$10 front-row seats for students at 2018 arts festival

Octavia E. Butler's sci-fi book Parable Of The Sower is revitalised in a musical adaptation by Toshi Reagon, directed by Eric Ting and produced by Wang Meiyin.
Octavia E. Butler's sci-fi book Parable Of The Sower is revitalised in a musical adaptation by Toshi Reagon, directed by Eric Ting and produced by Wang Meiyin.PHOTO: TOSHI REAGON AND BERNICE JOHNSON REAGON

SINGAPORE - Students can buy $10 front-row seats for most shows at this year's Singapore International Festival of Arts (Sifa), which runs earlier than usual from April 26 to May 12.

The earlier timing aims to build more buzz around the annual arts festival, which was usually held in August and September, which meant competing for attention with National Day and the Singapore Grand Prix.

The $10 seats are to encourage more young viewers to attend major international productions such as acclaimed tap dancer Michelle Dorrance's showcase The Blues Project, a blues-themed sci-fi opera based on Octavia E. Butler's acclaimed 1993 novel Parable Of The Sower.

Festival director Gaurav Kripalani told The Straits Times that these cheap and good seats would be a hallmark of his three-year term at the helm. "Growing up, the arts festival was my exposure to arts and the world. Watching the Ninagawa Macbeth 26 years ago shaped my appreciation of theatre. Price should not be a bar to accessibility."

The only ticketed events without the $10 seats for students are masterclasses with artists such as Dorrance and shows priced at $35 or below. Tickets to international and local productions in Sifa 2018 top out at $80. Prices ranged between $10 and $110 last year, though tickets for major productions such as a concert by the Kronos Quartet started at $35 for adults and $28 for students.

The festival opens with a stage adaptation of 1984, George Orwell's dystopian novel about state control; a poetry recital and talk by Indian poet Javed Akhtar and Bollywood actress Shabana Azmi; and concerts by 20-something jazz musician Jacob Collier, whose viral YouTube arrangements of classic tunes won two Grammy Awards last year.

Numerous free events have also been programmed in and around The Arts House - renamed Festival House for Sifa. These include a tightrope act and jazz concerts on the lawn to greet viewers heading to or returning from shows at the Esplanade - Theatres On The Bay or Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall.

The Festival House will become "a place for people to communicate" before and after shows, says Ms Sarah Martin, chief executive officer of The Arts House Limited. Sifa is organised by The Arts House Limited and funded by the National Arts Council.

Events at the Festival House are meant to complement the main performances, much as the past four years of Sifa had a pre-festival season of talks and events called the O.P.E.N. "The team has built on that because it was very strong," she says.

For example, there will be a book club discussion of Orwell's novel on April 26, to prep ticketholders watching the play on April 27 to 29.

Orwell's story explores a world where the state watches every citizen and controls the media. It has been reworked for the stage by British theatre-makers Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan.

Kripalani says 1984 is a timely and topical way to start the arts festival, with fake news and state surveillance hot topics around the world. "Globally, 'Big Brother Is Watching You' is a topic talked about in almost every country," he says, using a phrase oft-repeated in the novel.

Sifa closes with a free jazz concert by The Duke Ellington Orchestra in the Singapore Botanic Gardens and ticketed stagings of Enemy Of The People, the Schaubuhne Berlin troupe's adaptation of a 19th century play by Henrik Ibsen.

The festival also includes site-specific performances and art installations at the National Gallery Singapore and The Arts House, created by local artists in response to an open call last year.

Kripalani says the mix of local and international is key to his programming. "Sifa takes place on an international stage. It's a platform for Singaporean and international artists to represent their work to each other."

Tickets for the Singapore International Festival of Arts are available via Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg). Visit sifa.sg for programme details and more information.