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Staying O.P.E.N. and curious
THE word "historic" appears a lot in press releases. But in the case of the upcoming O.P.E.N. festival - a mini-arts festival leading to the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) - its use of the word "historic" to describe its opening event is correct.
Never before has a Singapore arts festival immersed itself this deeply in public engagement. Instead of just allowing the public to, say, participate in a mass dance and speak in a post-show dialogue, the fourth and possibly last O.P.E.N. festival takes the public much closer to ideas, arguments and discourses than any arts festival has done.
Here are some events you shouldn't miss, and a single S$45 O.P.E.N. pass gives you admission to them all. (Prior online registration is required as capacity is limited in some cases.)
ART AS RES PUBLICAE
June 28 and 29, 7 to 10.30pm
Location: 72-13, Mohamed Sultan Road
The festival is set to open next week with an intense two-night discussion on topics that are deemed taboo by some in Singapore. These include ageing, death and euthanasia, as well as LGBTQ issues.
SIFA director Ong Keng Sen and The O.P.E.N. director Noorlinah Mohamed feel that civil discourse cannot progress if one simply accepts the oft-quoted reason that "Singapore is simply not ready for open discussions".
"With a highly-educated population and the fact that a lot of discussions are already taking place on the Internet, it strikes us that Singaporeans are ready to embrace debate and discourse on potentially touchy issues," says Ms Noorlinah.
The festival's opening event Art As Res Publicae has 45 discussants selected from an open call engaging in debate on various topics. Audience members get to watch and participate. Also present is a group of experts who will present their perspectives.
The 45 discussants are drawn from all walks of life, and from the two-day course each one has to attend, it is clear that they hold differing views on the issues to be brought to the table.
The first issue to be discussed on June 28 centres on pluralism in Singapore. Two actors, Claire Wong and Tan Kheng Hua, will read portions of Eleanor Wong's play Wills & Secessions, which centres on a lesbian lawyer struggling to cope with her ageing parents and sick girlfriend, even as her religious heterosexual sister condemns her sexuality.
After the reading, both the panel of experts and the discussants are expected to engage in a spirited debate about the issues explored in the play. The experts include Reverend Miak Siew, writer Alfian Sa'at and lawyer Choo Zheng Xi.
On June 29, the discussion turns to the future of ageing in Singapore. It looks at the ethical, practical and financial dilemmas of long-term care, and the responsibilities of families, friends, and communities. The panel of experts includes Lien Foundation's Radha Basu and medical doctor Philip Yap Lin Kiat.
Business analyst Daniel Tan, 44, has signed up to be one of 45 discussants. He notes: "We're a diverse society and we must learn to talk about our differences sensitively. But I think certain issues have hit a deadlock with little chance of moving forward ... I'm hoping that this discussion and its processes could prove useful in helping us break that impasse."
- To be an audience member, register at www.sifa.sg/theopen/registration
LIZARD ON THE WALL
June 30 to July 2, various times
Location: A colonial black-and-white house at an undisclosed location
Fancy being part of a movie shoot, while gaining a greater understanding of the director's craft?
The director, in this case, is the acclaimed K Rajagopal whose film Yellow Bird debuted at last year's Cannes Film Festival. His new film Lizard on the Wall is inspired by one of the best Singapore novels to emerge in recent years, Balli Kaur Jaswal's novel Inheritance, which centres on a Punjabi-Sikh family struggling with tradition and modernity in Singapore.
Now here comes the fun part: Rajagopal is shooting a Punjabi wedding scene which requires dozens of people of different races to play wedding guests.
As an O.P.E.N. ticket holder, you are invited to play one of the guests on the evening of June 30, July 1 or July 2. The role has no lines, though you might get lucky and be asked to perform simple ceremonial dance moves.
Taking place at a beautiful colonial house at an undisclosed location, the 3 ½-hour shoot lets you see up close the magic of cinema as it is being created - although it might disillusion you somewhat to also witness the unavoidable repeated takes and occasional technical glitches.
