Wild Rice looking at $15m theatre in Funan

Theatre company is starting a fundraising campaign to raise the money for running and building the 380-seat space

Ivan Heng (centre) in La Cage Aux Folles by Wild Rice. PHOTO: ALBERT LIM KS

After 17 years operating from a studio space in Little India, Wild Rice wants to build a theatre of its own.

The company will need $15 million to build and maintain its 380-seat theatre space in the new Funan mall, which is set to open in late 2019.

The theatre company was one of the anchor tenants announced on Thursday by the developer, CapitaLand Mall Trust. Wild Rice has a lease of up to 20 years and will have 18,000 sq ft over three floors for its offices, the theatre and rehearsal space.

Wild Rice's new theatre comes via the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Community Sports Facilities Scheme, which matches community facilities with highly accessible commercial developments.

Wild Rice has offices at Little India and stages productions in rented venues such as the Victoria Theatre, now hosting the musical La Cage Aux Folles.

Artistic director and founder Ivan Heng, 53, estimates that Wild Rice has attracted over one million people to its productions in rented venues.

He said: "In order to continue to grow and take risks artistically, we needed to have our own theatre, a safe home that would allow us to better meet the needs of our artists and patrons."

Performing arts groups here have long said there are not enough spaces for them to showcase new work, let alone develop and rehearse the work.

Earlier this month, the Esplanade - Theatres On The Bay announced that it would build a new 550-seat waterfront theatre to meet artists' needs.

In August last year, the Esplanade transformed the former club Queen near Makansutra Gluttons Bay into the two-storey Esplanade Annexe Studio to host musical gigs and serve as rehearsal space.

Purpose-built arts spaces in commercial venues are not unusual here, but Wild Rice's will be the first theatre in Singapore to be designed, managed and programmed by a professional theatre troupe.

In contrast, the 10 Square @ Orchard Central, which has a theatre and studios for music and visual arts, is designed and run by The RICE Company, which manages the The Business Times Budding Artists Fund for underprivileged youth.

Another arts group housed in a mall, the Singapore Dance Theatre at Bugis+ mall in Victoria Street, mainly uses its studios as practice space, making the future Wild Rice theatre unusual as a destination designed to draw in audiences.

In a Facebook video, Heng recalled how he pulled out all his savings for the first Wild Rice show at Jubilee Hall in Raffles Hotel. Location was key and remains so - hence his desire to have a space at Funan, the heart of the civic and cultural district, near the National Gallery Singapore and the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.

He told The Straits Times: "I believe this is exactly where a theatre needs to be: at the intersection of commerce, art, government and history, where the public can gather to reflect and engage in conversations about Singapore and the times we live in.

"It will be an iconic destination theatre, a magnet that attracts audiences of all ages and walks of life."

Wild Rice is starting a fundraising campaign to raise the $15 million it needs to build and sustain the new theatre space. It will release more details later, as well as on the theatre, design and programming.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2017, with the headline Wild Rice looking at $15m theatre in Funan. Subscribe