THE spirit of Kuo Pao Kun lives on in the cultural halls of Singapore. Three good plays and a museum exhibition paying tribute to Kuo open this week and the next, to mark the 10th anniversary of the artist's death on Sept 10, 2002.
The first play examines the artistic struggles of Goh Lay Kuan, his choreographer wife of 37 years, and sheds light on their loving but seemingly unsentimental relationship.
Simply titled Goh Lay Kuan & Kuo Pao Kun, it dramatises the lives and works of this pioneering arts couple who founded, in 1965, one of the country's first independent arts schools, Practice Performing Arts School.
Goh, a trained ballerina, firmly believed that the arts taught to the young will illuminate their journeys through life, and that there was no substitute for that.
Actress Karen Tan (who plays Goh) and director Ong Keng Sen transcribed some 53 hours of oral history recordings made by Goh for the National Archives, and condensed them into an hour-long play. Ong then spliced Goh's monologue with extracts from Kuo's famous plays and cast veteran actor Lim Kay Tong to play the role of Kuo.
The result is a complex and poignant work that reveals the aspirations and struggles of Singapore's most famous arts couple.
Actor Lim says: "We just don't have people like Kuo and Goh anymore. This couple was so committed to what they believed in, they would give up everything for their cause. And they sustained those beliefs throughout their lives. You get that in this play - this unwavering certainty about the way they lived despite what others may think of them."
Also a must-watch is a new adaptation of one of Kuo's most famous plays, The Silly Little Girl And The Funny Old Tree, in Mandarin.
The original play centres on a girl's love for an old tree that the authorities want to chop down - the tree being an elemental metaphor for Singapore. Staged to much acclaim in 1987, it went to show in several countries in the region.
In this latest adaptation, Taiwanese director Fu Hong Zheng has chosen to radically depart from the original script. The tree is now personified by an old man and the silly girl is his grandchild.
Recalls Fu: "I'd seen the original version in Taiwan - there wasn't any tree in it, just a lot of actors on stage playing a tree. The tension was rather peculiar to me.
"So for my version, I decide to make the premise more realistic. I turned the tree into a sickly old man and explored the human relationships between him and his family.
"I think this version is easier to relate to, but without losing the humour and relevance of the original. The tree represented by the old man still stands for the same things - the disappearing values and traditions of our world that should be protected, preserved and integrated."
Meanwhile, the recently concluded Edinburgh Festival saw the fringe premiere of Rites And Regulations, a contemporary adaptation of Kuo's most famous monologue, The Coffin Is Too Big For The Hole. The former earned good reviews in Edinburgh and is now playing in Singapore at small arts venues.
Its bright-eyed 26-year-old co-director Mok Cui Yin found fresh inspiration from Kuo's 25-year-old monologue, and adapted it using her youthful sensibilities. She employs fancy lights and projections, and couches parts of the monologue in current communication modes such as SMSes and mobile phone calls.
She says: "What makes Kuo's monologue a classic is that it reveals different meanings to different generations. Twenty-five years ago, when it was first staged, it felt more blatantly confrontational. It tells the story of a man whose dead father's coffin is too big for the government-issue standard-size hole. And it pits people against bureaucracy.
"But reading it today, I feel the play also reveals the role we the people play in maintaining that status quo - that is to say, we help enforce the rules that restrict our own lives."
A reviewer at the Edinburgh festival described the adaptation as "well-executed" and "humorous", "neatly balancing comedy drawn from daily struggles with bureaucracy with the deep emotions loss can create."
Finally, the National Museum of Singapore is holding an exhibition on Kuo's life titled Kuo Pao Kun - A Life of Practice. It includes a selection of photographs, manuscripts, letters, costumes from his productions and archival footage.
They offer a rare, close look at the thoughts and creative process of one of Singapore's most well-loved artistic giants.
Goh Lay Kuan & Kuo Pao Kun plays at the National Museum of Singapore's Gallery Theatre on the Sept 14 and 15. It will then play at the museum's Exhibition Gallery 2 on the following dates: Oct 25 and 26; Nov 22 and 23; Jan 10 and 11, 2013; and Feb 21 and 22, 2013. Tickets at $25 from Sistic or the Museum
The Impending Storm - The Silly Little Girl and the Funny Old Tree, an adaptation of Kuo's famous play by Taiwanese director Fu Hong Zheng, plays at the Sota Studio Theatre, School of the Arts Singapore, on 1 Zubir Said Road, from Sept 6 - 16, Tue - Sat, 8pm, and Sat & Sun, 3pm. Tickets at $38 from Sistic
Rites & Regulations runs from tonight till Sept 16 at either one of these two alternative arts venue: 5Footway Inn: Project Sultan on 8 Aliwal Street, or The Pigeonhole on 52/53 Duxton Road. For specific information and purchase of $10 tickets, go to platform65.eventbrite.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
National Museum of Singapore's exhibition A Life of Practice - Kuo Pao Kun runs for 15 Sept 2012 - 24 Feb 2013. Open from 10am - 6pm, daily. Tickets at S$11. Contact: 6332-3659/6332-5642