Festivals of the future ‘won’t be limited by time and space’: CEO

Post-pandemic music and theater performances are likely to use a hybrid model, according to the chief executive of one of Singapore’s largest arts centers.

Yvonne Tham, CEO of Esplanade, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” that a mixture of in-person and streamed performances are set to be common in the future.

“Many artists are really open now to what’s known as hybrid, which (means they) may be performing in a particular space in a particular time, but how does that performance have an afterlife? And that’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves even as we’ve been producing lots of digital programs,” Tham said on Monday.

“We’re going to see festivals in future that are not just limited by time and space, therefore what goes on to complement that live experience in the digital space becomes quite important,” she added.

Pre-pandemic, around 3,000 performances took place annually at the Esplanade and it had to close its doors on March 26 due to coronavirus restrictions placed on venues. Since then it created its Esplanade Offstage website so people could continue to watch concerts and other performances and is now gradually reopening some of its venues — its Pip’s Playbox children’s space reopened on October 9, while its Jendela visual arts venue is set to reopen on October 16.

While some performances have continued outdoors, Tham said others work better inside. “We are looking at all ways of reaching audiences, be that in the open air, out in the garden, we are looking at our concert hall venues. Some (performances) they work far better in the concert hall and some in the theater space,” she said.

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Esplanade ran a small-scale in-person ballet show as a trial last month, and Tham said such initiatives had quickly sold out. “That really shows how well (there is) both confidence within the population of Singapore to be out but also the desire for people just to sit in a concert hall,” she said. 

“The work of the arts center is about bringing people together and trying to bring communities together … I think these things are fundamental to being human and they’re not going to go away,” Tham added.

The Esplanade is part-funded by Singapore’s government and also generates income via its restaurants and cafes, and is looking at how it monetizes digital performances. Tham said the organization is in “very close touch” with sponsors as well. “A system of patronage in the arts is very natural in the arts around the world and at a time like that, the question is what (do) the arts do to help societies recover (from the pandemic)? We all know that mental health is a real issue … therefore can we find partners who are interested to support the arts and mental health,” Tham stated.

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