I know the talk of the town is how the CEO of the Arts House, Lee Chor Lin, is stepping down in December. But the story I’ve been wanting to use to wrap up this blog is an interview with an interviewer: that young man in skinny jeans who’s been accosting audience members for Q&As in front of a giant video camera after every show.
Benedict Leong is in fact a very young man: he’s a 23 year-old NSF, and he was doing this job after he booked out of camp each day. Still, I figured he’d have a unique take on the festival, given the fact that he spoke to audience members in a much more in-depth fashion than I did.
I got him over the phone while he was in camp.
NYS: Were you involved in SIFA before this year?
Benedict: Actually, in 2014, Noorlinah and myself and Kheng [i.e. Tan Kheng Hua] launched The O.P.E.N., and I was the project coordinator for Ways of Wandering. It was this 160-member outdoor performance at MacRitchie Reservoir and at Tiong Bahru Park. Then last year the front-of-house manager for a couple of shows. This year I’m just doing interviews.
Ways of Wandering, 2014
NYS: Why did you get involved?
Benedict: I’ve been interested in theatre for a very very long time. I stopped performing in 2013, but I wanted to explore more avenues in the theatre industry, which is why I delved into marketing and PR and social media and producing, which is what I’ve been doing with Kheng. So I’m just exploring more options in the industry.
NYS: What was your job in SIFA?
Benedict: I was actually their qualitative surveyor. That’s the official term that I’m given. Basically I do the interviews: I transcribe them and I send them over to Noorlinah, so she can decide to use the videos for archival purposes or for the press.
NYS: That sounds like a lot of work. Were you paid?
Benedict: Yeah, it’s a paid job.
NYS: How many people did you interview after each production?
Benedict: About three?
NYS: Did you do interviews after every production?
Benedict: I went to most of them. For example, I missed the Sardono Live Painting and In the Mood for Frankie and one more, I can’t remember at this pint of time. I also did it not just for the shows themselves, but also for the SIFA Shares program. But I was away during The O.P.E.N.
Kabuki Demonstration: The Art of the Onnagata, by Kazutaro Nakamura, a SIFA Shares event
NYS: And was it difficult?
Benedict: Oh yes it was, especially when the shows run late. Then it really becomes an issue because everybody just wants to go home instead of have a stranger ask questions about what they thought about the show.
But it’s very interesting because of the responses we managed to get from the over 68 interviews I’ve done this year. The responses have been very varied.
NYS: What were they like?
Benedict: The last question I asked them in the interview is what comes to mind when they hear the word “potentialities”, which is the theme this year. So most of the time people give a word like “possibility”. “Opportunity” comes up a lot. But also some people gave me words like “hope”, and a gentleman gave me a phrase that is very interesting: “It is a product born out of chaos.” So I get all these little sound bites from this question and answer. And it goes into the video lah.
NYS: And where are the videos now?
Benedict: The videos are now with Noorlinah.
NYS: Based on the interviews, what do you think was the least popular performance?
Benedict: I don’t know, actually. At this point of time I can’t really recall.
NYS: The most popular, then?
Benedict: I think a lot of people loved Five Easy Pieces. I think I heard a lot of really good reviews. Everybody gave different comments. It had its own…
Five Easy Pieces
When I interviewed people about Hamlet | Collage, everybody was just raving about the set; everybody just loved the set; they all found it very beautiful and visually appealing to watch. Whereas for Five Easy Pieces, people generally spoke more about the issues that the show touched on. Each show had its own strength.
NYS: And what are your overall impressions of SIFA, given your position as a collector of information?
Benedict: I think it has definitely grown a lot. Because I was there when it started in 2014, and now in 2016 I see the Festival has drawn so many kinds of people. People used to be a little bit uncertain about whether this would fly, what is the direction that Keng Sen is trying to bring the Festival towards, but now in 2016, people get it.
People understand that it’s not just an arts festival for locals or foreigners. It’s for everybody. And I’ve realised through interviewing the different audience members, a lot of people who came for the shows are not normal theatregoers. A lot of them come for many diff reasons. And that I feel is one of the achievements we have made over the years.
NYS: What are your plans for the future?
Benedict: Currently I’m working on Tropicana with Kheng, which will open at Capitol Theatre next year. It’s a brand new original musical and I’m her assistant producer. It’s written by Haresh Sharma and directed by Beatrice Chia.
And I’ll performing in my own show. It’s called Dear Jay, and it’s written by Euginia Tan and directed by Hazel Ho. I’m playing the lead, and an ensemble of six other actors. It’s being staged from 16 to 18 of December at the Esplanade Theatre Studio.
NYS: And is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Benedict: I don’t have much. That’s about it actually!