Sifa 2021: Triple threat as Pangdemonium, SRT, Wild Rice join forces

SRT's Gaurav Kripalani (left), Pangdemonium's Adrian Pang and Wild Rice's Ivan Heng (seated) will play characters based on themselves.
SRT's Gaurav Kripalani (left), Pangdemonium's Adrian Pang and Wild Rice's Ivan Heng (seated) will play characters based on themselves.PHOTO: CRISPIAN CHAN

SINGAPORE - Home-grown theatre groups Pangdemonium, Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) and Wild Rice are joining forces again for a meta-theatrical satire about three companies staging a play together.

The Commission, one of the highlights of the Singapore International Festival of Arts, is the first stage collaboration between the three groups, all major players in the local theatre scene.

Written by Ken Kwek and directed by Tracie Pang, it is a sequel to The Pitch, a pandemic-inspired short film about the shuttering of theatres last year.

The Pitch was the groups' first-ever collaboration and helped them raise more than $120,000.

SRT's Gaurav Kripalani, Pangdemonium's Adrian Pang and Wild Rice's Ivan Heng will again play characters based on themselves, as they clash over how they think the play should be done. This time, they will do it in their natural element - onstage.

Pang, 55, puts on a movie-trailer voice: "Three companies, three divas, three egos, together at last. Are you ready, Singapore?"

Kripalani, 49, says that when the idea for The Commission was first brought up, they all laughed. "Slowly the idea took hold when we realised it might actually be possible."

This is his last bow as Sifa director, which means he is trying to simultaneously helm the festival and perform in it.

"It seemed like such a good idea at the time," he tells The Straits Times drily, downing his third cup of coffee for the day.

Pang scoffs: "He hardly breaks a sweat. Look at him, he wears a suit."

The Commission is an ode to theatre-makers, says Heng, 57, the founder of Wild Rice - "what we go through as producers, as actors, as directors... what it means to dedicate your life to the theatre".

The three men have diverse working styles, says Pang, who founded Pangdemonium with his wife Tracie. "The way we learn our lines, the way we don't learn our lines." This appears to be a dig at Kripalani. "It's three very different energies forced into a cell together, trying not to kill each other," he adds with a laugh.

The Commission is funny and irreverent, but also tinged with pathos, Kripalani says, as it reflects what the arts industry is going through.

Performing arts groups have been badly bruised by Covid-19, reckoning with cancellations, closures and restrictions on seating capacity in theatres.

Tickets to The Commission sold out within an hour, but only about 35 per cent of the seats at Wild Rice's Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre in Funan mall will be filled when the play is staged. Heng laments that Covid-19 regulations for performers seem strict compared with restaurants.

"I can't go to Holland Village or Robertson Walk on a Saturday night without feeling angry, because just look at the huge crowds everywhere in restaurants. You feel hard done by, you just don't understand it."

Pang says: "We really would love to push for sensible and reasonable further expansion of audience capacities. And we know audiences are ready to come back, judging by the responses to our own productions in the last four or five months. People are hungry for it."

Kripalani says that the three companies, contrary to what some people think, are not competitors.

"This friendship is one of the silver linings of Covid. The pandemic absolutely brought us together.

"When you have a young industry, when there's a hit on the street, it benefits everyone. And if there's a flop on the street, we all suffer - if there's one bad production and that's the first experience someone has of theatre, they're never coming back. So it's important that we are all doing well and supporting each other."