Like so many industries, the pandemic has widely impacted theatre as the work of artists is dependent on live experiences. In Malaysia, it is reported by the Tourism, Culture, and Arts Ministry that the culture and arts industry has suffered losses up to a staggering amount of RM85 million.
Meanwhile, in Singapore, it was reported last year that the local arts scene had lost $2.6 million in box office receipts. While it is a dire situation indeed, this has allowed for artists to find more creative and innovative ways of showcasing their works, which includes delivering virtual shows.
For the first time ever, Singapore stages the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA 2021) with a format of live, hybrid, and digital programmes, one of the first international arts festivals in the world to do so in light of the pandemic. Happening from 5th to 20th June 2021, art enthusiasts can catch live performances, special ensembles, dance and musical performances, and theatrical delights from the comfort of their own home via SIFA on Demand.
One of the many shows to catch is The Year of No Return by Singapore theatre company The Necessary Stage Ltd. A ground-breaking interdisciplinary collaboration with artists from Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore, the show seeks to unravel the complications in humanity’s response to climate change.
Malaysian actor, Tan Guo Lian is one of its cast members. As a trained martial artist from an early age, Lian constantly seeks to merge his talents to tell stories in varied and engaging ways. He is a graduate of the BA (Hons) Acting program at LASALLE College of the Arts has recently completed his Masters in Arts Pedagogy and Practice where he researched the pre-performance rituals of professional actors in Singapore. We talk to him about his participation in the show.
Given that the audience plays an important role in fuelling the encouragement of actors, how have social distancing and virtual shows affected the dynamic of the performance?
“Honestly, at this point, most of us are just happy we can tread the boards once more. People will watch it differently; the experience of getting a swab test half an hour before you enter the theatre, the sparse empty seats in between each lucky few to get a ticket, or even clicking play on your computer screen at home. The numbers of the audience aren’t felt by the actor the same way, but what you do feel, is a strong sense of support – everyone who is watching, is watching the play differently because of our current situation. There is warmth there. There is love. The feeling that we are the lucky ones.”