ASKING QUESTIONS ON A RAISED PLATFORM
by SingaporeArt

 

The Esplanade Theaters on the Bay have been both affectionately and derisively christened "The Durians" after a spiky-looking Southeast Asian fruit has a 2,000-seat theater, a 1,600-seat concert hall and outdoor performance spaces. The project cost US$337 million, about 600 million Singapore dollars.

Critics wonder how a censorship-heavy place like Singapore can genuinely become a haven for artists, who are known to always question the status quo, however, other Singaporeans are happy that the city-state is emphasizing  the finer things in life.

"We don't need censorship... we need informed responsible dialogue and discussion," says Sasitharan, director of the Practice Performing Arts School, and a signatory of the proposal containing 250 names calling for relaxation of censorship that has been submitted to the government. He has been quoted in the Straits Times newspaper as saying, "The existing rules are patently irrational and unnecessary, not to mention ineffective in this day and age."

Lee Weng Choy, artistic co-director of the Substation says: "As good as the Esplanade may be at trying to engage the local arts, and even deepening and diversifying local arts audiences, it's the wrong beast for this thing." The fear among local artists and critics is that the Esplanade may create demand for international acts rather than local art in a soft-spoken Singapore that has been sensually massaged and brought up on commercial theatre, American and Hong Kong television, Broadway musicals, and Hollywood movies.

Singapore spent about US$8 per capita on arts funding in 2001, excluding capital expenditure. This was double the US$4 per capital of 2000, but lagged far behind London at US$61 per capita in 1997, New York US$19 per head in 1998, and Hong Kong at US$28 per capita in 2001.