COVID-19 SPECIAL

Arts companies going digital gain higher social media profiles, draw more small donors

Theatre company Pangdemonium has seen digital streams for its plays clock up some 90,000 views from 91 countries and territories.
Theatre company Pangdemonium has seen digital streams for its plays clock up some 90,000 views from 91 countries and territories. PHOTO: PANGDEMONIUM

SINGAPORE - Arts companies which have gone digital as a result of circuit breaker closures are seeing a surge in their social media following and digital viewership.

Pangdemonium, which has streamed four plays to date, had a 100 per cent increase in traffic to its website since the start of the circuit breaker period, says co-founder Adrian Pang.

"Audiences visited our website for streaming information, to find out more on how the Covid situation has affected Pangdemonium and the industry, to get updates about our future productions, and also to make donations," says the 54-year-old.

He adds that the digital streams for the plays Falling, Late Company and Dragonflies clocked up some 90,000 views from 91 countries and territories. It also streamed the comedy Chinglish.

Wild Rice reports similarly healthy numbers for the classic Emily Of Emerald Hill, which drew close to 150,000 views, while Dream Academy, which has been posting daily clips in its 50 Days Of Laughter series on Facebook and YouTube, has drawn more than two million views.

Mr Chng Hak-Peng, 47, chief executive officer of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO), says the orchestra saw a 37 per cent increase in the number of YouTube subscribers, with unique views of more than a million.

The Singapore Chinese Orchestra's (SCO) assistant director of marketing communications June Teo, 40, says its social media views have crossed the million mark too, thanks to 108 pieces of new content uploaded during this period.

With higher profiles online, the arts groups have also seen an encouraging bump in small donations.

The Necessary Stage's (TNS) general manager Melissa Lim, 43, says: "We are definitely seeing an increase in donations via Giving.sg, and, interestingly, quite a number of donations with smaller amounts."

 
 
 

Over the circuit breaker period, TNS has received almost $4,000 in cash donations, while The Theatre Practice's campaign on Giving.sg has received more than $4,000 from 30 donors.

While Theatre Practice did not solicit donations for the three shows it streamed, artistic director Kuo Jian Hong says: "We do see some increase in donations, though not significantly more than usual. We are very heartened by how people showed their appreciation by donating - no matter how small the amount."

SSO's Mr Chng says they have seen about 200 new donors: "The individual donations may be small but together they will enable us to apply for larger matching grants from the Government and other funding organisations."

Pangdemonium has also seen a spike in giving. Pang says: "These donations are very much appreciated as they help to offset lost income due to the pandemic."

Retired lawyer Patricia Eng, 58, is not a regular theatregoer or arts donor, but reached out to Pangdemonium after watching Falling and Late Company online. She says she was very impressed by the productions: "I felt terrible not having paid anything after having watched two very good productions, and thought I should reach out to make a donation."

She donated $1,000 via Giving.sg.

SCO's Ms Teo says the orchestra received nearly $2,000 in donations on Giving.sg between April 6 and May 14, as well as more than $2,300 from ticket proceeds which patrons chose to donate rather than claiming refunds.

"This amount of donation we received is still far from what we would have collected as ticket proceeds and sponsorships from concerts, only about 1 per cent," she says.

Dream Academy's Vote Kumar, which was originally scheduled for April, had to be postponed to November after some 9,000 tickets were already sold. A spokesman says when audiences were given the option to retain tickets, "more than 90 per cent held on to their tickets".


The Singapore Chinese Orchestra's social media views have crossed the million mark. PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA


The Singapore Symphony Orchestra saw a 37 per cent increase in the number of YouTube subscribers. PHOTO: SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Dream's founding artistic director Selena Tan, 48, says: "Our Kumar ticket buyers and Dream Academy supporters have been absolutely wonderful and supportive. We can feel how much they are looking forward to the live shows."

With the recent government announcement about the easing of circuit breaker measures, performing arts companies are feeling their way back towards ticket sales.

SCO's Ms Teo says: "For the July to December 2020 period, we will release concert details and ticket information for each concert over time. This will give us the flexibility to adapt to the evolving situation, and the space to develop marketing strategies for each unique production."

SSO's Mr Chng adds: "Our contingency plans depend on the number of performers allowed to return to work, and the number of audiences allowed in concert halls. We have different sizes of ensembles and audience seat maps to cater to each scenario."

While digital forays may have begun as a stopgap measure, it has cemented its foothold on the performing arts scene. SSO's Mr Chng says: "We are in talks with a number of providers to explore ticketed concerts on a livestreaming platform."

 
 
 

Ticketing agent Sistic, which recently announced a ticketed live streaming platform, is one of the providers Mr Chng is considering.

TNS, which had already put its video archives on Vimeo in 2017, is realistic about the realities of pay per view as a revenue stream. Ms Lim notes: "Kebaya Homies has seen a number of pay-per-views, though not too many, to be honest. It's the free screenings that get a lot of views."

While the companies The Straits Times spoke to affirm their commitment to keep the content going online, it is the live performances which they are prepping to return to, and hoping will pay off again.

As Wild Rice's founding artistic director Ivan Heng, 56, says: "If there's one good thing to have come out of this crisis, it's the overwhelming response to streaming our shows online. Hopefully, this will translate into new audiences for Wild Rice and Singapore theatre in the not too socially distanced future."