Sunday, July 27, 2008

Singapore Musical Theatre

Singapore Musical Theatre

by Kenneth Lyen

Musical theatre is a relatively young art form in Singapore. Compared to the West, we do not have a long tradition of musical theatre, and thus every musical produced here, both homegrown and imported, can be considered novel.

Singapore is at the crossroads between the Far East and the West. Our musical theatre influences are from England and the USA on the one hand, China and Japan on the other, and perhaps to a lesser extent, South-East Asia and India.

The first Singapore musical written and staged was Makan Place in 1988, and in that same year, Beauty World by Dick Lee made its appearance. Both were in English, and were heavily influenced by Broadway and the West End. English language musicals continue to dominate our landscape, and it is only relatively recently that Chinese language musicals like Snow Wolf Lake (1996), Lao Jiu (2005) and A Kung Fu Tale (2006), have emerged.

Our audience size for musical theatre is relatively small compared to western countries, and this may be related to the lack of a strong tradition of theatre attendance. It translates into short runs and unfilled seats, which in turn means greater difficulties in finding investors. Getting funding for musical theatre is a worldwide problem, and here in Singapore we are not spared this agony. Although our Government and some philanthropists are supporting the arts, it is not sufficient.

Mega-shows like Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon have relatively large advertising budgets, and so they have been well-attended here. Small home-grown musicals generally do not have the budget for pizzazz, let alone aggressive marketing, and so they tend to be ignored by our local audience. We also suffer from the "prophet-not-recognized-in-his-own-land" syndrome. Imported goods are superior to indigenous stuff!

Our writers and composers, not bounded by West End or Broadway traditions, are more willing to experiment. With the added benefit of being a highly computer- and multimedia-savvy country, we are able to combine both Eastern influences and computer technology. We hope to evolve a new musical form that takes advantages of all these influences.Another potential advantage we have is that the cost of a production is still relatively low. A good production can be mounted at around Sing$250,000. This contrasts with the several millions of dollars that must be spent in the USA and UK. Also, we have fairly decent new theatres with good acoustics and other facilities.Finding outstanding directors, choreographers, performers, musicians, lighting and sound designers, etc., remains a perennial problem. We have had to start from a relatively lower level, but gradually we are building up our expertise. It is a continuing struggle, but we're getting there.

A few of our musicals, like Chang and Eng (1997) and Beauty World (1988), have traveled overseas. It is the ambition of our theatre companies to bring more productions overseas, and hopefully one day reach the two Meccas of musical theatre, namely, Broadway and the West End.

Musical theatre in Singapore is fresh, energetic, and constantly evolving. We hope to find our own unique voice, influenced by the West, and yet different from it.

In 2003, The Musical Theatre Society was formed to help develop the appreciation and creation of new musicals. The Creative Community Singapore, a joint project of The Ministry of Information and the Arts and the National Arts Council, has given this society a grant to incubate new musicals. In 2006 we developed a further twelve new musicals, six showcased as no-frills readings in March, and the remaining six in June 2006 as part of the Singapore Festival of Arts fringe. In 2007, we are developing 20 more made-in-Singapore musicals. Therefore out of the 37 musicals that we will have incubated, we hope that a few will make it to the main program of the Singapore Festival of Arts.

Musical theatre is an important art form with important spin-offs in community bonding, tourist attraction, the promotion of a creative industry for a creative city, and there is considerable cross-fertilization with other related industries including multimedia, film, and animation. Therefore, it should be actively supported by the Singapore Government.

No comments: