Open up to the theatre world

SINGAPORE - Last Saturday, I held on to a stranger's shoulders for 15 minutes and shuffled around Robertson Quay blindfolded, trying not to trip over my own feet.

No, my sightless wandering was not part of a belated Valentine's Day surprise - it was part of a contemporary dance taster workshop at a call for participants for The O.P.E.N.'s Ways Of Wandering, a mass participatory performance.

The O.P.E.N., which stands for open, participate, enrich, negotiate - is a new public-engagement initiative of the Singapore International Festival of Arts, to be held at end-June, two months ahead of the festival.

Aside from Ways Of Wandering, the programme will also include film screenings, talks and performance demonstrations.

Director of the festival, Ong Keng Sen, 49, says: "I think The O.P.E.N. is a public space and how we define public space is not just to give a space, but for Singaporeans to own some of the ideas, to own the emotions and to own the mindsets.

"So, in a way, The O.P.E.N. is really set up to transform the cultural landscape with the audience, rather than to just talk down to them."

Members of the public who can commit to the Ways Of Wandering project from next month to July will be given the opportunity to work with five artist mentors to create a work that will be presented in public on July 11 and 12.

Ong says: "You can really only own something if you participate in it and when you're actually doing something. These 100-plus people who take part will be asking themselves the question of what the 20th century means for them and they will look at the footprints of themselves as individuals." The theme of this year's festival is Legacy and the Classic.

Director of The O.P.E.N., Ms Noorlinah Mohamed, 45, says she hopes participants will "discover that the arts is something that they can do on an ordinary, daily basis, that the arts can enrich their lives and that their lives can enrich the arts experience as well".

Last Saturday, more than 250 participants took part in the taster workshops at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road.

I attended four sessions: a theatre one by director Jeremiah Choy and actress Sharda Harrison; two sound workshops by composer Philip Tan; and a contemporary dance session by Joavien Ng. As each workshop was only half-an- hour long, they were all packed to the brim with action.

The theatre taster saw a group of about 20 of us running around to a drumbeat, finding empty space. The sound workshop was full of energetic hoots, growls, slaps and claps to create rhythm.

Freelance graphic designer Quek Hong Shin, 34, says of the theatre session he participated in: "I think it makes me look at the fun side of theatre, that it can be fun and inclusive, rather than very technical and needing a certain talent or skill.

"It seems like being part of theatre can be for everyone and anyone."

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