Back from London… to some Singaporean surprises

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Platform 65 is the new kid on the block for Singapore’s performing arts scene and they are finding out how expensive it is to showcase their work locally.

Started in London by Cui Yin Mok in 2011, their first performance in Singapore was a play called Rites and Regulations in 2012. Critically acclaimed internationally and locally, the play was staged in a book cafe and a hostel lobby in Singapore.

Cui describes the theatre venue prices in Singapore as “˜insane”. The cost of  hiring a venue will leave them out of  pocket for at least a year..

Esplanade rental rate is at least S$6,300 per 4.5 hours while smaller theatre venues like School of the Arts Singapore charge at least S$1,800 per 4 hours.

In London, she notes, there is a lot more affordable theatre space available at short notice.

When Platform 65 staged Rites and Regulations in Singapore, they were lucky that they met local businesses that were happy to help them out.

“Not only did we manage to borrow things from local companies, we also work with local businesses. We drilled things into their wall and there was a lot of noise during the play but they were very open to us,” Cui says.

She hopes that Singapore’s local businesses and small art groups like Platform 65 can learn how to accommodate one another for these forms of performances in the future.

When Platform 65 was formed, Cui was still a student pursuing her Masters in Arts at the University of London.

Platform 65 started from Singapore Playhouse London (SPL) that produced mainly Singaporean plays and staged by Singaporean students in London. When Cui served as the director of SPL in 2009, she and two other colleagues felt it was time to expand beyond the enclave of little Singapore.

“We felt there was less and less a need to pigeonhole ourselves to the Singapore and London link.

“And one thing was SPL was too blatant and inflexible, it makes it sound like we can only stage plays related to Singapore whereas we wanted to be more flexible,” Cui says. She is currently one of the producers for the South East Asian Art Festival in London.

Having studied and worked for six years in London, she observes, they didn’t want to recreate a microcosm of Singapore in London.

“This is not a criticism but I felt many of us Singaporean students in London were very inward looking. They hang out with Singaporeans and they eat Singaporean food together,” she adds.

Three weeks ago, she returned from London to Singapore for good.

“I have done what I wanted to do in the United Kingdom.  It is time I came home,,” she says.

More importantly, she says, “in light of what I have heard that the art scene is dead and things are hard to do in Singapore, I do not think that is true. There are a lot of ground-up initiatives and people are becoming more confident in what they do.”

There are open-to-all poetry sessions at Blu Jaz Singapore and Artistry. Local theatre groups like Bud Theatre Company and Cake Theatrical Productions have also emerged in recent years.

“Many people who know about Platform 65 have asked if I will do a literary supper club in Singapore, I am open to the idea,” Cui says, adding that she is still very new to the art scene in Singapore.

Platform 65 has held literary supper clubs by matching Singaporean stories and poems to the food items on the menu in central London.

The group has also co-produced Pop-Up Singapore House, which put Singaporean arts and performances on display in London since 2012. Their next Singapore Pop-Up House will be in conjunction with Singapore Day in London on March 28

She says: “For Platform 65, it manifests the way it is today because of the opportunities offered to us in London. I cannot possibly export Platform 65 from London to Singapore lock, stock and barrel.

“My memories of Singapore are from 2007 before I left for London. So much has happened and I am trying to catch up before I start anything concrete.”