Singaporean theatre has evolved through the decades, much of it I was never involved in, not being born early enough. Not that it makes any difference to my enjoyment of The Finger Players’ “Rant and Rave”.
Running for 90 mins, and broken into 3 broad segments, the show gives a succinct recap of the formative 80s, the tumultuous 90s and the transformational 20th century of Singaporean theatre. Played by 2 amazing actresses, Arts NMP Janice Koh and veteran Karen Tan, both seamlessly weaving in and out of characters, with some characters played with such accuracy it brought a smile to my face the moment the character first appeared. I have to point out that Karen’s portrayal of Alvin Tan (Co-founder, The Necessary Stage) was so spot on that many members of the audience were heard giggling.
The one segment that I felt really strongly about was Arts and the Media. There are many times when I find that much of the arts community have this innate sense of martyrdom, and that they are quick to jump against what they perceive as injustice dealt to them, especially by the media. A recent memory was that of Straits Times Life! writer John Lui’s article where he commented about Ilo Ilo not going to be a box office hit in Singapore, despite all the winnings at various international award shows. So many theatre folks on my Facebook timeline went up in arms, calling Lui a fraud, a disgrace and whatever they can think of. The only thought I had at the point in time was, it’s just his opinion. Right or wrong, that’s up to the reader to determine. The industry complains so much about the government thinking that Singaporeans are stupid and not able to think for themselves, yet this incident shows that they don’t even believe Singaporeans are able to think for themselves and judge if an article has its merits or not.
Watching “Rant and Rave”, I feel really sorry for the art critics who are bashed, judged and scorned for their opinion piece. How can the practitioners expect their audience to have an open mind, if they themselves are not willing to give their audience some credit for having a mind of their own. I also do not believe in a comment that was made by a practitioner that basically judged theatre reviewers for their lack of understanding of the process of putting up a production. Why should they need to have that background or experience? Art is about what it means to the viewer, less so about what the director or scriptwriter wants to force down the audience’s throats. The reviewer’s job is to take his experience and put it into context for the person reading his article. A review is, in its very nature, subjective. The very nature of theatre is also the life it takes on its own, sometimes contrary to what the creator’s message really was. Different aspects of the same show will appeal and stand out to different people, and that has always been what makes theatre truly magical. Maybe, instead of snarling at the reviewers, we can take a step back and see how our works have been interpreted, and seek to understand the rationale behind the interpretation. It could even bring a whole new perspective to the show.
In any case, we have only been growing the arts scene for 30 years, I believe it is still too early to demand for maturity in all aspects. And that includes the arts practitioners, the critics, as well as the audience. All the major arts and cultural hubs around the world have had the vast history and more than half a century’s worth of evolution as their foundation and backbone. I also believe that all the challenges that the arts community currently face, will simply become fodder to continuously feed the public as we grow beyond fulfilling our basic needs of food and shelter, and seeking nourishment of the mind and soul.
“Rant and Rave” is on for one last show tomorrow afternoon as part of Esplanade The Studios Season 2014, and I recommend everyone to go catch it while you can.