Singapore to pilot “small-scale performances”, ending COVID-19 void of live shows

Performers and promoters who spoke to NME greeted the news with cautious optimism

Live performances may slowly return to Singapore, following the government’s announcement of small-scale pilot performances.

Last Friday (August 21), it was announced by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) that small-scale pilot performances are currently being explored. In cooperation with the National Arts Council (NAC), this run of shows is a small step towards restoring a scene of performing arts shows and concerts, which were halted in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a press release, the Ministry said “they will serve as trials for the progressive resumption of live performances on a broader scale and will help identify new models and best practices for these live performances to be conducted safely, and in a sustainable manner, going forward”.

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While details of these shows have yet to be announced, MCCY head Edwin Tong said that the series of performances will comprise a range tailored for a wide demographic of Singaporeans. “Live performances add a buzz to our society and community. I think we all yearn to be part of a live performance,” he says, according to The Straits Times.

“We’re going to try and pilot a few live performances at a few venues to see how that works out and if it’s safe enough, we’ll scale up.”

Proper safety measures will be put in place for each suitable venue. This effort complements the existing Arts and Culture Resilience Package (ACRP) announced in April, capped at S$55million.

Performers and promoters who spoke to NME noted the lack of detail in the announcement, but greeted the news on the whole with cautious optimism.

Singaporean musician Inch Chua acknowledged the “risk management” involved in this undertaking. The government’s move to “take the responsibility of beta testing and taking the risk” “does show initiative,” she told NME.

However, she noted, “What kind of shows and stakeholders they would choose to support with this initiative is still an unknown.”

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Earlier in the pandemic, Chua volunteered at migrant worker dormitories in Singapore, which had been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus. She channeled her experiences into a performance for the Checkpoint Theatre online production Two Songs And A Story, which is currently streaming.

“Arts has such an unspoken powerful ability to shape our society and communicate sentiments,” she told NME. “I can only hope that this curated process of beta testing encourages a diverse group of art practices to survive the pandemic in a safe manner.”

Chua added, “The fear of alienating alternative views or failing to consult the relevant key industry players could do some great damage in the long run.”

DJ and event organiser Adrian Wee praised the move as “a good starting point to kickstart live shows, albeit in a very controlled process”.

“I’m guessing they’re going to start with ‘soft music’ seated performances so the audience won’t be speaking loudly and spreading droplets,” he said.

Under the name weelikeme, Wee runs indie-rock party night Eatmepoptart alongside DJ KiDG. Their parties, formerly held at Zouk’s Phuture and Hard Rock Cafe, are on hold: The duo recently announced the brand’s indefinite hiatus, citing the lack of financial support necessary to continue running.

“I haven’t seen any substantial government support for clubs, promoters, and event organisers,” he told NME. “The message we got is: ‘Move on to other things or shut down’, and, we don’t have any indication of when things will start again, which is a huge inconvenience.”

Dan Gordon, a concert promoter under Now/Live, took the initiative as a positive move. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction as the number of COVID cases in Singapore is significantly dropping,” he said, “and I’m sure Singapore will only allow these pilot shows to take place with the most stringent of health protocols.”

Though Singapore continues to report new coronavirus cases daily, the government eased lockdown (or “circuit breaker”) restrictions in June, citing stable community infection rates, the decline of coronavirus cases in migrant worker dormitories and the absence of new, large clusters. On August 24, 51 new cases were confirmed, and 423 cases discharged.

Now/Live has brought the likes of The 1975, Bon Iver, and The xx to Singapore for concerts. Gordon is planning ahead with an events calendar beginning from mid-2021.

“It’s a difficult and uncertain time. We don’t know when artists will be able to travel and shows in Singapore rely heavily on touring throughout the rest of Asia and Australia,” he said.

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