Fringe fest cuts 2 shows after rating denial

Canadian performance artist Thea Fitz-James' Naked Ladies is one of two shows that will be cut from next year's M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. The two shows were denied ratings by IMDA.
Canadian performance artist Thea Fitz-James' Naked Ladies is one of two shows that will be cut from next year's M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. The two shows were denied ratings by IMDA.PHOTO: THE NECESSARY STAGE

Organisers of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival will cut two shows from next year's line-up, rather than reshape and resubmit them for classification.

The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) had said on Nov 25 that performance lecture Naked Ladies by Thea Fitz-James and interactive piece Undressing Room by Ming Poon had "excessive nudity". Both exceeded the R18 rating under the Arts Entertainment Classification Code and could not be performed here.

IMDA said then that the organisers could change the shows and resubmit them for classification.

In a statement released yesterday, the organisers said Canadian performance artist Fitz-James and Singaporean dancer Poon were willing to amend the works to meet current guidelines. The organisers, however, decided against this as they said any changes would compromise the artistic integrity of both works.

This being so, patrons who bought tickets for the two shows will receive full refunds, the organisers said. Sistic will reverse charges on credit cards used to purchase tickets for the two shows.

Those with queries can contact the festival organisers (e-mail info@singaporefringe.com or call 6440-8115).

An IMDA spokesman said in response: "IMDA has been informed by (The Necessary Stage) that it has withdrawn its applications for Naked Ladies and Undressing Room.  

"Even though the original performances clearly exceeded the Arts Entertainment Classification Code guidelines, IMDA was prepared to consider a modified performance which could be performed under an R18 rating.

"IMDA notes (The Necessary Stage's) decision not to do so but to instead withdraw the entire performance from the M1 Fringe Festival."

The festival, which was started in 2005 by home-grown theatre group The Necessary Stage, is known for its boundary-pushing shows and recorded an attendance of 9,900 this year.

Its 13th edition will run from Jan 4 to 15, with the theme Art & Skin. The curatorial team is led by artistic director Sean Tobin, head of the School of the Art's faculty of theatre.

In Undressing Room, the dancer and an audience member undress in private. The idea is to relate to a stranger without the "protective skin" of clothing, according to the festival programme booklet.

Naked Ladies is a lecture given in the nude to address public perception of the female body. Performance artist Fitz-James inserts her finger into her private parts at one point.

In their statement, the organisers said IMDA's assessment of both performances was ironic as the works "make deliberate attempts to distinguish nudity from sexualised connotations". They added that the works were not lewd, "nor was there any artistic intent to titillate".

On Nov 22, a Facebook page called Singaporeans Defending Marriage And Family compared these shows to "a solicitation for a public sex act".

In contrast, the organisers' statement yesterday said the works advocated "body positive messages as well as a sense of personal candour and community trust".

"Ultimately, the licensing process - along with the online furore surrounding these works - deems that society at present is not ready for these cutting-edge, intelligent works," they added.

The organisers also invited detractors to approach them and engage in discussion "in a safe, private space, where we can mutually share our concerns", rather than send anonymous letters.

Last week, artists network Arts Engage also issued an open letter on its website, questioning the process used to deny both shows ratings. It called the rating denial "retrograde moral policing".

IMDA, however, defended its stance, saying: "Artistic expression cannot be an end in itself, without due consideration for social mores."

•The official website of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival is www.singaporefringe.com

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2016, with the headline 'Fringe fest cuts 2 shows after rating denial'. Print Edition | Subscribe