How Singapore’s Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay is preparing for the future

Yvonne Tham will take over as CEO of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay when Benson Puah, who has steered the venue from its very beginnings, departs on 1 August. As assistant CEO at Esplanade since 2014, Tham is well placed to take over at the helm. One major development will be the construction of a compact waterfront theatre for presenting new works, set to open in 2021. Tham writes for IAM on how Singapore’s shiniest venue is preparing for the future.

Esplanade is committed to developing the Singapore arts industry and we have been doing so since day one, when we opened 20 years ago. Every year, more than 80% of the artists we present are local and we have various platforms to showcase their talents. Our annual calendar of festivals and series help to develop the different arts genres and provide platforms for artists to experiment, perform and grow artistically, all whilst building strong audiences.

Esplanade’s existing platforms to develop the Singapore arts sector include our presentations of free programmes that provide regular opportunities for our artists to perform, present their original work and develop their artistic voice. Our national role in developing new works, as well as artistic and technical capabilities for the industry, by working in close partnership with Singapore, regional and international artists will continue to thrive.

Our free programmes include music performances every evening at the Esplanade Concourse and every Friday to Sunday evening and on public holidays at our Outdoor Theatre. Free programmes are also an integral component of all Esplanade Presents festivals and in fact, some of our festivals are entirely free including Baybeats (an alternative music festival), and our annual Voices – A Festival of Song in Dec.

Since 2003, we have also been presenting a monthly Beautiful Sunday programme series which features homegrown music groups and gives them the opportunity to perform in our wonderful Concert Hall. A majority of our visual arts programmes at various venues around Esplanade also feature works of Singapore artists.

In addition to our emphasis to present local artists, many of our festivals also feature various mentorship programmes for budding young talents for example the budding bands, photographers, video artists and writers mentorship programmes as part of Baybeats, our indie music festival, hip-hop dance masterclasses and a dance challenge mentored by leading hip-hop choreographers during da:ns festival. We also have an intensive 10-week jazz mentorship programme entitled Mosaic Jazz Fellows (previously known as the Bright Young Things) which allows young, aspiring jazz musicians to have an opportunity to be mentored by established Singapore jazz musicians and music educators. They then get to perform at Jazz in July, Esplanade’s free month-long jazz celebration.

Collaboration platforms are another essential tool for Esplanade to contribute to the growth of the Singapore arts industry. Collaborations strengthen programme diversity at Esplanade and allow us to work closely with local artists and arts groups to help develop their capabilities by encouraging them to take on larger scale works, which they would not normally be able to undertake without the support of another industry player, thus bringing a greater vibrancy to the industry.

These programmes, which have helped grow and nurture artists in Singapore, feature largely local companies and allow for exchanges among artists here and abroad. They include regular programme series such as The Studios, and Chinese Chamber Music series, and other collaborations such as the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, SIFAS Indian Festival of Music and Dance, and A Jazzy Christmas.

Over the last few years, on top of presenting works, we have also worked with local, regional and international artists on commissioned works and co-productions to facilitate the content creation process. Moving ahead, we want to assume an even larger responsibility as an institution that enables the creation of new work through exploration and providing a safe space for artists to create. We also hope to encourage deeper exploration between our artists and their regional / international counterparts and provide them with suitable spaces to create new works that speak for and of Asia. To do that, we will need to help unlock the potential of our local arts groups and their growing audiences. With our new waterfront theatre, we will be able to increase our artist-in-residence programmes, present more local groups, and offer our audiences a greater variety of works.

To ensure a continuous pipeline of skilled technical crew for the arts and entertainment industry in Singapore, Esplanade has developed a Technical Theatre Training Programme (TTTP), a 12-month training programme that provides entry-level training in technical theatre operations and facilitates the upgrading of skills in technical theatre crew in the different aspects of technical theatre. The centre has also been recognised as a Continuing Education and Training (CET) Centre by Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) which acknowledges Esplanade’s technical training programmes under the Creative Industries Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) framework as the standard for the technical theatre industry in Singapore.

Since its inception, Esplanade has been running the Technical Theatre Foundation Course aimed at equipping individuals with comprehensive understanding and practical knowledge of what goes on behind the stage in theatre productions. The programme covers the different aspects of technical theatre in the respective areas of: Stage Management, Stage Lighting and Performance Sound.

We also run Technical Theatre Specialist programmes for existing practitioners in the field. Some courses that have been conducted include:

  • Rigging for the Entertainment Industry
  • Role of a Master Electrician
  • Role of a Production Manager
  • Supervising Safely in Theatre
  • Working Safely in Theatre

Every year, Esplanade also hosts about 80 local trainees who are keen to learn about the industry. We give them a first-hand experience of working in a busy arts centre like ours and provide the learning opportunities for these trainees ranging from areas of programming, marketing to front of house and technical production. In addition, we also host management trainees from overseas arts centres. During their visit, we help them to learn and understand the different areas of operations in the centre and share how we manage an arts centre with over 3,000 events a year.

Our casuals (part-time staff such as ushers, artist liaison officers, technical production crew, etc) are a valuable resource to augment and complement the full-time team. When they are recruited, we provide certification training to ensure that they receive the necessary foundation in terms of skills and knowledge to work in the centre. Such training encourages our casuals with the confidence to work effectively at their respective jobs.

This is an extract of an article published in the August 2018 edition of IAM. To subscribe to the magazine and read the full article click here.