S'pore arts companies 'blindsided' by new Covid-19 restrictions postpone shows

Actress Pam Oei with composer Julian Wong (left) in Faghag by Wild Rice at the Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre @ Wild.
Actress Pam Oei with composer Julian Wong (left) in Faghag by Wild Rice at the Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre @ Wild.PHOTO: RUEY LOON

SINGAPORE - Performing arts shows are on hold once more as Singapore returns to phase two (heightened alert) from July 22. Wild Rice's ongoing Fag Hag and upcoming Don't Call Him Mr Mari Kita have both been postponed. Pangdemonium's The Mother, which was postponed once from June, will now move to October.

The audience cap for live shows is reduced to 100 from 250 with pre-event testing, and remains at 50 without.

Pangdemonium's co-founder and director of the play Tracie Pang, 53, says the new restrictions were a shock. "Whilst we were prepared for the postponement in May, this time around it has totally blindsided us. We were back in rehearsals and ready to move into the theatre next week."

The show had sold more than 75 per cent of its tickets for an audience capacity of 250 a night.

"The new restrictions also require actors to be masked, which makes the performance really untenable. So, we have been left with the only choice - to postpone The Mother to October," she adds.

The postponement will have financial repercussions. She points out: "The knock-on effect is that we will lose our planned October show, and all the cast and crew that were booked for that will have just lost another job. We shall also lose any potential income we were hoping for to help us mitigate the huge losses incurred from the past year and a half."

At Wild Rice, founder and artistic director Ivan Heng is also toting up the costs of a return to phase two (heightened alert). Fag Hag, which sold out its extended run, employs about 40 people on and off the stage.

Heng, 57, is upset over what he calls an "undiscerning" and "blunt" restriction on live performances: "The live singing we are doing is quite different from the live singing in KTV lounges."

During the run of Fag Hag, Wild Rice spent about $50,000 on pre-event testing for audience members, an expenditure which is not covered by grants. "We accept the cost because there are so many jobs and livelihoods at stake." About 45 to 50 per cent of Fag Hag's audience members were already vaccinated and some 60 tests were carried out every night.

Heng says theatre audiences have observed strict social distancing since venues reopened. "People queue to be admitted, they are masked and seated during the performances. They are not wandering around. The performers have already been vaccinated.

"It is quite important to note that for our industry, because we have taken such stringent measures and strict safety protocols, we have not had a single Covid case since we reopened."

The Opera People's production of Alcina is due to be staged on Aug 20 and 22, just on the cusp of the tentative end to phase two (heightened alert) on Aug 18. The Opera People's co-founder Shridar Mani, 33, says: "We're on hold for the next two weeks to see how the situation pans out. We planned for this at the last phase two to go fully digital if need be, but this is of course very disappointing because we were really looking forward to performing for a live audience."

The two-night run has already sold more than 150 tickets in less than a week, reflecting the demand from audiences for live performances.

He adds: "Ticket sales are the lifeblood of making ends meet in a production like this. It is harder for us to meet costs for the production, especially so close to the show date."

It is not just live shows which are affected. 

Ms Thava Rani Mohan, 52, company manager of Bhaskar Arts which runs dance classes for more than 600 students under its teaching wing Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society, says it has been a taxing time. “In the last two weeks, there’s been three different updates and reorganising classes to cater to the latest restrictions has not been easy.” 

Sriwana’s artistic director Fauziah Hanom Yusof, 58, says the troupe has received more than 30 cancellations for its kompang wedding performances. Going online does not ameliorate the challenges posed by restrictions: “The limit on indoor mask-on classes makes it challenging for us to manage rehearsals as well as recordings for virtual presentations.”