could ask for a more subtle revolution?
FamFest 2001 arts festival in Marine Parade, which ended
last weekend, saw veteran theatre group The Necessary Stage
(TNS) plugging their repertoire of skills into the gritty,
grassroots world of community work ('Drama can heal', Project
Eyeball, May 3).
reflection, imagination & catharsis are ideas
at the heart of the arts –
directly relevant to the human problems social
one for the notion of the arts as an expensive, ivory tower
self-indulgence, divorced from real-world issues.
two for the hereditary divide between edgy artists, stuffy
authorities, and the rest of us plebians.
are plenty of reasons to cheer the involvement of the arts
in community work here.
idea isn't exactly new. In fact, dramatic techniques like
role-play - where participants literally put themselves
in someone else's shoes to think about issues - have been
used to good effect in classrooms and management training
for some time now.
hardly surprising. Communication, reflection, imagination
and catharsis are ideas at the heart of the arts - and directly
relevant to the tricky but very human problems which social
workers, counsellors and educators confront.
it's one thing to theorise about the value of the arts and
quite another to put it to practice - and for pragmatic,
untrained audiences to find the experience worthwhile.
authorities should be given due credit for supporting the
effort, which is a non-traditional approach to social work,
at the least.
a different time and place, the whole concept of interactive
theatre - with its shades of taboo, scriptless forum theatre
- might have been turned down by the heavy-handed or the
2001 has pushed the envelope, indicating that it's alright,
in principle, for people to get hands-on with difficult
topics they care about, like sexuality and singlehood. At
the least, they're more informed about where the issues
if we want to encourage a thinking community, any kind of
active engagement with issues is preferable to the passive
absorption encouraged by the goggle box or mainstream entertainment.
that's another achievement - community arts is a great way
to wean us off the unhealthy bond between artistic endeavour
and commercial entertainment. Sure, laughter, good fun and
big business have their place in the world.
it's easy to forget, in a world of big-name musicals and
flashy theatre tours, that a Renaissance city is more than
watching top-class opera or exporting our shows overseas.
also about making the arts, and the values they advocate
- from critical thinking to creativity - a part of our cultural
fabric and way of life. And that means getting comfortable
with the arts as thinking tools and platforms for discussion,
not just fillers for fund-raising efforts, or luxury leisure
for the elite.
that from a scant three weeks in Marine Parade? Well, it's
it gives working artists the quiet legitimacy Singaporeans
appreciate and respect - the sort that comes from contributing
to the community. Writers giving talks to school children
during Library Week. Musicians playing for welfare homes.
Digital artists in support of Aids awareness.
involved in actual social work can only throw up fresher
and more authentic fodder for artistic efforts, as TNS'
Alvin Tan has pointed out.
be fair, serious arts types have been grappling with social
issues on their own terms.
was missing was a way of communicating those efforts and
their potential benefits to the public at large so that
they come across as thoughtful and refreshing, and not obscure
or condescending. And it doesn't have to mean dumbing down
or diluting the artistic content if the issues are real
and handled with honesty and compassion.
community arts approach of FamFest 2001 seems a promising
way of returning the arts to its social roots.
the method works, it could heal more than the families and
individuals helped by the programme.
might even bridge the long-standing and unnecessary rift
between the lofty arts and ordinary Singaporeans.