Arts on a silver platter

A play set in the 1960s about residents of a kampung handed resettlement notices by the Government. A tender short film about an autumnal romance between a grey-haired couple. Nostalgic performances by veteran singer Huang Qing Yuan and 1960s bands The Silver Strings and The Dukes.

These are just some of the senior-focused highlights in the Silver Arts Festival, which will take place at more than 30 venues islandwide from Sept 1 to 25.

There will be more than 40 activities comprising workshops, performances, exhibitions, film screenings and talks, most of which are free or charge a small fee, with discounts for those aged 60 and older.

In its fifth edition, the festival is organised by the National Arts Council to reach out to seniors and engage them through the arts. It has grown from a single weekend in its first edition to four weeks since last year, attracting about 32,700 people. About 40,000 participants are expected this year.

Ms Chua Ai Liang, the council's director of arts and communities, says: "The festival is about celebrating the meaningful possibilities that the arts can bring, especially to seniors. Creativity is not tagged to age."

  • BOOK IT / SILVER ARTS FESTIVAL 2016

  • WHERE: Various locations

    WHEN: Sept 1 to 25

    INFO: silverarts.nac.gov.sg

Some seniors have been hard at work before the festival opens and have tried print-making or 2D animation through community arts projects. Guided by artists, selected pieces of their best works will be exhibited at the National Library in Victoria Street during the festival.

Ms Chua says the festival is not purely for seniors and is a "family programme with the elderly as the focus".

For example, regardless of age, participants can learn how to sing in a choir at a workshop by the Singapore Show Choir Academy on Sept 18. Or, learn to play the ocarina, an ancient Chinese wind instrument, in a two- hour session on Sept 25.


Housewives desperate to act

Housewives Ivy Goh, Tan Ah Moi and Jenny Cheong have formed a tight friendship through a common love of acting, though pursuing their passion had to be postponed till they were much older due to family commitments.

When their children had grown up, the three of them joined Glowers Drama Group, a drama company comprising seniors aged 50 and older, at different times and found kindred spirits in one another.

Madam Goh, 65, says: “I have made a lot of new friends, which isn’t so easy at our age.” She has two children and two grandchildren.

  • BOOK IT / KAMPONG CHEMPEDAK

  • WHERE: Gallery Theatre, National Museum Singapore, 93 Stamford Road

    WHEN: Sept 23 at 7.30pm and Sept 24 at 2.30 and 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: Free but pre-registration is required at www.apactix.com

The women are performing together as neighbours in Kampong Chempedak, a multilingual play based on veteran Singapore writer Roger Jenkins’ book, From The Belly Of The Carp, as part of the Silver Arts Festival.

Set in the late 1960s, the lives of a kampung’s residents are shaken up when they are handed resettlement notices and forced to question their futures. The play will be performed in English, Mandarin and Malay, as well as dialects Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese and Hakka.

Because they had to take care of their families, the three women could not pursue acting sooner.

But they are quickly catching up on lost time. Madam Tan, 78, who has two children and six grandchildren, says: “The feeling of being on stage is very thrilling as I can take on many roles.”

Madam Cheong, 68, adds that it beats “staying at home and staring at the four walls”. She has two sons.

Acting has also brought Madam Goh out of her shell. A shy person by nature, she started working backstage before taking on small roles with just one line.

Gradually, she became confident enough to play more significant characters such as the spunky Ah Lian she plays in the production.

The only times they feel “senior” are when they forget their lines, says Madam Tan.

“We help one another when that happens so the flow is not disrupted. We are all good friends and will carry on doing this as long as possible,” she adds.


New skills in retirement

Retiree John Lum, 66, usually attends talks in his free time, but decided to give a printmaking workshop a shot, having been curious about the art form for some time.

Printmaking involves creating art through transferring an image or a design by contact with a matrix such as a block, plate or screen.

The workshop in June, conducted by printmaker and Lasalle College of the Arts lecturer Lim Bee Ling, was part of the Silver Arts Festival. Twenty senior participants took part in the eight-session workshop.

  • VIEW IT / UNDER LAYERS

  • WHERE: The Plaza, National Library, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: Sept 1 to 25

    ADMISSION: Free

Besides etching a design and screen-printing, Mr Lum notes playfully that it was also the first time he put on an apron. The former administrative manager quips: "I don't wear aprons. I wear the pants at home."

A selection of the best works from the workshop will be on display as part of Under Layers, a free exhibition at the National Library in Victoria Street next month.

Besides printmaking, there were two other workshops, on 2D animated shorts and other visual arts media, such as photography and painting.

During one of the printmaking sessions, the participants went on a field trip to the Civic District and were asked to recall fond memories of the area. Mr Lum picked the Asian Civilisations Museum where he got his first job as a temporary clerk in the 1970s.

He says: "It used to be a government building and was congested and chaotic."

The grandfather of one abhors the idea of sitting at home and refuses to let age get in the way of learning. "We need to keep our minds active. That's why it's important to go out and do things versus sitting at home in front of the TV." He and his wife have one daughter.

The printmaking workshop was a catalyst for him to try other activities. He signed up for a robotics class soon after using the SkillsFuture Credit scheme, which puts $500 into the accounts of each Singapore citizen aged above 25 to be used for education and training.

His creation was a windmill made with Lego blocks and generated by a motor. He says: "I believe robots are the next big thing and I want to stay updated."


A leading film actress at 62

Tina Wah had her big acting break at age 62, playing the lead in a short film, Spring Again.

The 10-minute work, which was commissioned by the Silver Arts Festival for its film festival Silver Films, is about a senior couple's sweet courtship.

