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A taste of the Matrix
By Tan Teck Heng
LAST week, an Emerald Hill shophouse was the unlikely venue for a film premiere. There were just a small group of people, some food and wine, and they had to "act" in the movie themselves.
Such was the setting for the Danish virtual reality (VR) film installation, The Doghouse (Skammekrogen), seen in Asia for the first time. Produced by Danish creative agency Makropol, the installation blends VR technology and film with site-specific theatre.
Guests put on a headset, which allows them to witness the story of a tense family dinner, all through the eyes of one out of five characters.
The installation was one in a series of intimate arts events organised by Pala - an indie arts platform which curates unique events revolving around arts, fashion and literature.
The Doghouse, for example, was a partnership with MasterCard under its "Priceless Cities" programme, offering special one-off events to selected credit card members.
Co-founders Olga Iserlis (director of Twise events management) and Natalya Pavchinskaya (founder of Bintan resort The Sanchaya) modelled Pala after the European salons of the early 1900s - think Gertrude Stein's salon on the Left Bank of Paris - and see it as a platform for intellectual and cultural exchanges.
Pala is housed in The Sanchaya (a 45-minute ferry ride away from Singapore), and most of its programming is tailored for resort guests.
But it sometimes organises events like The Doghouse in Singapore. Future events may be open to the public, or select groups such as art and fashion students.
"We have seen a huge demand for the physical installation that The Doghouse is," says Pala's producer Marc Iserlis (Ms Iserlis's son) of the trend towards innovative and theatrical entertainment. "I like the way The Doghouse resembles a travelling theatre, except you don't have the expenses for set design and actors."
During the screening, groups of five guests would "role-play" as one of five characters. As the story goes, Maya is visiting her boyfriend's family for the first time. The first-person perspective means that no single participant has access to the full story. The result is a simmering pot of family secrets and tensions that plays out over 20 minutes.
A round-table discussion following the film's conclusion allowed the audience to put the pieces together, revealing more layers to the family dynamics. Director Johan Knattrup Jensen explains that as the story unravels, participants tend to develop deeper empathy for other characters as they move beyond their own limited point of view.
For Mr Iserlis, Makropol's work is a groundbreaking use of VR which goes beyond the usual hype surrounding the technology, making it an ideal talking point for Pala's guests.
"There's currently a lot of buzz around VR in experiential technology, business, branding and mobile, but Makropol was doing such innovative things with VR from a narrative perspective that I felt no one else was doing," he explains.
Mr Iserlis attributes his passion for the arts to his upbringing: "My mother raised me with the customary artistic imperatives of a Russian household: trips to the museum and the concert hall, a reading list mostly of 19th century classics, and a highly-combative hour of piano practice a day," he recalls fondly.
"I think all these factors have led me home to the vision behind Pala - to create a melting pot of interesting people and ideas gathering on our small yet innovative island."
- For future updates on Pala, please refer to http://pala.live/
Try and escape from Haw Par Villa
ESCAPE rooms, as we know them, typically feature groups of people locked in a room acting out a scenario which requires them to solve puzzles to free themselves. In a move to bring this fantasy game into a larger arena, part of Haw Par Villa will be turned into a massive "stage" featuring its famously scary statues as props and actors playing Chinese folklore characters.
Titled Journey to the End and Back, the pop-up event takes place over the next two Saturdays and is a collaboration between escape game company Lockdown Singapore, and Journeys Pte Ltd - a local tour operator which manages and operates Haw Par Villa. It is a large-scale version of the conventional escape game, and a maximum of 60 players (in teams of four and six) will take part in each of the eight sessions spread across the two days.
Lockdown Singapore's founder Jonathan Ye, 32, explains that this version of the game goes big on the storytelling aspect as it centres around "the Chinese folklore that involves the 10 courts of hell".
"It talks about how, when people pass away, their soul goes through the different courts to assess their sins in their life before they go for reincarnation," he says.
The premise of the game is that players are on a school excursion to Haw Par Villa, when one of their friends suddenly faints. It turns out that he was mistakenly scheduled for early reincarnation (and death). So after a "Taoist master" opens players' eyes to see the spirit world, they have to explore the park and solve puzzles within the hour to save their friend's life.
Says Mr Ye: "When you play in one of our Lockdown rooms, everything is built by us and designed specifically for the game. But at Haw Par Villa, the whole area is our game zone. The sculptures there have years of heritage, so we are just using them as part of the story while educating players on their history."
Another difference he highlights is the size of the arena, which is why gamemasters will be scattered around the park to play "roaming spirits" and act as guides. They aren't meant to scare players, however, as most Lockdown games tend to eschew a horror element, assures Mr Ye.
Interestingly, he got the idea for this large-scale game at Haw Par Villa last year, when he was scouting for a heritage-rich venue to organise a special-edition escape event for Halloween.
"We looked at locations like the National Museum and Fort Canning Park, and Haw Par Villa naturally came up. We felt it was the best option especially since it has long been forgotten and it would be exciting to give people a reason to go back to it," Mr Ye says.
In fact, if the upcoming event proves a success, there's a chance that more such games will take place at Haw Par Villa, as various sections of the theme park reopen after ongoing renovations.
Says Mr Ye: "This game is taking place in only about a quarter of the entire park, and STB (Singapore Tourism Board) said they will probably open another section by the end of this year. Hopefully, after this event, we will be able to do a series of games each time a new zone opens up, to generate more awareness and get people to start visiting Haw Par Villa again.
"These two weekends are like a test for us, because STB is hoping to be able to sell Singapore as a unique destination with such events at our attractions. Haw Par Villa is just the first step."
