It’s kind of fascinating how the Internet has given us a totally new form of arts criticism: posts on social media, delivering immediate reactions to shows by non-professional critics among the audience.
Here’s a roundup of a few viewpoints from friends and celebrities on SIFA’s opening show, Art Studio / 画室, based on a novel of the same title by Yeng Pway Ngon and directed/adapted by Nelson Chia.
First, one of our guests of honour, Grace Fu :
Really enjoyed Art Studio (画室), the opening show at #sifa2017. Performed in Mandarin, it was adapted from a Chinese novel of the same name, written by Mr Yeng Pway Ngon, Singaporean novelist and 2003 Cultural Medallion recipient.
The play centred around an earnest teen Ji Zong and a group of talented artists. It brought us on an emotional journey, as we experienced the ups and downs of these artists, from the tumultuous 1960s to the new millennium. It was, in turns, touching, funny, sad and bittersweet.
It is encouraging to see such great works by our artistes. Singapore’s arts scene has come a long way; international festivals such as SIFA continue to present engaging and diverse works to our audiences.
My heartiest congratulations to Director Nelson Chia and the cast from 九年剧场 Nine Years Theatre on a brilliant performance. Looking forward to watching more sifa shows!
[Translation: Thank you to Nine Years Theatre for staging Yeng Pway Ngon’s novel as the opening production of SIFA 2017. Art Studio is a soulful work, a rich and delicate, emotionally moving artwork. I look forward to enjoying other SIFA performances!]
Here’s one from Daniel Teo . Research and Documentation Executive at Centre 42. He also baked cookies for the cast:
"Art Studio" was a 3-hour epic theatrical journey, and well worth the bum ache! It was masterful storytelling, told with skilled ensemble work and a strong, consistent aesthetic. Every moment was beautiful, a string of tableaus in which every movement and minutae onstage was well thought-out. (Except for that darn mynah.)
I know I'm gushing, but that's because I'm aware of what it took to bring the novel to stage. Nelson and the Nine Years Ensemble spent over a year of deep study into "Art Studio", stripping the novel down to its studs and building it back up again for the stage. And it's not an easy novel. Multiple convoluted and intersecting storylines, a whole hoard of characters, decades upon decades of narrative time, and multiple narrative voices, just don't translate onto stage in a straightforward manner. But NYT has done it.
I anticipate some people may not understand the decision to focus heavily on exposition and narration in the stage adaptation. Others may even wonder why Nelson and team had not chosen to streamline the adaptation by dispensing with some characters and plotlines. But that would have been a hack job of an adaptation. NYT instead chose the more difficult route of honouring the source material. And what they've accomplished is putting an entire novel onstage, exactly as they'd aimed for.
If you've read "Art Studio", you'll know what they've done is an incredible feat. And they've done it with aplomb and a keen eye for detail. Set, lighting, sound, text, movement etc, everything came together cohesively to depict the lives of "Art Studio's" many, many characters.
"Art Studio" is easily the best new dramatic work I've watched this year. No doubt about that. #artstudio 九年剧场 Nine Years Theatre #sifa2017"
[Translation: Last night I watched Art Studio. I was very moved, and today I wrote down some thoughts: “It’s been many years since I saw such an ambitious Singaporean Mandarin theatre production. When I saw this, it touched me deeply. Yeng Pway Ngon’s original work provides a vital foundation, because his novel has complex and sophisticated characters, rich imaginative qualities and deep historical reflections. Nelson Chia’s adaptation and direction has provided a base to add new and multidimensional creative theatre elements to bring life to the book.]
Here’s my own commentary from the circle seats:
So I wasn't initially enthused by the idea of watching Art Studio / 画室 by Nine Years Theatre, a three-hour adaptation of an epic Mandarin novel by Singaporean author Yeng Pway Ngon / 英陪安. But damn, it actually works! Nelson Chia's script keeps a lot of the third person narrative storytelling, but the ensemble cast in stylised costumes makes it easier to keep track of who's who, and the sheer eccentricity of the tale shines through. We follow the characters from a 1979 art class across time and space from 1950s student movements to the cosmopolitan 2010s, through unrequited love and diverted dreams... and it's kinda exhausting but wonderfully rewarding in the end. Also, there's an incredibly shady smackdown of Tan Swie Hian that had me giggling in the circle seats. I can only hope someone roasts me so well in the future. #sgtheatre #sglit #sifasg #sifa
And finally, a word from actress Ethel Yap (she’s wearing the green top in these pics):
It was an absolute treat to support 九年剧场 Nine Years Theatre and my friends in Art Studio. What a MASTERFUL performance - their ensemble energy is second to none and every single performer was riveting to watch and carried their weight evenly, even if they were just kneeling in a corner. You could sense every person on stage GIVING - to their fellow performers, to the audience and to the piece on a whole. If you want to watch a show with HIGHLY-SKILLED actors where not a single thing is wasted and meaning and intention are communicated in every way, WATCH THIS SHOW. Thank you Nelson Chia, Mia Chee 徐冰, Nine Years and the entire team in Art Studio for a breathtaking performance. All that training has certainly paid off because I cannot imagine a company pulling off what I saw on stage without the kind of training I know they've been drilling.
Amongst other things, the play was an epic meditation about what it means to be an artist.. there were many sobering moments that hit my heart. Why is it that great artists are only venerated and celebrated after their death? A character said what's the point of posthumous honours if the artist isn't around to receive and enjoy them? What's the point of an artist dying having been tortured by never knowing whether or not anyone actually ever appreciated his talent while he was alive?! Are artists doomed to live in the binary of penniless authenticity or sustainable sell-out without ever being able to find a peaceful in-between?
My favourite line though, was "most famous does not mean first-rate." BOOM. HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD. #artstudio #nineyearstheatre #画室 #sifa.