Thoughts on The O.P.E.N. 2016

Ng Yi-Sheng

July 19, 2016

We’ve less than a month to go before the festival proper, so perhaps this isn’t quite the right time to sit and take stock. But if I don’t cast a backward eye on The OPEN now, then when?

First off, I do think this year’s pre-festival was organised very well; better than the 2015 edition. Themes were placed into focus much more clearly—the Muslim world, fashion, immigration, individual capacities for change. 

Interactions with artists seemed to take place on a more human scale—workshops with Qetiq and Carla Fernandez; intimate discussions with Vali Malhouji and Newsha Tavakolian; chewing the fat over the film program with Bee Thiam and his friends. Quite different from the lofty double-storeyed lectures of last year, with Toyo Ito and Lu Guang, and the honestly quite boring Show Me the World Symposium. No, this was all quite fun instead. 

The sequencing mattered too: we started off with Perhat Khaliq as a major international draw that filled Victoria Concert Hall, making the prestige of the event clear to all and attracting the relatively untapped community of Chinese nationals in our country. Then we closed with a truly joyous, mostly homegrown carnival at Club Malam. (One could argue that we'd have got more young indie theatregoers to other events if we'd opened Club Malam earlier, and that’s true. But after the iffiness of last year’s 15 Stations, I’m glad the amateur performers of Club Malam had more time to rehearse.)

Then there’s the fact that we did manage to pull in twice the audience of the 2014 edition. It’s easy to pooh-pooh this as an empty statistic — a KPI (key performance indicator), as strategists would say — but it does matter. People didn’t just go for the things that first caught their attention, staying home otherwise; they popped in and out of talks and workshops and exhibitions and shows. Mainland Chinese fans of the Voice came for Perhat Khaliq and stayed for Marina Otero; film buffs came for Apichatpong Weerasethaskul and stayed for Senyawa. 

So there was a community of sorts being made, diverse in interests and background. A Tribe, perhaps. ;)

Keng Sen let slip at one point that he tries to program The OPEN late, so that we get the most cutting-edge events. And I do have my suspicions that he might love this pre-festival more than the main festival: it is after all his baby (it had never been done before he proposed it as part of his bid to be Festival Director) and he’s partially freed from the demands of thinking about a mass market, unlike in SIFA proper. And the building of this small community isn’t so different from the other miniature tribes he’s during other festivals: The Flying Circus Projects, and the old 1990s TheatreWorks drama festivals on Fort Canning Hill.

But to move from a small audience to a larger one is no cause for regret: it simply requires new strategies. One strategy, of course, is to bring the smaller audience along with you, which we’re doing by automatically giving all holders of The OPEN Pass the privilege of being a SIFA Friend, with 25% discounts on tickets.

In the weeks to come, I’ll be examining the offerings we’ve got for SIFA proper, offering my forecasts and forebodings on each one. I’ll also try and interview a few folks involved.

But I won’t be blogging every day. Lord knows, we all could use a bit of rest.

UPDATE: The Straits Times report on this is here.

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  • 2016