Singtel donates $10m to help fund Esplanade's first medium-sized theatre

The new 550-seat waterfront theatre, to be sited near the dining outlets, will open in 2021.
The new 550-seat waterfront theatre, to be sited near the dining outlets, will open in 2021.PHOTO: ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY

SINGAPORE - Singtel is donating $10 million to help fund the Esplanade's first medium-sized theatre - the largest single donation the national performing arts centre has received since it opened in 2002.

The new 550-seat theatre, to occupy a 3,000 sq m area along the Esplanade Waterfront, will open in 2021 and be named after the telco for 15 years.

The Esplanade's theatre spaces now seat either large audiences of close to 2,000 each, or smaller groups of up to 245 people.

According to the Esplanade, most theatre works produced today are best suited for medium-sized venues of 500 to 1,000 seats.

The Esplanade Theatre and Concert Hall are only in the first phase of a development plan that was mooted in the 1990s.

Its second phase of growth was supposed to have contained rehearsal spaces and three medium-sized theatres, but was postponed due to funding issues.

The new $30 million medium-sized theatre will be funded in three equal parts by Singtel, the Government, and corporate sponsorship and public fundraising by the Esplanade.

The new space will help the Esplanade present a more diverse range of artists and productions - and a wider range of arts programmes for schools, for example.

"The theatre feels quite 'real' now, we just have the final stretch of (raising) $10 million," said The Esplanade's CEO-designate Yvonne Tham on Saturday (June 9) at the inaugural Esplanade Gala at the Esplanade Theatre. Some 370 patrons of the arts raised money at Saturday night's event.

Ms Tham said that the new space will help the Esplanade increase its programmes for students and seniors, commission more new work, and draw a diverse range of international works.

Those in the theatre scene have welcomed the news that another medium-sized theatre will soon be a reality here. The Drama Centre Theatre and Victoria Theatre seat about 600 each.

Playwright Chong Tze Chien,who is company director of The Finger Players, said that the new venue will give practitioners the chance to stage pieces that are "both intimate and ambitious in scale".

Dancer and choreographer Raka Maitra had similar sentiments.

"Indian dance needs that intimacy where you can see the body and face of the dancer clearly. There are very nuanced movements," said Maitra, who is artistic director of Chowk Productions. "(But) for a 200-seater, when you have a bigger cast, it becomes too small and a little cramped."

"We have a long tradition of championing the local arts scene as a Singapore-grown communications company, and like Esplanade, we believe art is for everyone," said Ms Chua Sock Koong, Singtel Group's chief executive.

"Through our contribution towards the new waterfront theatre, we hope the works of more Singapore artists and companies can reach as wide an audience as possible."

Ms Tham added: "Singtel's generous gift towards our new waterfront theatre will not only enable a new generation of artists to create works that will shape Singapore's culture and identity, it will also help us to bring more meaningful arts programmes to engage, educate and inspire the youths, families, elderly and other communities that Esplanade serves."

Construction of the new theatre is expected to begin early next year.