Contemporary Classics: Balance Between New And Repertory Works

The Finger Players will be having encore performances of Contemporary Classics on two weekends this October. Bringing POOP! as well as The Spirits Play onto the big stage at Victoria Theatre, we have noticed that there has been plenty of restaging of works this year.

Looking at W!LD RICE’s La Cage Aux Folles and the Singapore Repertory Theatre’s Forbidden City: Portrait of An Empress, this year has been a year of reflection for theatre. Putting up more mature works with a mix of the new and old theatre practitioners, this gives the chance for audience members to experience the shows if they missed out on them earlier. It also provides a space for the works to be further developed and thought through – to make it even better and to surprise.

Some questions would inevitably come to mind about these decisions to restage: Will people choose to give them a miss because they have seen it before? Which works are worth spending dollars to experience again? How do we balance the churning out of new work while having the space to further develop older ones?

Popspoken speaks to The Finger Players’ Company Director Chong Tze Chien to find out why the decision to restage works, and will this be a move forward for Singapore’s theatre scene.

Popspoken: Why is it important to restage previously staged works? Do you think the continual churning of new work is the way to go for theatre companies in Singapore?
Tze Chien: Since our 15th anniversary in 2014 we have made a conscientious effort to bring back old works on a regular basis as we believe there aren’t enough restagings in Singapore.

The truth is that there is a fetish for new works in our scene. without a repertory season as part of our ecosystem, we build a history of amnesia, one that spawns a gulf of knowledge in terms of art history/critical discourse; it also deprives practitioners and audiences the opportunity and platform to revisit/refine old works/classics that, under the right circumstances, will mature like wine-You only need to give it more time before it reaches the maximum reach and full potential, one that deserves to be seen by the entire world.

My experience working on Esplanade’s fifty (a festival of 50 iconic Singapore plays) in 2015 confirmed my suspicion that we haven’t caught up with the gems that the scene has created over the years. At any given time, even in the biggest theatre with the longest run, a theatre work can only reach out to a limited number of people, a mere percentage of the population. Many of the gems that were written decades ago found new audiences in the fifty festival. The audience is out there. We can’t always rely on new works to grow this audience pool. Old works, the classics in our canon deserve a second life, and possibly run for a much longer time before they enter mainstream consciousness and our citizens’ psyche. If we are really committed to capacity building, and building a culture of arts patronage and audienceship, we need this balance between new and repertory works.

We as creators, are also constantly beating our brains out to churn out new ideas and new plays, which is an unhealthy practice. New works in Singapore often die an immature death as there’s a tacit expectation that it should “work” right from the get-go. Restagings help us grow the work and our craft, refining the play/work with each staging.

Restagings are a norm in international theatre scenes. But that could be attributed to the fact that these markets have geographical hinterlands that their works can tour to, finding new audiences along the way. In a small market such as ours, the reality is that the demand may not always be sufficient for restagings to be rewarding. But we are excited with the spirits play making a come back, even though it has only been 2 years since the last staging. A classic is a classic, and it deserves to be seen as often as it should. We have a whole new generation who might have not even heard of Kuo Pao Kun, much less his works. And  on a new stage, Oliver (Chong) is making refinements incorporating new devices for this staging. It will be a whole new experience for new and repeated audiences.
PS: How do we encourage audience members to keep attending these shows, even if they have watched it once before? Can we try to grow arts patrons in the years to come? 
TC: That can only be done with a culture of restagings set in place. We need a regular repertory season featuring the best/theatre classics to grow a regular audience following. And also cultivate a culture for practitioners to revisit their works for refinement. So it’s not just rehash old works but a chance to rework them so that audiences can appreciate the refinements.

Poster - Contemporary Classics



Date: 20th – 22nd October 2017
Venue: Victoria Theatre
Time: Friday to Saturday – 8pm, Saturday & Sunday – 3pm
Admission: From $30 (Concessions available. Get your tickets here.)

Date: 27th – 29th October 2017
Venue: Victoria Theatre
Time: Friday to Saturday – 8pm, Saturday & Sunday – 3pm
Admission: From $35 (Concessions available. Get your tickets here.)
Photographs courtesy of The Finger Players & Credits to Tuckys Photography.
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