Programming the Esplanade Theatres

Thursday 10 May 2001 – Singapore

It was raining and thundery all night, and I also suffered from traffic noise, to the extent of using ear plugs. In the morning I discovered that the double windows weren’t properly closed. When I did close them, things were much quieter. Took my raincoat on the bus as it was still raining a little, but the humidity made it impossible to bear. Shall have to purchase an umbrella, which is handy for sunny days, too.

Ric has three cats, each apparently a survivor. Two have tailed that have been (presumably accidentally) lopped off and the third has only one eye. Still they are friendly and happy to receive a pat. Ric and his flat-mate Ryan both leave for work very early, around 6.00am, so it is quiet in the mornings. Will lay in some breakfast supplies tomorrow – am looking forward to some proper coffee!

At the office I’m suffering from a lack of anything much to do – apart from checking my email and answering queries from home. The SSO is unable to provide me with a workstation, so am using my laptop for everything (they have managed to provide a phone line but I use my own ISP account). Met with Rick Ong, SSO Finance manager and discussed his role and he asked some questions about the TSO – the basic corporate structure seems to be similar to ours, although here they have subcommittees who are very active in the management structure.

Went for a long walk later in the day and came back and read all the SSO and other marketing materials that I could find, from cover to cover! Something will have to be done….

Esplanade Theatres under construction
Esplanade Theatres under construction

Early in the evening, I met up with Geoff Street (formerly of Victorian Arts Centre) who is Director of Programming at the Esplanade Theatre complex which is currently being built by the mouth of the Singapore River. Over a beer, we discussed many things, ranging from the TSO’s recent adventures and achievements; the relative position of the SSO; the planning he’s been involved with for the opening of the Esplanade Theatres and the attendant audience development; the role(s) of the National Arts Council; and my situation of underemployment at the SSO.

The Esplanade has four major programming areas:

  • Education – making the arts accessible. They are working with the National Library who have significant collections of both printed and digital format materials. Event programs will be in accessible language and encourage audiences to seek further information on what they are seeing through provision of web links and background information. The Library will have a major collection based at the Esplanade that will be accessible through booths. The emphasis seems to be on encouraging the audience’s curiosity. All Esplanade artists will be required to undertake additional educational activities (talks, workshops, performances and the like).
  • Community Access – making it easy for people to get to know the venue, through free events, making it physically easy to get to (via an underground, air-conditioned shopping mall connecting it with the major MRT interchange at City Hall), through integrated, online ticketing systems.
  • Local Artist Development – Esplanade will provide professional development opportunities for local artists to raise the standard of local productions. · Major productions and attractions – The Esplanade will open with a festival featuring some big name acts.

He says Singaporeans respond to known brands (just look at any of the many shopping malls for evidence of that) and so will be tempted to try the venue through the brands it presents. In this way the venue will build trust of its own brand and thus trust in lesser-known attractions that it will present in the future. To this end the Esplanade is not allowing any organisations to take up residency status in the venue, to avoid being branded with the resident company’s image. (This has been a source of some contention between SSO and the Esplanade, but the SSO will not be resident in the new venue).

It was a valuable hour spent!

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