THERE’S an adage in theater that no matter what, “the show must go on.” That is especially true — and challenging — in the time of a pandemic that prohibits any sort of gathering. For Singaporean theater company T:> Works, the focus is all about creating new works for the digital platform.
“Our priority is really to create new performances on the digitalized platform,” Ong Ken Sen, the group’s artistic director, said in a digital press conference on April 30.
Originally called TheatreWorks, T:> Works is a 35-year-old theater company that produced Singapore’s first musical, Beauty World, in 1988, among other original Singaporean productions. The group has so far done more than 200 productions, with more than 2,500 performances.
Mr. Ong has been the artistic director of T:> Works since 1988 — interrupted in 2010 when he took a hiatus to complete his doctorate degree in Performance Studies at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
In its long history, Mr. Ong admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic is the “first global disruption [he] experienced in the arts,” and that it forced theater to digitize performance.
“In a way, this is the early days of digitalization of performance… however [the new] visual identity also hints that digitalization still has to go back to the source (analog). It cannot be simply about the bleakness of technology,” he said, noting that the performance of the future is about integration.
The shift to digital also prompted the group to change its name from TheatreWorks to T:> Works.
But while the shift to digital is happening, Mr. Ong noted that the performing arts world should consider how far digital can go in terms of providing the experience.
“I think as a community of arts, audiences, and artists we have to ask: when is human intimacy necessary for us to make sense of our lives? When do we need to stand in front of a painting and not just information from the web. When is information from the web no longer sufficient experience?” he said.
Aside from creating new performances, the company will also be conducting curators training from May to June, as well as holding a virtual festival for women called Women NOW (Not Ordinary Work).
“We are always curating perspectives of the US and Europe. What would happen if curators were trained looking at the context of Southeast Asia specifically,” he said in an insert video explaining the establishment of Curators Academy in 2018.
The curators training course, titled Curating No-thing, consists of four lectures done via video-conferencing platform Zoom. There will also be virtual consultations for select participants.
“Many artists, writers, producers, and cultural workers are already curating in their daily work, but there is little reflection space for them to evaluate what curating is, how to curate and for whom they should be curating,” he said in the digital conference.
The lectures will cover topics including creating worlds, ethical generosity, rethinking value, and listening. They will run on May 19, 21, 26, and 28, while consultation sessions are on June 9, 11, 16, and 18.
Women NOW is a virtual festival created and developed entirely by women and will be helmed by Singaporean arts educator and actress Noorlinah Mohamed. The festival will run from July 15 to Aug. 2, and more details will be released soon.
“Coming back during the COVID-19 pandemic is a special challenge. However, I believe it galvanizes our resolve to continue creating during these difficult times,” Mr. Ong said.
Because of the pandemic, he expects that the performing arts community will lose two out of 10 people who go and watch their performances but that the physical audience they may lose may be able to be brought back via digital performances.
“In this current urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a time to sustain a different gathering of arts, audiences, and artists,” he said. — Zsarlene B. Chua