Kreta Ayer theatre to undergo extensive renovation for a year

Kreta Ayer People's Theatre building is now managed by People's Association, giving it access to much-needed funds for a renovation.
Kreta Ayer People's Theatre building is now managed by People's Association, giving it access to much-needed funds for a renovation.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Under new management, the Kreta Ayer People's Theatre building is set for an overhaul that includes fixing its leaky roof and faulty electrical system

The Kreta Ayer People's Theatre building in Chinatown, famous for staging Chinese opera performances, will close for extensive renovation for a year starting from next month.

Since January, the building's management has been transferred from the Kreta Ayer People's Theatre Foundation to the People's Association (PA).

Before that, the theatre was managed by the foundation since its opening in 1969.

The management transfer allows the foundation to focus on promoting Chinese culture through organising activities such as theatrical arts, operas and concerts, said Dr Lily Neo, who heads the theatre's management committee and also sits on the foundation's board.

In an interview with The Straits Times on Monday, Dr Neo, 63, said the theatre is in poor condition, with a leaking roof and an electrical system prone to tripping.

Arts groups using the theatre have asked for better sound and lighting equipment, a refurbished backstage area and more space to store props, costumes and make- up, she added.

But because of the foundation's limited funds, it has been slow to undertake any major renovation of the venue in recent years.

The theatre runs exclusively on earnings from performances and public donations.

While Dr Neo declined to disclose the size of these funds, she said it has shrunk over the years.

"Whatever we earned or collected from other groups was never enough to cover the building's maintenance. A major renovation would have put the funds in very bad shape.

"So we hope the new arrangement will slow down the use of the foundation's funds and allow it to focus on organising activities, such as field trips for schoolchildren, to promote Chinese culture."

PA will foot the bill for the upcoming renovation - including re-roofing and re-wiring the building - maintain and clean it, as well as collect rentals from groups that use the space.

The decision to do something about the theatre's sustainability was unanimously agreed upon by the six members of the foundation's board of directors, which include Dr Neo, National University of Singapore Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee, former member of parliament Phua Bah Lee and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing.

A few years ago, the foundation reached out to PA and, in 2015, the association agreed to take over the building's management.

A spokesman for PA said it agreed to manage and upkeep the facility because it recognises the role that the theatre plays in bringing people together through community arts.

He said: "With PA managing the facility, more arts and culture programmes to serve residents of all ages can be held, and both PA and the theatre can benefit from the increased usage of the facility.

"This will certainly add to the vibrancy of the neighbourhood and offer more programmes that residents can enjoy."

Dr Neo said that PA has also agreed to give the foundation priority to use the space for its activities.

The theatre, which can seat more than 1,000 people, stages about 60 performances a year. It is expected to re-open in July next year.

Ms See Too Hoi Siang, 56, vice- chairman and lead actress of Chinese opera company Chinese Theatre Circle, welcomes the renovation.

The Chinese opera practitioner, who last performed at the theatre in the early 2000s, said: "We stopped using that theatre because the facilities were old. There were also only a few dressing rooms, which were very small.

Ms See Too, who won Outstanding Young Persons of the World award, given by non-profit organisation Junior Chamber International, in 2001, adds: "After the renovation, I will certainly consider performing there again. After all, our company is located very near the theatre."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2017, with the headline 'Kreta Ayer theatre gets new lease of life'. Print Edition | Subscribe