ASKING QUESTIONS ON A RAISED PLATFORM
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
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.