From left: Adrian Tan, Deborah Emmanuel, Vernetta Lopez, Joshua Ip, Petrina Kow,
Oniatta Effendi, Hirzi Zulkflie, Deborah Emmanuel, Shamini Flint, and Gwee Li Sui
BIG DREAMS PAY OFF AT SINGAPORE WRITERS FESTIVAL
WITH SPIKE IN TICKET SALES, AND MANY FESTIVAL ‘FIRSTS’ WELL RECEIVED BY AUDIENCES
SINGAPORE, 16 November 2015 – This year’s 18th edition of the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) ended on a high, having engaged a deeper audience base than last year, with new commissions, fresh partnerships and the introduction of five festival tracks. This came with a greater emphasis on inter-disciplinary events which transcended genres, languages and art forms.
Over the festival period of 30 October to 8 November, 19,700 members of the public participated in more than 310 events, featuring 324 authors and personalities from Singapore and around the world. The attendance figure is comparable to 2014’s figure of 19,500.
Attesting to their belief in the new programming, audiences were more willing to pay for a series of ticketed events this year compared to previous years. This year’s ticketed offerings comprised six lectures, four performances and a brand new overnight programme as well as 28 workshops and masterclasses (for adults and children). Last year’s ticketed events were five lectures, one performance and 12 workshops for adults. Children’s workshops were free of charge in 2014.
Altogether, there is a 30 per cent rise in the number of tickets sold, while total revenue saw an 80 per cent jump when compared to 2014. The increase shows a positive shift which alludes to an audience who value and are inclined to pay for the arts.
The festival had made the move back to the Civic District and housed events at more intimate venue spaces in The Arts House, as well as surrounding venue partners such as Asian Civilisations Museum after four years at the Singapore Management University Campus Green. With the theme Island of Dreams, the festival saw nine sold-out programmes, including the festival’s first overnighter, What I Love About You Is Your Attitude Problem, curated by Huzir Sulaiman of Checkpoint Theatre.
With the shift to more ticketed events, about 3,000 festival passes were still snapped up by audiences who attended the joyous celebration of words, drama, performance, music, art and languages.
SWF this year took on a bold new direction under the leadership of new Festival Director, Yeow Kai Chai, with the introduction of five new Festival Tracks – SWF Stage (marquee events), SWF Class (masterclasses and workshops), SWF3 (events for families), SWF Beyond (transcending language and genre) and SWF POP (year-long series of fun and surprising pop-up literary events).
“Many people, including first-time festival goers as well as Singaporean and international authors, have come up to me to say how much they enjoyed themselves and the diversity of the programmes. It is also great to be back at The Arts House this year, and we hope to continue this new momentum into next year’s festival as well,” said Yeow Kai Chai, Festival Director.
SWF Stage set the tone for inter-disciplinary events
The headlining lectures and events that came under the banner of SWF Stage saw an overwhelming response from audiences. Two of the shows were sold out and a total of five shows saw more than 90% of audience members in attendance.
The Moral Limits of Markets lecture by Michael Sandel held at the University Cultural Centre was the most well-attended event ever in the history of Singapore Writers Festival, with more than 1,300 people attending. Professor Sandel challenged the audience to think about the morals and ethics in a free market that is impersonal and blind to humanity’s needs.
China Re-Visioned, featuring Hong Kong’s Chip Tsao and Beijing’s Xu Zhiyuan, saw the Victoria Theatre packed with 580 in attendance, as the two Chinese intellectuals discussed issues relating to a rapidly-modernised China. It was the third most popular ticketed event in the history of SWF.
Booker Prize nominee, Deborah Levy, delivered a full-house lecture, What Dreams Reveal About Our Secrets And Desires, with 142 people filling The Japan Foundation Play Den.
SWF also witnessed several musical debuts. Island of Dreams featured live performances by two of Singapore’s most progressive rock bands, I Am David Sparkle and In Each Hand A Cutlass. It saw the launch of the SWF theme song entitled ‘The Paper, The Pen and A World Began’ that was commissioned for the festival. New Zealand singer-songwriter Hollie Fullbrook of Tiny Ruins also performed a world debut, ‘A Million Flowers’, at the festival’s opening ceremony.
In a Class of its own
SWF Class saw nine masterclasses and workshops this year.
There were four sold-out sessions: Susan Orlean’s masterclass on developing narratives in non-fiction writing; Heather McGregor aka Mrs Moneypenny’s workshop on how to write a weekly column; Yap Seow Choong’s travel-writing workshop; and Xu Zhiyuan’s workshop on critical essays.
Literature for the whole family
SWF3 also changed its format to be more inclusive, repackaged from last year’s Little Lit!, Besides catering to young ones, there were programmes targeted at parents, teens and young adults, as well as events that the whole family could attend together.
Festival pass and free events raise the bar on literary excellence
This year, there were 105 festival pass events and 112 free events, with a spectrum of thought-provoking panels, meet-the-author sessions and film screenings.
Many of the panel discussions were packed, with audiences standing on the aisles and some even sitting on the floor. Among the most popular Festival Pass sessions were ‘Short Does Not Mean Easy’ featuring Ken Liu, Stephanie Ye and Daren Shiau; ‘Critical Stage: Literary Reviews’ featuring Jeremy Tiang, Aaron Lee, Stephanie Ye and O Thiam Chin; ‘What Makes Singapore Singapore’, a session on SG50 anthologies featuring Gwee Li Sui, Arun Mahizhnan, Susan Long, Angelina Choy and Cheong Suk-Wai; ‘Unravelling Haruki Murakami’ featuring Motoyuki Shibata, Roland Kelts and Ted Goossen; and ‘Chinese Redefined’ featuring Ma Daishu, Xinran and Hong Ying.
As for the free events, many book launches held at the British Council Gallery were also packed. The most popular ones were the launches for poetry.sg and SingPoWriMo; the Union anthology; The Get Lucky anthology; and the anthologies by Noor Hasnah Adam.
Other crowd-pullers were the Epic International Poetry Night, which featured readings by seven internationally acclaimed poets, including Ravi Shankar, Mina Ishikawa and Myay Hmone Lwin; Singapura Campur: Ode to My Favourite Place, featuring nine Singapore-based authors; and Destiny: Story Slam Singapore, a storytelling session.
Closing the festival was the people’s favourite, The Closing Debate, which was back at the Chamber where it was first held in 2009. This time, two teams of four debated the topic “This House Believes That Singaporeans are not Dreamers”. Both teams drew roars of laughter from the audience with their wicked insights.
First-time festival-goer and Filipino poet-essayist, Lawrence Ypil (37 years old), said, “I wanted to know more about Singapore writing. I particularly enjoyed sessions which featured Singapore writers in conversation with international writers. Through this, I could get a sense of Singapore writers.”
“I like that the festival is now on a much bigger scale than before. It’s really heartwarming to see more people being interested in the art of writing here in Singapore. I’ll definitely be coming back!” quipped 23-year old Melissa Wong, a repeat festival-goer.
Preparations for next year’s installment of the Singapore Writers Festival are already underway and it is slated to happen from 4 to 13 November 2016.
Please see here for the full press release.