Kallang Theatre to be run by Sport Singapore; arts groups hope it stays a performance venue

The future of the Kallang Theatre, which once hosted blockbuster international acts such as the Paris Opera Ballet, is up in the air.  -- ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
The future of the Kallang Theatre, which once hosted blockbuster international acts such as the Paris Opera Ballet, is up in the air.  -- ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

It was once the go-to venue for blockbuster international acts such as the Paris Opera Ballet and iconic musicals Les Miserables and Phantom Of The Opera. From 1986 to 2000, it was home to the National Day Rally, until the annual address by the prime minister moved to the University Cultural Centre in 2001.

But come February 2015, Kallang Theatre might no longer exist as a performing arts venue. Instead, with an incoming change of management, the future of the site is up in the air. Since 2011, the building has been managed by arts event management company Asia Arts & Culture, which rents the site from the Singapore Land Authority for $43,000 a month. However, after its lease expires on Jan 31, management of the venue will pass to Sport Singapore, a statutory board under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, which manages the Sports Hub and public sports facilities.

As yet, there is no official word on the future of the venue and the Singapore Land Authority and Sport Singapore say they will unveil plans for the theatre only when they have been finalised.

The arts community, for one, hopes that the theatre will continue to be a venue for the performing arts, despite setbacks in recent years.

The theatre was closed for four years from 2007 to 2011, after stiff competition from state-of-the-art venues such as the Esplanade and the University Cultural Centre in Kent Ridge. The National Arts Council, which was in charge of the building then, cited underusage and an occupancy drop from 80 to 60 per cent as reasons for the closure. But arts groups and practitioners interviewed say that if the 1,680-seat Kallang Theatre is to become a serious player in the arts scene here, it will not be without a major overhaul of the current auditorium.

Before re-opening the theatre in 2011, Asia Arts & Culture spent $500,000 on renovations which included repairs to a leaky roof and faulty air- conditioning. Another $1 million was spent on installing an audio and lighting system.

The last show staged at the theatre was Dancing Tru The Seasons by dance group Tru'Dance Singapore on Aug 8 and 9.

Robert Liew is the founder of Arts Management Associates, which has presented the Paris Opera Ballet, the American Ballet Theater, the musical Evita and Gershwin's Porgy And Bess at the Kallang Theatre. He says that for the theatre to compete with other venues, it needs to be "purpose-built with up-to-date facilities".

Another local company which used to hold shows at Kallang Theatre is Singapore Dance Theatre. Among other productions, the company staged The Nutcracker in 2001. In recent years, however, its major productions have been held at the Esplanade.

Stage manager at Singapore Dance Theatre Engie Ho says Kallang Theatre is "too small" for the company's classical repertoire. She adds that high costs may have contributed to the theatre's unpopularity.

Kallang Theatre charges private organisations $10,000 in rental fees for weekend performances from 6.30 to 10.30pm and $7,200 for non-profit organisations for the same time slot. The Esplanade Theatre's rental fees are $10,000 for private hire of 4 1/2 hours, but $4,000 or 15 per cent of box-office sales (whichever is higher) for non-profit arts groups.

Danny Tan, artistic director of Odyssey Dance Theatre, which performed at Kallang Theatre in 2000 and 2004, thinks there is a place for it here. He says that after the Esplanade Theatre, which seats 2,000 and the University Cultural Centre Hall which seats 1,700, Kallang Theatre is the third option for arts groups looking to mount big-scale productions. While he admits that Kallang Theatre does look "run down", Dr Tan says the theatre holds a certain nostalgia for him: "For me, no other theatre has that kind of memories, aside from Victoria Theatre, so it would be good to preserve it."