Xinyao pioneer, bilingual theatre group lauded

Dr Liang Wern Fook and The Theatre Practice have received the Singapore Chinese Cultural Contribution Award

The Theatre Practice's artistic director Kuo Jian Hong and xinyao pioneer Liang Wern Fook.
The Theatre Practice's artistic director Kuo Jian Hong and xinyao pioneer Liang Wern Fook. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Dr Liang Wern Fook, a pioneer of xinyao - a movement of locally composed Mandarin pop songs from the 1980s - and bilingual theatre institution, The Theatre Practice, have received the Singapore Chinese Cultural Contribution Award (SCCCA).

They were presented with the award at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre (SCCC) yesterday by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law.

Mr Chua Thian Poh, chairman of SCCC, said: "When we launched this award in 2017, we wanted to recognise individuals and organisations who made extraordinary contributions to the promotion, enrichment and development of Chinese Singaporean culture."

Thirty-six individuals and 16 organisations were nominated by the public for the awards and recipients were selected by a panel of judges led by Professor Eddie Kuo, founding dean and professor emeritus of Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

"We chose them not only for their individual achievements, but also for their long-lasting and far-reaching impact on Singaporean Chinese culture," said Prof Kuo in Mandarin.

Past winners of the award are theatre practitioner Han Lao Da, music composer Lee Yuk Chan and historian Kua Bak Lim as well as Siong Leng Musical Association, Singapore Association of Writers and Ding Yi Music Company.

A singer-songwriter, poet and academic in Chinese literature and language, Dr Liang, 57, pioneered xinyao and many of his songs - such as Friendship Forever - have become anthems in the genre.

Speaking in Mandarin, Mr Chua said: "His songs reflect Singapore's cultural and social outlook in the 1980s. The themes of his songs are both diverse and deep, exploring love, friendship, family, country, society and tradition."

Dr Liang, who received the Cultural Medallion in 2010, said he wished for arts and culture to go beyond celebratory occasions or award ceremonies and become a more integral part of Singaporeans' lives.

"I hope that other artists will also embrace this vision of bringing art into our lives," he added.

The Theatre Practice, founded in 1965 by the late playwright Kuo Pao Kun and his wife, choreographer Goh Lay Kuan, is Singapore's longest-standing bilingual theatre institution. It championed Chinese-language theatre in a predominantly English-language scene in its early days.

In recent years, it pioneered the Chinese-language musical theatre genre, which synthesises Western musical traditions with Asian storytelling.

Dr Liang and The Theatre Practice will each receive a trophy, $10,000 in cash and up to $10,000 and $20,000 respectively in project funding.

While Dr Liang said he needed time to think about what to do with the funds, The Theatre Practice's artistic director Kuo Jian Hong said it intends to use the prize money to create new performances.

"In recent years, we have not done new original Chinese musicals. We are now ready to expand this and will put in some of the funds to create new works."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2021, with the headline Xinyao pioneer, bilingual theatre group lauded. Subscribe