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Photograph: Pangdemonium

Time Out Singapore's guide to staying cultured during a pandemic

We might not be able to attend a play or stroll through the museum, but that doesn't mean that you can't use this time to broaden your mind and gain some perspective

Dewi Nurjuwita
Written by
Dewi Nurjuwita

"As you binge-watch your thirteenth entire series on Netflix in two days, remember that in the darkest days, when everything else stopped, you turned to artists," is a quote by actor Tal Shulman that has been surfacing on social media lately.

As I'm writing this, I have a recording of Swan Lake on BroadwayHD playing in the background, featuring Tchaikovsky's famous score performed by Russia's Bolshoi Ballet. If there's even a small upside to all of this madness, it's the digitalisation of the arts and theatre scene that has emerged amidst the shuttered theatres and concert halls. 

Where people used to stream in and out of performing halls worldwide, including our beloved Victoria Concert Hall, Esplanade Theatre and Sands Theatre, culture vultures all around the world are now streaming plays, concerts, music, and ebooks online. 

A brave new world

I find myself virtually sitting in the Royal Albert Concert Hall to witness Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's legendary The Phantom of the Opera. Then I time travel to 1981 to catch Broadway musical Pippin, a contemporary classic that propelled late director-choreographer Bob Fosse to critical acclaim.

The most heart-warming moments, however, have been the watch parties I've attended with fellow theatre lovers in Singapore. At the end of a day working from home, we gather online to catch an engaging reading of Singapore Repertory Theatre's A Wedding, A Funeral & Lucky, the Fish or Those Who Can't, Teach by The Necessary Stage – either on Zoom or Facebook Live. 

Wild Rice
Photograph: Wild Rice

The homecoming

People who have never attended a single play by local theatre companies have become increasingly interested in productions that are now streaming online for free. These include Ivan Heng's phenomenal one-man performance in Emily of Emerald Hill, Siti Khalijah Zainal's brilliantly performed monodrama in Rosnah, or Janice Koh's portrayal of a heartbroken mother in Late Company by Pangdemonium. Streaming productions for free has democratised theatre, allowing it to reach a far wider audience than the familiar faces that usually fill up our black boxes.

And if the productions leave you entertained, consider supporting our theatre companies by leaving a donation. Being unable to stage productions or raise funds through sponsorships, they're relying on us so that when we can gather in theatres again, they'll be there to greet us.

The importance of being earnest

Arts and theatre aren't dead. In fact, they're more crucial in uplifting spirits now more than ever – and it has been inspiring to see the ways local theatre companies have picked themselves up and rise above these challenging and unforeseen circumstances.

"They say you'll come out of this 'circuit breaker' either a level up of yourself or, you know, a heavier yourself. I feel like I've learnt new things and how to direct plays through the screen. it's just something completely bizarre and crazy to me," shares Samantha Scott-Blackhall during a pre-show discussion. After all, she directed A Wedding, A Funeral & Lucky, the Fish ahead of its live rehearsed reading via Zoom in just a few weeks. "Having said that, I'm discovering that there are ways. We've had a lot of fun discovering how to translate what we'd have on stage into this medium." 

phantom of the opera
Phantom of the Opera, London, 2017, Credit: Johan PerssonPhotograph: Johan Persson

True, the magic of theatre can never be replicated through a screen, but watching local plays for free is a good way to overcome preconceived notions of the quality of Singapore theatre compared to its international counterpart. Now, everyone gets the chance to dip their toes into the world of theatre, regardless of status or geographical location. There's no better time to catch up on all the classics you've never gotten the chance to watch. Just remember to make a mental note to watch them in person once the world goes back to "normal". 

Spring awakening

In a similar vein, galleries and museums from the National Gallery Singapore to The Natural History Museum in London have brought their collections online – and artists are showcasing their artworks and classes on social media even more now than ever. Perhaps it's helpful to remember that some of the greatest art movements known to man (like the Renaissance) were born in the darkest of times. Whether we know it or not, society is changing on a massive scale, and I can't wait to see what's in store for the future of art and theatre.  

We may all be undoubtedly physically distant right now. But if we all just close our eyes, we'd hear rounds of applause echoing around the globe for artists, musicians, actors, dancers, producers, sound engineers, and everyone else involved in bringing arts and theatre to us amidst the chaos we're trying to distract ourselves from. Here's hoping that we all stay sane and connected through the love of arts, theatre and music.

How to stay cultured at home

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