Rajagopal explains: "As a filmmaker, I've always been concerned with depicting minority issues. And the novel Inheritance centres on the Sikh community, a minority community within the minority community of Indian-Singaporeans, so that in itself is very interesting."
Rajagopal, who is Malayalee, consulted the Central Sikh Temple to understand the intricacies of various Sikh ceremonies so that they may be authentically portrayed.
Incidentally, one of his main cast members is Shrey Bhargava, an actor who was recently embroiled in a nationwide racial controversy when he wrote on Facebook about his experiences of auditioning for Jack Neo's film Ah Boy To Men4, where he was asked by the casting director to appear "more Indian".
Though Bhargava received both supportive and hate mail from the public, he says he's keen to move on and focus on his artistic pursuits: "Through the incident, I've found industry professionals who understand what I went through and who are on my side. As an artist, I know I'll never stop creating and I'm currently in the process of completing my short film Anew, which has a multiracial cast and crew comprising Indians, Indonesians, African-Americans and other races."
- To be an actor in Lizard on the Wall and see its making up close, register at www.sifa.sg/theopen/registration
July 8 to 30, at various times and locations
MAKE FOOD NOT WAR
July 7, 730pm, Malay Heritage Centre
The most lip-smacking events of the festival are its series of O.P.E.N. Kitchens, as well as the mass picnic Make Food Not War at the Malay Heritage Centre.
O.P.E.N. Kitchens, curated by Ms Noorlinah, has 27 home cooks around the island opening their kitchens up to groups of 20 to 25 strangers to cook for them.
The menu varies tremendously, from the vegetarian Malay food cooked by Nurhasana Kamaruzaman and Rusnah Sajee, to an unusual pesto sauce of kedondong prepared by 74-year-old Ng Swee Hiah, to the mushroom risotto and pork loin with crackling by 17-year-old Joshua Tang.
Mr Tang says: "I'm doing this to pay tribute to the men in my life, namely my father and grandfather, who have taken me on various culinary adventures and inspired me to take up cooking. My father started teaching me to cook when I was seven or eight by getting me to stir the pot. Now I'm an aspiring chef."
Mr Tang and the other home cooks will share anecdotes of their culinary journeys and even some of their secret family recipes with the audience.
For curator Ms Noorlinah, O.P.E.N. Kitchens offers a rare chance for people from different backgrounds to come together and bond over mostly Asian-inspired home-cooked food. "When else would you have the opportunity to have a stranger introduce you to nasi ulam, as cookbook author Sylvia Tan plans to do, or sweet potato donuts (kueh keria), which Asha Adnan of cooking group Asha & Co is preparing?"
In fact, an even-bigger event aimed at getting Singapore to bond over food is the Make Food Not War picnic at 7.30pm at the Malay Heritage Centre on July 9. There, everyone is invited to a free Lebanese meal cooked by chefs from Beirut.
The event is conceptualised by Lebanese visionary Kamal Mouzawak who led a food movement in his country to get people to set aside their ethnic and religious differences and simply cook and eat together.
Mr Ong, the SIFA director, says: "As this is the last year that my team and I are managing SIFA and its pre-festival The O.P.E.N., we see this final year as an opportunity to close the loop. The O.P.E.N. was always meant to be a programme of public engagement leading into main festival SIFA. And we've kept finding new ways to deepen that engagement with our audience, to bring them into this discussion of ideas.
"This is how we've measuring the success of the festival before we leave - not by making the festival bigger and bigger, but by creating a real depth of participation that no festival has done before."
From 2018 to 2020, SIFA will be led by Gaurav Kripalani, the artistic director of Singapore Repertory Theatre.
O.P.E.N. Kitchens takes place at various locations from July 8 to 30 at various times. For a detailed programme, visit www.sifa.sg/theopen/programme/shows/o-p-e-n-kitchens. Subsequently, register for the kitchen you'd like to visit.
As for Make Food Not War, the mass picnic takes place on July 7 at 7.30pm at Malay Heritage Centre, 85 Sultan Gate. Register at www.sifa.sg/theopen/registration