- Journey to the End and Back takes place on May 14 and 21, at Haw Par Villa. Timeslots are 1.30pm, 3.15pm, 5pm and 7pm, and last 60 minutes each. Tickets cost S$25 per person, and can be purchased at http://hawpar140516.peatix.com or http://hawpar210516.peatix.com
A 'novel' dining experience
By Tan Teck Heng
APPRECIATING literature doesn't have to be a solitary activity. This Friday, ANDSOFORTH - a nomadic theatre group - is launching a pop-up event combining food, literature, and immersive theatre. Based on and named after Goh Poh Seng's 1972 novel If We Dream Too Long (often said to be Singapore's first novel), this spin on secret suppers is a one-hour, 40-minute affair with guided interactions and a four-course meal that promises a, uh, novel dining experience.
If We Dream Too Long is one of several fringe events leading up to the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) later this year. ANDSOFORTH's husband-and-wife team were first approached by SWF for a collaboration. The brief? "We were asked to pick a local book and to do our thing with it," says co-founder Stuart Wee.
"I went with Goh because the novel is so whimsical," he adds. "It's about this character, Kwang Meng, who likes to escape from reality and his clerical job; he'll take medical leave and run to the sea, dreaming about the perfect family."
For Mr Wee, it's really about simpler times: "Basically the Singapore dream back then in the late 60s was just about having a house, a wife, and a job."
While Mr Wee is coy with the details, participants are likely to be dropped into several significant scenes in Goh's novel, with set-pieces that mix reality with dreamscapes.
Audiences don't have to be familiar with the book to enjoy themselves, though coming with an open mind and being ready to mingle with fellow diners and actors will enhance the experience. "Singaporeans are typically shy and take time to warm up, but the complimentary drink will help too!" quips Mr Wee.
They've also engaged poet Marc Nair to adapt the book. "The novel was probably one of the first to be written fully in the local vernacular," notes Mr Nair, who believes ANDSOFORTH's adaptation has mass appeal.
"Hopefully, this event will reach people who love the arts but who might not go for, say, a poetry reading," he explains. "While cross-genre work is already being done elsewhere, here it's far more interactive, and also a touch more approachable and commercial with the F&B element."
On that note, expect authentic local fare by chef Chung Deming, of "mod sin" eateries The Quarters and Kush (at Timbre+). Don't be surprised if you're accosted by an actor playing a kaypoh relative while you're tucking into, say, curry chicken. The whole idea is to immerse yourself into the novel's universe and Kwang Meng's life, warts, zits and all.
And judging from a visit to the site, If We Dream Too Long is no fly-by-night operation; on top of actors rehearsing on the elaborate set, we spotted excel sheets full of sound cues and food plating timings so the whole multi-sensory experience will be perfectly synchronised.
This production marks a departure from ANDSOFORTH's usual fare: "We typically base our concepts on more commercial or light-hearted themes," says co-founder Emily Png.
For instance, their last pop-up was an indoor picnic, where participants could lay their mats on a fantastical, gnomish wonderland in the comfort of air-conditioning. The Picnic went viral on social media and sold over 1,500 tickets, making it their most successful production to date. Their next event, to be held later this year, will be a spy-themed affair.
"But we're trying to support local literature and culture, which hopefully audiences here will not take for granted," adds Ms Png.
- If We Dream Too Long runs for three weekends (Friday to Sunday) from this Friday till May 29. Tickets at S$88 (inclusive of four-course local 60s cuisine and a drink) available from http://www.andsoforth.com.sg/
When parties get theatrical ...
By Avanti Nim
CLUBBING is so passé. Forget mindless drinking and feverish dancing - the new party is one that blends elements of art, theatre, dining and music into the kind of experiential affair that is gaining in popularity.
A case in point is lifestyle and events group Sunshine Nation's second Electro Ball at The Black Swan on May 14, in partnership with The Lo & Behold Group.
It will differ from its predecessor with a "Shanghai Swing" theme, but still retain its old-world glamour.
Apart from its live music acts, guests can also expect to be entertained by showgirls, acrobats and even contortionists.
Tania Chan, director of marketing and communications for The Lo & Behold Group, says: "The Singapore nightlife scene is increasingly saturated, which has resulted in an on-ground desire for a more unique experience. The lines between dining, art and culture will continue to blur in a manner that makes the term 'party' increasingly ambiguous, and there's definitely a growing trend for differentiated and holistic experience like the Electro Ball."
Lisa Johannsen, Events & Communications at Sunshine Nation, explains: "Electro Ball is different from our other events like Garden Beats because it appeals to a different demographic. Our target guests are in their 30s, who enjoy classy events and dressing up in costumes."
This year, they're expecting a turnout of around 400 people, up from last year's figure of 300.
"When a concept is newly launched, it's more difficult to generate interest - but once it's proven itself, it's far easier to market," says Ms Johannsen. In fact, despite the "last-minute nature of Singaporeans", 150 tickets have already been sold for the event, which is likely to be a yearly affair.
The music that forms the backdrop is, of course, electronic music. The live performances by local artists Avneesh and Ashley Howard will be a mix of electric swing music featuring saxophones and trombones.
Ms Johannsen says: "There's a gap in the market for events that play electronic music, so we wanted to fill it. It's all about giving our guests what they want, and there are too many EDM (electronic dance music) and indie acts out there."
The concept of the event was chosen based on the venue, and not vice-versa, as is often the case.
Ms Chan explains: "Housed in a heritage building, the former KwangTung Provincial Bank, The Black Swan's art deco architectural details and interiors are a throwback to the glitz and glamour of the roaring 20s."
- The Electro Ball 2016 will be held at The Black Swan at 19 Cecil Street on May 14. Tickets start at S$35. For more information, please visit www.sunshine-nation.com