Why It Matters

Space for the arts to grow

The new $30 million waterfront theatre slated to open at Esplanade - Theatres On The Bay in 2021 could take Singapore's arts groups to the next stage.

Artists here have long said they need more mid-sized venues of 500 to 1,000 seats to best show their work, and for a run long enough to break even.

The 550-seat waterfront theatre will also expand the Esplanade's capacity to commission new work.

When Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu announced the new theatre on Monday, she said some might question building more infrastructure in this economic climate. She also voiced arts groups' immediate need for more mid-sized venues.

Most works of dance and theatre created here are made for mid-sized spaces but may not show in them. Checkpoint Theatre's ongoing play Normal needs a 300-seat venue to break even but is shown at the 120-seat Drama Centre Black Box.

The existing Esplanade Theatre and Esplanade Concert Hall seat just below 2,000 - too large. The Esplanade's two 200-seat studios can be too small.

Professional and amateur arts groups battle to book the Drama Centre Theatre and Victoria Theatre, which seat about 600 each. Currently, Victoria Theatre is booked till 2019.

Artists whom The Straits Times spoke to applaud the new mid-size venue at the Esplanade. Their chief concerns are whether it will be ready by 2021 and how often it will be available for hire.

The theatre will feature Esplanade programmes 60 per cent of the time. That said, the Esplanade regularly commissions local arts groups to create new work such as for the annual The Studios season of theatre. The new theatre will provide space for even more commissioned work.

Built on a 3,000 sq m area along the waterfront, behind Makansutra Glutton's Bay, the location will invite passers-by to peep in and participate in the events inside. The vision for 2021 is a space that will allow both arts groups and audiences room to grow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2017, with the headline 'Space for the arts to grow'. Print Edition | Subscribe