Theatres in New York's Broadway and London's West End have reopened after a year of closures with new shows and to full houses of rapturous live audiences. In contrast, Singapore's performing arts venues are still hobbled by strict safe management measures, limiting not just the size of the audience but also the number of live performers and the type of performances. Those involving the "intentional expulsion of air", that is singing and playing of wind instruments, are still limited due to safety concerns. Given the rising number of community cases and the spread of the Delta variant, the caution is understandable. But venues and performers have suffered terribly from the closures. Additionally, the lingering uncertainty of whether performances could be shut with minimal notice, as has happened with the return to phase two (heightened alert) in July, has added to the financial and mental strain.
So it is good news to hear that the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) has developed new technologies to ensure a safer live experience after a six-month collaboration with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra. An ionising curtain, created by devices attached to plants, helps create an invisible barrier between performers and the audience, reducing the spread of viral particles. A high-volume air purifier further helps to clean and disinfect the air in large rooms. Such inventions can help reassure everyone, from the authorities to performers to audiences, that live venues can be safely utilised by everyone. What the performing arts community wants more than financial support is the chance to do what they were meant to do - perform for a live audience. Healthy ticket sales for recent productions show the desire to return to venues is mutual for audiences too. Hopefully, science and technology can help raise the curtain more quickly for the arts community here.