Thursday, 24 July, 2014

 
Published March 28, 2014
Arts
Marking the Next Page(s) of The Arts House
Developments in the art scene here include re-purposed and new venues this year - from the changing of the guard at The Old Parliament House to a new playwriting centre. Wild Rice has announced plans for a new black box space at Kallang Leisure Park. These are all going to spell more programmes for Singapore's arts audiences. RACHEL LOI and CHEAH UI-HOON check out The Next Page (the performance) and the next page as in what's down the road
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Celebrating a decade of the arts: 'Quotes', the opening show by Cake Theatrical Productions, stars Alexandre Thio (left) and Andrea Ang.

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AFTER a decade as a multi-disciplinary arts centre, The Arts House is poised for the next chapter of its life - as the home of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA). The big news in the arts industry this week was the merger of what was The Old Parliament House Limited and Arts Festival Limited to become Arts House Limited.

But before beginning its next chapter though, The Arts House is marking its 10th anniversary this week with a tongue-in-cheek, immersive visual and performance installation that takes over its entire building.

In the performance, The Next Page, The Arts House "disappears" and its purpose is re-imagined. Since we live where buildings are re-purposed every other day, this couldn't have more immediacy.

In this alternate universe, The Arts House is closed after three years of operations and is transformed into a dance club "The Morenada"; following that, it becomes a five-star boutique hotel, "The Ponce", and then a bookstore, "The Next Page".

In the opening segment by Cake Theatrical Productions titled Quotes, two characters Sylvia and Virginia - allusions to the poet Sylvia Plath and the author Virginia Woolf, of course - discuss the importance of art, which resounds poignantly in a society driven by consumerism and materialistic desires.

The centrepiece of the night's performances is The Historian's Tour, directed by Chong Tze Chien of The Finger Players, during which a "tour guide" takes you through an exhibition documenting the dance club, hotel and bookstore phases of the history of the place. The highlight takes place in the Angsana Suite of "The Ponce", where audiences are invited to eavesdrop on a couple's spat (scripted by Joel Tan) in the room. The catch: this sequence takes place thrice, each time interpreted by a different director.

Meanwhile, The Next Page is also literal - it is a pop-up bookstore set up by Books Actually.

A decade ago, when the former Parliament building was designated as an arts centre and helmed by Colin Goh, nobody really knew how it would pan out as a multi-disciplinary centre for the arts. But Mr Goh, with economics, finance and management qualifications under his belt, was anything but your traditional arts manager. The Arts House delivered a net surplus of more than $1 million in its first full year of operation; it has been in the black ever since.

In the past decade, the Arts House has especially made a mark on the literary arts - from offering a writing residency and being involved in the Singapore Writers Festival to holding its own events such as monthly readings by budding writers and authors from around the world.

Next month though, as it turns "the next page" to become SIFA's home - it will shift its focus towards year-long engagement programmes, besides keeping its role in venue management; the current team manages other arts centres like Goodman, Aliwal and Sculpture Square.

This year's SIFA will present six weeks of programmes from August. Although Arts House chief executive Lee Chor Lin has yet to officially start her tour of duty at The Arts House, she has already envisioned it playing a role in the rejuvenation of the Civic District as an arts hub once Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall reopen next year.

She says that, with the right touch and steering, the place can "extend the physical stake of the Singapore International Festival of Arts", which she described as a "merger of 36 years of festival-making and 10 years of place-making".

To celebrate The Arts House in its present incarnation, do check out the events still on-going until this weekend. Spoiler alert: watch out for the twist, when the "cleaner" (Siti Khalijah) interrupts the "house tour" and steals the show with a spiel about the value of permanence. As someone who has witnessed how the building has changed over the years, she will convince you that even the dirt on the ground tells a story to her - and so it should to us, too.

uihoon@sph.com.sg

rachloi@sph.com.sg

'The Next Page' runs until Saturday at The Arts House at 1 Old Parliament Lane. Tickets from www.bytes.sg. Log on to www.theartshouse.com.sg for more information