Changes at helm of fringe festival

Changes at helm of fringe festival
Theatre practitioner Sean Tobin will oversee the festival from next year to 2017.

Theatre company The Necessary Stage has announced a significant change to the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, which it has organised for the past 10 years.

The annual festival, an edgy outfit known for showcasing intimate and thoughtprovoking work, will now have a new artistic director every three years, taking over a role which was shared between the company's founder Alvin Tan, resident playwright Haresh Sharma and general manager Melissa Lim.

First to take the mantle is theatre practitioner Sean Tobin, 42, who will oversee the festival from next year to 2017 while continuing in his post as head of the theatre faculty at the School of the Arts.

Ms Lim, 38, says he was a "natural choice", having formerly worked at The Necessary Stage as artistic director, youth and community, and "therefore is very familiar with our working ethos". Two of his works, Tongues (2012) and What Did You Learn Today? (2011), have been staged at the festival.

Tobin tells Life! that he has always enjoyed the Fringe's focus on small and intimate work and the exchange it promotes between artists and audiences.

He says: "The Fringe always tends to be associated with being a bit more gritty, crazy and wild, whereas Singapore's a bit cleaner and more organised. I'm interested in that as a model and how to build on that."

This change comes on the heels of the festival's most successful edition yet, its 10th, held in January. Themed Art & The People, its total viewership for both ticketed and non-ticketed events was nearly 14,000, a 44 per cent increase from last year's 9,755 audience members.

As such, Tobin is being careful about his approach to a popular festival with a widening audience base.

He says: "My first approach would be to understand it a bit more from the inside out and how it works. It's important not to just change things on the spot. You have the role for three years, so there's a chance for you to familiarise, then start to massage and change things a little.

"I'm excited about working with local artists, looking at what kind of support they need - because I know what it's like to be an independent artist, and I'd like to be aware of the challenges they face and if there's a way we can offer a kind of exchange and mutual support, a third eye to look at the development of their work."

Telco M1 will continue as the festival's title sponsor. The Necessary Stage, as the festival organiser, will continue to oversee the festival's administration, production and marketing.

The theme for the next festival is Art & Loss, and it will run from Jan 14 to 25 next year.

The 27-year-old theatre company also unveiled a new laboratory programme, The Orange Playground, which aims to encourage collaboration between the company and artists working in different genres. Applications are now open.

Led by Tan, this experimental platform will feature intercultural and interdisciplinary workshops which will push the boundaries of performance styles.

There will likely be public performances or showcases at the company's Black Box in Marine Parade Road as a culmination of the programme.

Ms Lim says: "We felt that, given our diverse range of works and interests at The Necessary Stage, it's a good time to consider new nurturing and developmental platforms which allow us to create and collaborate with other artists across all genres, without the pressure of having to deliver a product after a stipulated time frame.

"We hope this will mean more inter-artist and cross-genre engagement, more freedom to explore and, with that, more fresh, creative ideas and inspirations."

This article was published on April 5 in The Straits Times.

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