When we think about the theatre scene in Singapore, Buds Theatre is sure to come to mind. Established in 2007, Buds Theatre Company provides platforms for young theatre practitioners to practice their craft and hone their skills. In order to take the Arts to greater heights, Buds Theatre has created the Asian Youth Theatre Festival, a bridge to connect Asia through performance, dialogue and exchange programmes.
We spoke to Claire Devine, the artistic director of Buds Theatre to give us a little insight on what it’s like managing, organising and running developmental programmes within the Arts Scene in Singapore.
Being one of the main drivers of the Arts Scene in Singapore is no easy feat, what was it like coordinating and being part of the Asian Youth Theatre Festival?
“Working on AYTF is an amazing experience – it’s like being part of a huge multi-cultural family.”
In interacting with youths around Asia, there were cultural exchanges, language barriers and a lot of different perspectives shared. The connections and bonds forged over the common love for the performing arts shows that a medium like theatre has the potential to shift perspectives and spearhead change.
The Asian Youth Festival talks about levelling the playing field, what does that mean to you?
“It starts with us helping developing countries to recognise the value of their own rich cultural heritage. In the past, some of the groups tried to fit into the Western theatre box, disregarding their own traditions. In this case, levelling the playing field means celebrating that country’s traditional art forms and helping them to recognise their value to the larger collective. This is why we have introduced a module entitled, Anchoring Tradition for this year’s Residency programme. “
Hopefully, Buds Theatre will get to travel to Myanmar in November for AYTF20, participants can look forward to a paradigm shift, where they learn to appreciate theatre without the excess, performing on a simple bamboo stage, has as much value to a society as a professional theatre such as the Esplanade.
Sounds like much fun, but coordinating something across borders proved to be quite the challenge.
“Coordination is all part of a larger puzzle. It is a lengthy process though and takes a good chunk of time, so we felt introducing a Residency programme half way through the year might alleviate some of the issues by ensuring the leaders have a better understanding and appreciation of ‘How to put on a festival’, so that we don’t have to do too much of the chasing.”
Though logistically and operationally challenging, the experience was definitely worth the hard work. The exposure gave youths a chance to connect with individuals with varying life experiences, bringing them a step closer to becoming better global citizens.
Tell us more about your residency programme shifting from live to online, how has this affected you and your team?
“Again this is a work in progress. It means all the programmes have to be written first, and then translated into at least six different languages.”
Taking anything online requires a fair bit of planning, with more texts, theory and far less practice. The mechanics behind presenting each module based on the levels of interactivity require careful thought.
Considering how much effort it took to reach this level of participation, engaging over 231,253 youths from 12 different countries, how has the onset of covid-19 affected the efforts in building up the arts scene in SG?
“In some ways, it has decimated it, in others it has pushed, coerced, forced people to change their current thinking to broaden their scope of work.”
Some of the arts prosper, fine artists for example have time to create but theatre is a tricky one as it is all about live human interaction.
“For Buds, we use theatre as a vehicle for change and this format really does require interaction between the performer and the audience. It is possible but it marginalises your results. Theatre, instigates a real time emotional response, a potential spiritual investment and residual memory that operates as a multidimensional trigger.”
Certain things are difficult to replicate online, what is so special about live theatre?
“Aside from the entertainment value of theatre, Theatre for Change, offers our audiences a new genre that specifically focuses on their needs. We don’t present alternative realities, impossible dreams, we present gritty, controversial, conflicting, honest and confronting situations that are familiar to society, that allow our audiences to organically and immediately respond.”
Theatre promotes dialogue and discussion, empowering audiences to think independently, to listen to alternative viewpoints, to problem solve, and most importantly, to empathise.
Speaking of learning to empathise with others, are there any examples of how theatre was used to support the community in a time like this?
“We have been running a weekly story-telling series for parents to share with their children and for young actors to mimic and practice their own story-telling skills. We want this series to inspire hope.
Knowing lots of people do not have access to such great, natural beauty, the videos are taken in a garden with birds chirping in the background. You can check them out on their instagram page.
Has buds theatre been doing any zoom calls or online enrichment programmes to continue efforts during covid-19?
“Buds Youth Theatre has been running weekly, online, throughout the lockdown. Practitioners have been extraordinarily helpful, by reworking their programme to suit this format.
While it is fantastic that many of us are adapting and technology has given us this luxury to connect, we can all agree that people need people.
“Theatre as a vehicle for change” what is one issue you think deserves to be brought centerstage?
“The true value of human connection. This lockdown has raised so many mental health issues. Either increased harm to victims of abuse, or harm done due to sudden containment, single people/over 70’s alone and depressed.”
As a society, we need to exercise more compassion. It is much easier to scrutinise and criticize others than to practice love and understanding especially in a time like this, but we have to try.
What are your hopes and aspirations on the future of the arts in Singapore, dream big!
“Having been in this scene for 23 years, I would love to see drama in the curriculum from Kindergarten upwards, as the value it has to the student is exponential. And as the world becomes more reliant on AI, these EQ skills, taught in a drama classroom will become invaluable. It is potentially one of the only ways to get the nation to understand and appreciate the value of art.”
There is something raw and uninhibited about the stage- stories come to life, society is examined through specific lenses and perspective is often explored. The space and experience shared with fellow thespians observed and scrutinised by audiences is often an intimate, liberating experience- a sense of participation that cannot be achieved through movies and television.
So, what is theatre really about? It is about human connection.
To keep the arts alive and support Bud’s Theatre, you can consider heading to giving.sg to make a donation today.