go into it?

We should be more willing to explore Asian music and theatre. On the one hand we can explore the fusion of Western and Eastern styles, and on the other hand we should write about ourselves, and let our imagination soar. We need to explore developing our musicals with film, television, puppetry, multimedia, animation, and computer games. There is considerable creative synergism when different media meet.

In general, we need to stage more original musicals, and lower ticket prices so that we can develop our own new audience base.

- What about turning local stories into huge stage musicals?

We have a wealth of local stories, myths, and folk tales. This is a huge reservoir of untapped stories, to be told in our own unique way. Huge stage musicals are expensive and the risk of failure is high.

Therefore, to start off, we should do small-to-medium-scale musicals, until we are confident in producing quality musicals.

- Do you think we can export our musicals around the world?

Yes, I believe there is a hunger for new musicals. A local story with universal themes can be exported internationally. We need to concentrate on creating a large number of original works because it is unpredictable which ones can be exported.

- What stories/material are worth turning into stage musicals?

Personal stories, historical stories, myths, and folk tales are eminently suitable for turning into stage musicals. But in essence, we are only limited by our own imagination. It used to be said that horror, action, and extremely sad stories are not suitable for musical theatre. However, this is being disproven, as musicals in these genres are being produced and gaining popularity. In short, the sky's the limit!

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