It will be screened with three short films, including Grandma Positioning System by director Kelvin Tong from the anthology 7 Letters (2015), at Golden Village theatres on selected dates.

  • BOOK IT / SINGAPORE SILVER SHORTS

  • WHERE: Golden Village theatres

    WHEN: Sept 1, 6, 11, 18 and 25, various times

    ADMISSION: $5 and $2 (aged 60 and above) INFO: Tickets available from Thursday via Golden Village (gv.com.sg)

Wah, an administrative executive and a grandmother of three, has a go-getting, energetic lifestyle that would put to shame many younger than her. She and her husband, a production manager, have a son.

When she was 50, she graduated with double honours in business and human resource management from the University of Portsmouth through a distance-learning course at the Informatics Academy here.

Every year, she travels with her girlfriends to places such as Italy, Hong Kong and Australia. They are planning a trip to Japan in April .

She started acting two years ago when she scored a spot in The Necessary Stage's Theatre For Seniors, a programme that engages the elderly through drama.

She says: "My son and colleagues told me I talk very dramatically and told me to join a drama group... so I did."

After acting in a few plays, she was cast in the short film - her biggest role to date. She is still getting used to the filming processes.

Laughing sheepishly, she shares a funny moment when her character was supposed to be eating a plate of chicken rice.She couldn't tell if the cameras were rolling, so she did not pace herself and just kept eating.

"I ate it all before we finished the scene," she says. "I was so blur."

She brushes aside these little setbacks as part of the learning process.

She adds that enjoying life "depends on whether you want to step out and learn".

"Within the four walls of the house, you can't find happiness and joy."


Not too tired to perform

Put veteran musician Jerry Murad, 68, in any setting - a snazzy concert hall, a nightclub, a wedding or a funeral - and he will be ready to perform. The multi-instrumentalist plays the guitar, drums, flute, clarinet and tenor sax. And he also sings.

Why did he pick up so many instruments? "Why not?" he says. "Music has been with me all my life."

In the 1960s, he fronted The Dukes, a popular home-grown band in an era considered Singapore's golden age of music.

They disbanded in the 1970s, but Murad has remained active in the music scene here, regularly performing solo or with other bands.

  • VIEW IT /YESTERDAY ONCE MORE

  • WHERE: The Plaza, National Library

    WHEN: Sept 18, 3 to 4pm

    ADMISSION: Free


    REMEMBERING P. RAMLEE

    WHERE: The Plaza, National Library

    WHEN: Sept 25, 3 to 4pm

    ADMISSION: Free

Two years ago, The Dukes reunited. Retired or semi-retired, the members decided that playing together again was one way "to grow old fruitfully", says Murad. All four members are men in their 60s.

They have held a few gigs and the latest one will be on Sept 18, alongside fellow 1960s band, The Silver Strings, in a concert at the Silver Arts Festival.

The Dukes will perform covers of hits from the biggest names of that era, including Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard.

A week later, Murad will be playing the tenor saxophone with the Orkestra Melayu Singapura and its youth wing OMS Belia, in a tribute concert to film and music legend P. Ramlee.

These performances are just part of Murad's already busy schedule.

Besides The Dukes and the orchestra, he is with three other bands and performs solo too.

He also teaches music at the Overseas Family School.

He has no plans to take it easy any time soon.

"I have never given thought to slowing down. To me, it is part and parcel of life to just keep going and since I can still do it, why not?" says Murad, who lives in the eastern part of Singapore with his wife and their three children, who are in their 20s.

The only difference he feels now is that he gets tired easily after a performance, but he adds with a smile: "That's a normal response at my age, no?"


Veteran still singing after 51 years

Septuagenarian singer Huang Qing Yuan, whose heyday was in the 1960s and 1970s, is still very much in demand these days.

In the next three months, he will be performing at seven concerts here and in Malaysia - the dates are jotted down neatly on a sheet of A4 paper stuck on the wall of his shop at Golden Landmark Shopping Complex. The gigs include next month's Golden Hits Of Yesteryears Music Concert, which is part of the Silver Arts Festival.

"I really enjoy singing. Even if I'm sick, I feel fine once I go onstage and hear the music. Three months after I had heart bypass surgery in 2013, I flew to Surabaya to perform," says Huang, 71, who runs a beauty and skincare products business.

A grandfather of seven from the three children he has with his 74-year-old wife, he says he chooses to continue his performing career of 51 years for the sake of his fans. He also gladly obliges requests for selfies on the streets and keeps a ready stack of photos to hand out to fans who turn up at his shop.

  • BOOK IT / GOLDEN HITS OF YESTERYEARS MUSIC CONCERT

  • WHERE: Kallang Theatre, 1 Stadium Walk

    WHEN: Sept 18, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $10 for stall seats, $8 for circle seats; $5 concession tickets for senior citizens aged 60 and older. Buy tickets from APACTix ( www.apactix.com)

His die-hard followers savoured his live singing daily for 12 years at a club till it closed in 2011 because the hotel in Bukit Timah which it was located in was demolished.

"My fans were upset and asked me where they could go to watch me sing," says Huang, who adds that he could not find another suitable venue for a daily gig.

At the Golden Hits concert next month, he is hard- pressed to draw up his setlist from an impressive repertoire of 800 songs, but says he will most certainly belt out his rousing love ballad Man Li.

"It is a song that you will never grow tired of listening to. The melody is beautiful and the lyrics are easy to remember."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2016, with the headline 'Arts on a silver platter'. Print Edition | Subscribe