Interview with Fred Frumberg

Ng Yi-Sheng

June 14, 2015

When I interviewed Noorlinah, I mentioned that I’d probably want to get round to chatting with Fred Frumberg, Director of Productions for SIFA. I managed to get a word in with him while he was setting up 15 Stations.

(I previously got to know Fred in Cambodia, when he was Executive Director of the very cool arts company Amrita Performing Arts, which fuses together traditional Khmer dance with contemporary choreographic ideas.)

YS: So what does your job require?

FF: Me and my production team have to manifest Keng Sen’s vision. So once the shows are confirmed with him, I deal with the artists in terms of contracting them to find out what all their technical needs are.

I don’t do it myself – I couldn’t do it without my staff it’s not a one-man show by any means. I have a key hospitality person organising flights and hotels and a technical manager comes in earlier to figure out the tech riders and start budgeting the shows, and the next stage is bringing in the production managers – each gets assigned their own shows.

Then it gets into even more detail: we start bringing in production assistants and crews, and all the vendors come with all the equipment and it all dovetails from one layer to another, in a complex maze of  layers, until the show finally closes and everyone goes home and we clear the set out…

YS: So it’s like Keng Sen’s the father, who just plants the seed, and you’re the mother who has to carry it to term?

FF: Funny you should say it, because it does take nine months! The gestation period – from the time Keng Sen says it’s booked to the time they fly here – it’s about nine months to make it happen.

But we have some shows that don’t happen till September, so some shows I’ll have worked on for a solid year. And there is one commission for 2016 that I’m already a bit involved in, so my involvement in that will be over a year.

YS: So you’re involved in commissions as well?

I love getting a show here that’s already made, but I really love new commissions, because it’s what I used to do, because it’s the evolution of a new work. I love that Keng Sen involves me with developing an artwork. It’s a big balance to bring in the nice polished work, and also to develop something new.

I’m involved insofar as when Keng Sen says these guys are commissioned, it’s my work to see it through. I meet with the artists and say things like, “This is your budget, so you when you’re developing your set design, you have to think about that.” I go to rehearsals early on – sometimes they want to know my opinion, sometimes they don’t. Like the Nanyang musical: I’m quite involved in that, because Alec [Tok], the director, he quite likes to have collaborations. With Mrs [Santha] Bhaskar, [choreographer of Smriti Padha] I actually went to India to watch three days of her rehearsals. So I develop a relationship with each one.

YS: I’m surprised you don’t do more of this, given that you used to do more creative work with Amrita Arts.

FF: It’s a real transition for me to go to another job that’s just manifesting someone else’s vision. But it’s fine – it’s what I was hired for. It was time to give it up to the Cambodians. I’m still helping out from a distance, but more on fundraising, not artistic stuff. They’re handling that on their own.

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  • 2015